Turkey is home to one of the largest and fastest growing refugee populations in the world. Its more than 700 mile borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran have made it the “go to” safe haven for women, children and families in a region besieged with humanitarian troubles in need of immediate solutions. While international organizations and NGOs have participated in aiding these refugees, the brunt of the social, economic, and political cost has been borne by Turkey.
Experts claim that more than 1.6 million refugees have come to Turkey in the past four years alone and estimate that in the coming year, Turkey will play host to nearly 1.9 million women, children and families in need. Due to its extraordinary efforts to provide housing, shelter, food, education and preventative health care to these refugees, Turkey is now the third largest contributor of humanitarian aid given across world.
Turkey’s unique location means that the Syrian civil war and the expansion of IS has a direct impact on the country and the number of refugees it receives. In the nearly four years since the start of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has provided aid to an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees. As of December of 2014, President Erdoğan announced that Turkey had spent $5.5 billion USD to accommodate Syrian refugees alone.
Turkey’s aid to refugees who cross the border goes well beyond those fleeing Syria’s civil war. In 2014, Turkey witnessed an unprecedented increase in asylum applications from Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians – a number that is growing. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates Turkey is already “home” to more than 25,000 Iraqi refugees, nearly 4,000 Afghani refugees and an additional 12,000 refugees from other nations across the region.
Turkey has established the infrastructure needed to help this multinational influx. Turkey has built 22 refugee camps and is constructing two more that are managed and funded by the government via Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD). There is assistance from the Turkish Red Crescent Society (the local Red Cross affiliate) and logistical assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but all agree that this response is led and paid for by Turkey.
To ensure this large number of refugees receives the best care possible, the Turkish government has developed its own refugee management system to ensure all refugees are safe and well cared for. While no one seeks to be in a refugee camp, Turkey is trying to make the experience as welcoming as possible. This has not only streamlined the process, but helped prioritize the needs and security of the refugees by coordinating relief organizations and local leaders, which can slow progress that often arises with third party engagement. It has also enabled Turkey to provide the best possible living conditions and humanitarian assistance for these refugees. In fact, Turkey has been cited by the International Crisis Group as having some of the “best refugee camps ever seen.” When the New York Times profiled their Kilis camp, it was described as a “perfect” example of a secure and humane refugee camp.
Still, with Turkey taking on the brunt of the refugees from regional conflicts, some of the cost and responsibility must be borne by others in the international community. Amnesty International, The Crisis Group and others have lauded Turkey for its humanitarian aid and assistance in the region, but also made clear the international community needs to do more to help Turkey in its efforts.
Some relief is on the way from other partners. The United States has committed to helping Turkey, announcing the launch of a resettlement program to admit thousands of refugees currently in Turkey relocate to the U.S.. The U.S. has also worked to reduce the financial impact the Syrian refugees have on Turkey, providing $162 million in humanitarian assistance in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War.
But while the additional support from the U.S. has an impact, the issue of sustainability remains and the stretched resources are starting to show, particularly as Turkey’s private donations shrink, government budgets become stretched, and total international foreign aid to Turkey stands at a paltry $265 million.
If the last four years, and projected numbers by the international aid community including the UNHRC are any indication of what’s ahead, Turkey will need support from its allies – and a proactive plan for the security and stability of the region.