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    Refugees still left in the cold

    Güven Sak, PhD22 December 2019 - Okunma Sayısı: 1074

    Last week the Global Refugee Forum was convened in Geneva to put the refugee situation under the spotlight. It was the first of its kind to be organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Swiss government.

    President Erdoğan was at the meeting, and rightly so. Turkey’s more than 4 million refugees make it the world’s largest refugee-hosting country. It’s not only Syrian forced migrants that populate our cities, mind you, but also refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran.

    I see a symmetric reaction against refugees in both developed and developing countries. It is all about human rights versus birth rights. On the one hand, self-declared democracies profess to value the right of the individual, no matter the origin, and many of these countries are patchworks of people from different backgrounds. On the other hand, it’s a game of “who was here first,” and the older one’s lineage, the more legitimate their standing. The worse things get, the more people incline towards the latter line of thinking, and whatever problems they have, they blame on the newcomers.

    Turkey is a refugee-hosting country that transformed itself from a transit to destination country with the EU-Turkey deal. It did this to get visa liberalization from the EU. Turkey did its part in the refugee deal, but visa liberalization seems to be stuck. This is not only because of EU conditionality, mind you. Visa liberation was tied to a deal on Cyprus.

    So Turkey would do something that would ease the burden on Europe right away, while Europe would promise to do something that would be nice for Turkey down the line. Let’s just say it was not a symmetric understanding. Why did Turkey do this without getting something substantial in return? That beats me, but that is the story of Turkey’s relationship with the EU, if you ask me. When Turkey was asked to do something, it is the rules of the club. When Turkey asked something from the EU, it’s “unfortunately” stuck somewhere in the process at Brussels. Here it is once again.

    President Erdoğan noted how Turkey was left alone in dealing with the refugees in Geneva. With unemployment rising to record heights, Turkey too, is also about to enter the human rights vs. birth rights debate, mind you. Turks on the whole have been extremely welcoming of refugees, but as we know, every kind of gastfreundlichkeit has its limits, especially when business is bad. In the last five years, between September 2014 and September 2019, the number of unemployed rose by around 50 percent in the country reaching to nearly 4,5 million. Not only that, but the share of those unemployed for a year or more has increased around 90 percent, while those unemployed only for 1-2 months has increased only 35 percent. It is this persistence that is causing the shift in attitudes.

    Earlier this year, the UN set up a multi-party trust fund to support safe, orderly and regular migration in line with the Global Compact on Migration. This fund has yet to be fully operationalized. Meanwhile, Turkey has spent about $40 billion on refugees, and will continue to spend much more. It isn’t only our country that is left alone by the world’s indifference, however, but countless people who have to uproot their families and travel to distant lands in the hopes for peaceful and dignified lives.


    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 21.12.2019