Ankara, January 5, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
260,000 refugees live in 25 camps in Turkey
Turkey’s position on the waves of refugees in the Aegean
Turkey: “USD 7 bn the cost for the hospitality of 2.2 mln refugees
By Manolis Kostidis
Everyday thousands of refugees travel from the west coast of Turkey jostling in Lesvos, Kos and many other Greek islands. There are many accusations against Turkey for “turning a blind eye” and allowing the refugees to flee to the West. Others argue that the Turkish government uses the immigration tide to exert pressure on the EU to get more funds and open the accession process in the EU.
We wanted to listen to the other point of view and discover firsthand what is going on in Turkey.
For this reason we traveled to Ankara, and the city of Kilis, located at the Syrian border, where a huge refugee camp has been erected, a town build of containers with about 20,000 refugees. This is one of the many such towns that Turkey has build along its frontier. There are 25 more such camps in 10 cities.
“Within 2 months we can build a camp for 35000 persons”
The Center for Disastrous and Emergency situations (AFAD) is an organization that has a direct organic links with the office of the Turkish Prime Minister. In the impressive multi-storey building of this Center, those in charge explained to us the situation with the refugees in Turkey.
The first arrival of refugees from Syria started on April 29, 2011.
Today there are 2.160.000 refugees in Turkey. 260,000 of them are being hosted in camps. The rest live in the entire territory of the country “explains Özge Mise, responsible for coordinating the AFAD. Today this Center is responsible for the entire organisation of hospitality and accommodation of the refugees in Turkey and is also responsible for the setting up of camps. “We have the expertise and capability to set up camps for 35,000 people within 2 months, with all the necessary infrastructure, from the houses, sanitation, schools, etc”, explain to us the managers with pride.
Free health benefits for all refugees!
The Syrian refugees that live in the country are under the “protection of temporary residence” regime. The impressive fact that was explained to us in the briefing we had, is that all refugees, even those who live outside the camps, with the “temporary residence” card have the same health rights as Turkish citizens. This includes medical visits to hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical assistance.
What’s more, refugee children attend turkish schools or schools that have been set up in the camps and should they want to study in universities they can continue their studies without entry examinations.
To those staying in camps is provided a special debit card, in which the Turkish government every month pays 85 Turkish lira (about 28 Euros) per person. So those who remain in the camps can and must obtain their food from the special mini-markets that exist in the camps and sell products at lower than market prices. So now there are no soup kitchens but every family cooks in her house as “they must feel that they are living at home with their own eating habits” they explain to us.
“The cost for the refugee issue exceeded USD 7 bn”
“Up to now, Turkey’s costs have exceeded USD 7 bn for the overall care of the refugees, while the assistance they have received to date does not exceed USD 417 mln”, says to us Ramazan Sevinç, responsible for Communication and Press of AFAD. At the Coordination Centre they tell us that Turkey is the world leader in GDP percentage in the provision of humanitarian assistance.
Kilis – The refugee town of Turkey
From Ankara we traveled to the city of Kilis. This small town in southeastern Turkey, which was visited by Angelina Jolie, has the peculiarity of hosting more refugees than its permanent population! “The city’s population reaches 90,400 inhabitants, while the Syrians reach 115,000. This means that 56% of the population is of Syria.
Of these, 44,000 live in camps and the rest in the city, tells us the prefect of Kilis, Suleyman Tapsız. At a large TV set he has in his office he showed us in detail the Turkish-Syrian border, which extends over an area of 911 km and only those in the town that reach 111 km. Tapsiz strongly argued that Turkey should create a “safe zone for hosting refugees in Syria”. The region showed us on the map is the one controlled by the jihadists and Ankara does not want under any circumstances to be taken by the Kurds of Syria.
Visiting the container-city
Later we went to the “container city” in the region of Öncüpınar, which is located right next to the border with Syria. On the doors of the customs station, which everyone said they are closed, we noticed that there was a long queue of trucks, so trade continues with obstacles.
The Öncüpınar camp is impressive in terms of benefits and organization. There are container houses with their own kitchens and toilets. Kindergartens, schools, mosques, hospital have been set up for the needs of approximately 20,000 residents and according to the staff, they will surpass 30,000 in the future. We were impressed by the construction of two-storey containers, making it possible to host a larger number of persons in the same expanse. It is the first attempt to build such “houses”.
Foreign Ministry of Turkey: “Many are attempting to cross over, but we are trying to block just as many”
In the Turkish capital we visited the Foreign Ministry and spoke with Barış Andıç, the Head of Sector of the Middle East Division of the ministry, who explains that “in the period September-October the Turkish Coast Guard prevented the crossing of 70,000 persons to the greek islands. But last week 48,000 others crossed. That is each for square meter we need a soldier or a policeman and it is difficult. We are ready to cooperate more with Greece and with Frontex. We should stop seeing this as only a turkish problem”. He appears optimistic that in the event that the war in Syria comes to an end “many of the refugees will return home”.