Jul 16, 2015
At a recent House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing about the possible need for United States boots on the ground to address ISIS and the Syrian civil war, Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) made several unfortunate statements about Turkey. He commented on the Turkish government’s supposed willingness to stand by and do nothing while the Syrian refugee crisis grows worse. Sires’ statement that “they [Turkey] won’t even let people across their border” is simply false.
The truth is that Turkey and the U.S. mostly agree that more needs to be done to end the civil war and respond to the influx of innocents fleeing across borders. In fact, Turkey has been a leader in the effort to care for Syrian refuges, hosting almost two million Syrian refugees and spending nearly $5.5 billion to ensure that everyone has access to essentials like clean facilities, education and healthcare.
It is important Congress recognize that no other nation is more committed to solving the Syrian refugee crisis than Turkey. With more than 700 miles of shared borders with Syria, Iraq, and Iran, Turkey is also clearly at the forefront of many conflicts in the Middle East. In addition to Syrian refugees, Turkey has also been home to more than 25,000 Iraqi and 4,000 Afghan refugees. The only instances in which Turkey’s border closed have been temporary periods of heightened security concerns and to respond to terrorism threats. Turkey’s commitment has largely been to open, welcoming borders. It is in Turkey’s own interest, and the interest of the U.S., Turkey’s strong ally, to care for all refugees fleeing across its border and work towards lasting solutions for each conflict in the region.
That’s why the Turkish government has called for a more sustainable plan to address the Syrian refugee crisis. Turkey will continue to provide for these refugees to the best of the country’s ability, but in order to meet the need more countries must step-up. The international community, including the U.S., should drastically increase financial aid, intelligence sharing and military cooperation, as well as establish a greater commitment to train militants in Syria.
Beyond encouraging its international partners to increase support, Turkey has also worked hand-in-hand with the United Nations to increase awareness around the crisis and find more permanent homes for refugees in other countries. Additionally, Turkey recently began a partnership with the U.S. to train Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS, a long-awaited and positive step toward security in the overall region. These developments are a step in the right direction, but still more is needed. Turkey is leading the way to respond to these crises, find solutions and work towards peace in the region – and the U.S. should join in this effort.
Suggesting Turkey is complicit in, and even permissive of, the humanitarian crises is not only false but in direct conflict with some of the world’s leading experts. Indeed, recently, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Anne C. Richard said, "Turkey is at the forefront of nations in terms of accepting refugees and providing very appropriate ways to help them." During a visit to Turkey last week in recognition of World Refugee Day, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called on the world to follow Turkey’s example, calling the refugee crisis a “global responsibility.” Turkey is a refuge for many people fleeing across its borders to find a safe place, and the country is committed to working toward lasting peace in the region. With more help from the U.S. and its allies, together we can find lasting solutions for these conflicts. The time is now for us all to double our efforts and work together to meet that goal.
Turkey has not been sitting on the sidelines watching the crisis unfold. For the sake of millions of Syrian refugees, the U.S. and Turkey’s other allies cannot do so either.