Report: More international support needed for Syrian refugees

A new report by Amnesty International calls for global assistance to help Turkey accommodate the growing number of Syrian refugees.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 16/12/14

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Turkey's camps for Syrian refugees are full and more than 1.6 million people who fled the violence are struggling to survive, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

  • Homeless Syrian refugees gather recently in a park in Ankara. [AFP]

    Homeless Syrian refugees gather recently in a park in Ankara. [AFP]

  • Kurdish refugees from Syria seek heat from a fire in a refugee camp near Suruc, in Turkey's Sanliurfa province. [AFP]

    Kurdish refugees from Syria seek heat from a fire in a refugee camp near Suruc, in Turkey's Sanliurfa province. [AFP]

In its report, Amnesty International criticises the international community for failing to take financial responsibility and for not dealing with the humanitarian crisis faced by the growing number of Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey during the last three years in the wake of a civil war and attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The report also said it is no longer possible for Turkey to manage this refugee situation on its own.

Turkey currently hosts about 220,000 Syrian refugees in 22 government-run camps that offer services including food and sanitation, while much of the remaining refugee population is living in poverty outside of the camps and beyond the reach of aid organisations. Officials estimate only 15 percent of those outside the camps are receiving assistance from humanitarian agencies.

Tarık Suleyman, 30, fled to Turkey when his home in Syria became unsafe last year. Suleyman said he had a prosperous life in Syria before the civil war broke out.

"With my family, we entered from southeastern city of Sanliurfa, through legal means," Suleyman told SES Türkiye. He is now working at a tea house in Batman city where he has many relatives. He lives with his mother, father, brothers, wife and son.

"[Turkey's state-run Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD)] has made our health insurance, and sometimes they are providing us with food," Suleyman said. "We can barely pay our rent and household needs with my and my two brothers' salaries," Suleyman said.

Although Turkey officially declared an open-border policy for Syrian refugees, Amnesty International reported that some refugees were pushed back into the war zone by border guards.

Amnesty International also said that reaching the border crossings is a dangerous trip for the refugees, who often rely on the help of smugglers.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, at least 17 people were killed by border guards while attempting to escape war-torn Syria through unofficial crossing points, the organisation said in its report.

So far Turkey has spent about $5 billion to deal with the refugee crisis. However, as of October, the nation had received only 28 percent of the $497 million earmarked in the UN's 2014 regional funding appeal for Syrians.

In his recent visit to Turkey, US Vice President Joe Biden announced $135 million to be allocated in new US aid for Syrian civilians, including funding for Turkey.

The European Commission recently announced a new package of 10 million euros for humanitarian aid.

The announcement came as European Council Vice President Federica Mogherini, who also serves as the European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and Christos Stylianides, the commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, visited a refugee camp in the border town of Kilis, in south-central Turkey.

"Today, we are stepping up our assistance to the people of Syria and to the Turkish communities hosting Syrian refugees," Mogherini said. "Europe stands firmly with Turkey and is determined to play its role to the full to bring a lasting political solution to this regional crisis and humanitarian strategy."

The officials also observed the distribution of EU-funded aid for refugees.

"Let me express my deep appreciation for the immense efforts by Turkey and its people, who have shown their huge capacity for solidarity with the people of Syria in their greatest time of need," Stylianides said. "Europe stands firmly with Turkey. We remain fully committed to our on-going support to the refugee population in the country, which is why we are stepping up our assistance."

Anna Shea, a legal adviser in the refugee and migrant rights section of Amnesty International, said without a genuine partnership between the international community and Turkish authorities, there is the potential for circumstances to further deteriorate for the Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

"The international community must provide the funding to meet the basic needs of Syrian refugees, like health, education, housing, food security, and the Turkish authorities should both seek this kind of assistance and facilitate the work of organisations and agencies with relevant expertise," Shea told SES Türkiye.

Shea also said the NGOs dealing with Syrian refugees should receive greater support.

"The registration of international NGOs can take months or even years to complete. As well, we were told that registered international NGOs were not permitted to distribute relief to Syrian refugees, but were instead required to give these items to AFAD for distribution," she said.

Humanitarian assistance is often misunderstood, Shea said, "It's important for the Turkish authorities to recognise that the provision of relief should be targeted at the most vulnerable, based on an accurate assessment of needs, and subjected to monitoring and evaluation," she said.

Metin Corabatir, deputy head of the Research Centre for Migration and Asylum and former spokesperson in Turkey for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the international community shares blame for the crisis.

"Turkey cannot get the required assistance from the international community either with financial support, adequate resettlement commitments in other countries or technical expertise for better integration policies," Corabatir told SES Türkiye.

According to Corabatir, Turkey has fallen short of publicising what it has done for the refugees on its own.

"The foreign media was authorised to enter the refugee camps on a very controlled manner, while it took weeks to get the official authorisation for that, which pushed these media outlets to cover the situation at other neighbouring countries' refugee camps, which were easily accessible," he said.

Corabatir also noted that initially the government said it did not need any outside help to accommodate the refugees, believing that it could handle the situation on its own.

"There is a need for further dialogue with the international community to work on an integration plan for the Syrian refugees living in cities. Experienced NGOs should be allowed to open schools and employment opportunities for refugees, like vocational courses," he added.

Since the Syria crisis began, the EU has provided nearly 29 million euros for aid in Turkey, some of which has been channelled through the United Nations and NGOs, according to the European Commission.

Officials say that resources allocated early in the crisis helped refugees living in the camps, while the focus this year turned to supporting those who are not living in the camps. Officials estimate that 85 percent of Syrian refugees who came from to Turkey in 2014 are not living in the camps.

The European Commission has humanitarian experts permanently based in Turkey, where they are monitoring the impact of the Syria crisis, and responded in September when more than 200,000 people fled Kobane after ISIL attacked the city.

How can the international community assist Turkey in housing the refugees? Offer your ideas in the comments section.


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