On June 19, THO hosted a teleconference on “The Ongoing Refugee Crisis and Turkey’s Role.”
The teleconference was moderated by THO Executive Director Elvir Klempic and featured the following speakers:
Dr. Mehmet Gulluoglu – President, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey
Dr. Elizabeth Ferris – Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute; Research Professor, Georgetown University; and Commissioner, Women’s Refugee Commission
Turkey’s history around refugees and the challenges ahead
Dr. Mehmet Gulluoglu began the teleconference by highlighting Turkey’s long history with hosting refugees well before the current humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian civil war. He explained that given Turkey’s important location, it is seen as a sort of a “gatekeeper” for refugees entering Europe. Both Dr. Gulluoglu and Dr. Ferris outlined a list of future challenges facing the international community, which included the overburdening of neighboring countries with refugees and the need for a peace process in Syria.
Dr. Ferris stated her belief that a “lack of responsibility and burden sharing are the real crisis we face.” In addition, Dr. Gulluoglu noted that this crisis is a complex humanitarian emergency, and that simply providing food and shelter will not be enough, as the children will need a future. He also pointed out that millions of refugees may be coming to Turkey from Idlib in the near future.
Turkey’s response to the refugee crisis
Dr. Ferris praised Turkey’s humanitarian efforts thus far, stating that “[i]n many ways, Turkey is a shining example of welcoming large numbers of refugees.” She also congratulated Turkey’s efforts to provide work permits, healthcare, and education to refugees, despite limited resources and the inevitable rising frictions between refugees and locals.
Dr. Gulluoglu emphasized Turkey’s efforts to rebuild infrastructure in Syria’s Afrin, as well as to provide electricity and clean water. He explained that many refugees are unable to return to areas under the Assad regime’s control, such as the destroyed city of Aleppo. Dr. Ferris advocated for critical peace talks and advised against returning refugees to a country still plagued with conflict.
What can the U.S. and EU do to help?
Both Dr. Ferris and Dr. Gulluoglu advised the U.S. and EU to do much more to assist Turkey and other nations bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis. Dr. Ferris noted that many of the EU and U.S. policies toward refugees are intended to keep them out. Dr. Gulluoglu warned that this conflict is far from over, and that long-term solutions are critical. Dr. Ferris acknowledged the high level of donor fatigue; however, she also pointed out the need for the U.S. to support neighboring countries. She stated her belief that “Turkey has shouldered more than their fair share of the burden.”
What message would you send to the global community for World Refugee Day?
Dr. Ferris encouraged a collective responsibility for taking care of this refugee crisis, in addition to devoting more energy to solving the conflicts that cause these migrations. In summary, she advised the international community to fix how we are addressing the causes of this crisis, and to make sure refugees are cared for as best as possible.
Dr. Gulluoglu reminded listeners of the large number of internally displaced people within conflicted countries. He advised a collective global responsibility of this crisis, stating, “We are living in a global village.” He also encouraged those able to help to ask what they can do to change someone’s life.