As tensions in Syria’s Idlib continue to rise following the Bashar Assad regime and Russia’s collective attacks against civilians, refugees are flowing to the Turkish border in hopes of finding a safe haven.
The direction of the influx – which disproves Russia’s argument that when faced with terror, the refugees would flee to Assad regime-controlled areas – tells a story regarding the facts on the ground.
Even though the ultimate goal for many Syrian refugees is to reach more developed northern European countries like Germany and the Netherlands – as Turkey is already hosting nearly 4 million refugees, making job opportunities hard to come by – Turkey has proven to be a safe haven throughout nearly a decade since the civil war within its southern neighbor’s borders began.
The marked difference between the treatment of refugees by Turkey and by European countries, principally Greece, becomes more and more evident by the day.
The latest example has surfaced just recently. A Syrian refugee was killed by the Greek border police on Monday while trying to cross to Greece following Turkey’s policy change opening border crossings to Europe.
Ahmed Abu Emad, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, was shot in his throat by Greek guards and died of his wounds early Monday morning. Emad was one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to cross the border with the hope of starting a new life, and his body has been brought back to Turkey.
Thousands of migrants have been forced to sleep in the open, some since Friday, exposed to the elements and in temperatures close to freezing in the border province of Edirne in northwestern Turkey.
Denying entry to asylum seekers and forcibly returning them is illegal under EU law and a violation of international conventions on human rights.
Video footage shared by the German weekly Der Spiegel also showed masked Greek law enforcement officers forcibly sending dozens of refugees back to an area in Turkey near its border.
Two masked men wearing camouflage attire were seen putting refugees on a small boat, crossing the Maritsa River and forcing them to land on Turkish soil.
Several retired and serving Greek police officers and soldiers confirmed to reporters that they have been conducting “pushbacks” at the Greek-Turkish border for years, according to Der Spiegel.
Ankara has repeatedly urged Greece to stop illegal pushbacks, but Athens denied engaging in the practice.
At least 25,000 refugees and irregular migrants were pushed back to Turkey by Greece in the first 10 months of 2019, according to official figures.
Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world.
The country has been praised by many officials for its efforts to assist disadvantaged peoples, especially Syrian refugees.
As one of the few countries hosting more than 50% of the world’s refugees, Turkey has been “exemplary” in its response to the migration crisis, the U.N. has said.
“It’s always been a few countries that host very large numbers of refugees, and Turkey’s response has been exemplary,” Turkey representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Katharina Lumpp said.
Praising Turkey particularly for its “inclusion” and “harmonization” of refugees in the country, Lumpp noted that Ankara has adopted a “very comprehensive” legal framework for foreigners and for international protection.
“Then (Turkey) adopted the Temporary Protection Regulation that provides a framework for the rights and the obligations of the Syrians and other refugees in Turkey,” she added.
Lumpp argued that the focus of the international community should not only be on responding to the humanitarian needs of refugees but supporting host countries and communities.
It is host countries who bear the responsibility on behalf of the international community, she underlined.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, over 5 million civilians have become refugees. Turkey hosts 3.7 million of them, more than any country in the world.
Lumpp also praised Turkey’s policy of inclusion of refugees in social services. “(This) allows the international community to support the institutions like the education system, to benefit both refugees and Turkish citizens,” she said.
“So this policy of inclusion is extremely important and it’s very positive,” she added.
Another very important aspect, Lumpp said, was what Turkey describes as “harmonization.”
She said harmonization referred to supporting foreigners, refugees and Turkish citizens to “live in harmony with each other to interact socially” and to “support and enable” refugees and foreigners to “participate in social life, independent of the assistance of third parties.”
“They bring skills, they bring knowledge, and if given the opportunity, they can contribute to the society of the host country,” she added.
“So, the harmonization concept is also very important,” she said.
Syrian refugees fleeing war and violence in their home country also praise the conditions in refugee centers in Turkey.
The camps provide for the needs of refugees, including education, health care and infrastructure.
One of the modern camps is the 102,000-square-meter (25-acre) Yayladağı temporary refugee center in Turkey’s southern Hatay province, which houses over 4,000 refugees in 776 dwellings.
The camp includes a clinic, school, library, mosque, football pitch, three playgrounds and a child protection center run by the Turkish Red Crescent, and is served by nearly 200 staff working around the clock.
After the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, Turkey adopted an “open-door policy” toward Syrians fleeing the conflict, granting them “temporary protection” status. Since then, Turkey has received a constant flow of displaced Syrians fleeing the conflict and their numbers have expanded from mere thousands to millions.
In this process, Turkish officials have put forward humanitarian efforts to meet the basic needs of refugees by offering them various forms of assistance and helping coordinate international aid. Modern camps provide refugees access to all basic services, from education to vocational training courses. Compared to refugee camps in many Western countries, Turkey maintains much better standards despite hosting much larger populations.
Education is the main concern for refugees as youth and children make up the majority of Syrians taking shelter in Turkey. Turkey has so far reached out to almost 1 million Syrian children in its bid to provide them with an education. They attend public or charity-run schools, or schools set up in some refugee camps.
Ankara has often criticized the international community for not providing sufficient humanitarian aid for the refugees in Turkey and not taking in more refugees. Turkey has spent nearly $40 billion so far, while it has only received about 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) of support from the international community.
The conflict in Syria that started in 2011 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced more than 5 million people to flee, while more than 7 million are internally displaced. Refugees mainly took shelter in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon with Turkey hosting the largest number of refugees. Some have sought to reach Europe via the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, but thousands have died en route to Greece and other coastal countries.