On June 23, THO hosted a teleconference titled “Global Refugee Crisis: The Turkey Context” as part of its World Refugee Week activities.

The teleconference brought together two prominent actors in the humanitarian sector: Dr. Kerem Kinik, President of Turk Kizilay (the Turkish Red Crescent), and Ms. Jana Mason, Senior Advisor for External Relations and Government Affairs at UNHCR. The two speakers discussed Turkey’s role in the global refugee crisis with special emphasis on Syrian refugees. With a refugee population of nearly three million, Turkey currently hosts more refugees than any other country.

Dr. Kinik drew the contours of Turkey’s complex humanitarian situation, explaining the challenges faced by Turk Kizilay, the Turkish government, Turkish citizens, and Syrian refugees themselves. He addressed the pressing need for funding and elaborated on Turk Kizilay’s debit card-based cash assistance program that seeks to support up to one million beneficiaries by the end of 2017. Kinik also described at length the risks posed by the dearth in educational options available to Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Insofar as the Syrian refugee crisis is part of a larger, global phenomenon of displaced persons, Ms. Mason began by discussing the ways in which Turkey’s response to the crisis has been different. For instance, unlike in previous crises, only a small number (9%) of Syrian refugees in Turkey live in camps, leading to what Mason termed an “urban refugee crisis.”  She described Turkey’s response as one that has “ushered in a new era of solutions,” particularly in its refusal to embrace permanent resettlement as the only option for refugees. 

Mason touched upon UNCHR efforts to provide cash assistance, core relief items, and educational and vocational opportunities to urban Syrian refugees.  She emphasized the ways in which these programs – particularly educational and vocational training – can benefit local populations, an increasingly prevalent UNHCR concern. Mason also discussed ongoing efforts at social integration in Turkey and the ways in which refugee education and employment programs can be crucial to – and be complicated by – that very process.

The speakers addressed the problems of “burden-sharing,” an increasingly important issue to Turkish partners and actors, given their oversized role in the global refugee crisis. Mason reiterated the need for international organizations to incentivize host countries’ commitment to humanitarian action and for donor countries to meet their pledged amounts. Dr. Kinik pointed to a world system that has proven insufficiently prepared for a crisis of this magnitude, and he advocated for a more holistic realignment. Concerning this crisis, Kinik argued for a more effective fusion of (heretofore separate) global humanitarian, security, and development policies.

At the grassroots level, Mason decried misinformation campaigns. She encouraged better outreach at the global level regarding the scourge of refugee scapegoating and spoke of the need to better engage Syrian refugees in Turkey who have not yet been informed of potential opportunities in their host country. Kinik ended with a call to empathy and understanding of the circumstances refugees face, reminding listeners that in an age of climate change and other existential threats, any of us could be refugees in the near future.