• By: Dan Donovan

Turkey Welcomes Refugees with Open Arms

The last 40 years have seen a rapprochement in the relationship between Canada and Turkey. The economic, cultural and trade relations between the two countries have blossomed, and a deeper mutual understanding has resulted. His Excellency Selçuk Ünal, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada, has travelled to all corners of Canada since taking up his post in Ottawa in September 2014. (He also had the opportunity to visit the Vancouver-area home where his parents once lived and studied before returning to Turkey).

In this first instalment of the Canada- Turkey Friendship Series that will look at the bonds between our countries, Ünal shares his thoughts on the role Turkey has played in the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Like many other countries, Turkey’s humanitarian assistance and response to the Syrian crisis placed a great strain on the country, its people, budget and economy. However, that did not stop Turkey from stepping up to the plate and doing its share to help refugees. Ünal explains that: “Turkey has an open door policy for Syrians without any discrimination and Turkey strictly complies with the principle of non- refoulement at the border.” He said that according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: “Turkey has become the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world with the total number of Syrians living in Turkey reaching over 2 million in September 2015.

Here are just some of the particular measures Turkey has adopted to assist these individuals who are desperate for help.

  • 260,000 Syrians have been welcomed in 25 temporary protection centres and provided with food, non-food items, health and education services as well as psychological assistance, vocational training and social activities.
  • 1.8 million Syrians who live outside these centres are also under Turkey’s temporary protection regime and thus benefit from free medical services.
  • At present, 230,000 Syrian school-aged children receive education, and 460,000 children will be integrated into the Turkish education system until the end of 2015.
  • More than 7 million Syrians have benefitted from the Turkish healthcare system. The average number of daily applications to health centres is around 10,000.
  • More than 9 million medical consultations and 280,000 surgical operations have been carried out for Syrians in Turkish hospitals.
  • Turkey has so far spent approximately 8 billion US dollars for all of these efforts, whereas the total contributions Turkey has received bilaterally and multilaterally from the international community to date have totalled only 417 million USD.
  • The UN Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for the period 2015- 2016 to alleviate the heavy burden Turkey is 624 million USD, but so far only 185 million USD (30 per cent) has been funded.
  • In addition to Syrians, over 200,000 Iraqis came in via Iraq because of the threat of ISIL. Turkey has established 3 camps in Northern Iraq for civilians fleeing to the north and delivered around 800 trucks of humanitarian assistance to Northern Iraq.
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ABOVE: His Excellency Selçuk Ünal, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Canada.

Ambassador Ünal said he and Turkey have been greatly distressed about the number of illegal migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea which he says has reached 6,000. In 2014, in response to this crisis, The Turkish Coast Guard initiated an “Operation Safe Med” in the Mediterranean Sea and “Operation Aegean Hope” in the Aegean Sea in 2015 in order to maintain safety and security at seas. Since the beginning of 2015, the Turkish Coast Guard has rescued more than 55,000 migrants from sea and apprehended hundreds of migrant smugglers. This number is more than the total number of rescued migrants at sea in the last five years.

Ambassador Ünal says that “successful migration management is difficult when the government is trying at the same time to take every precaution to prevent irregular migration.” In 2014-2015, half a million irregular migrants were apprehended while attempting to cross into Turkish territory. Ünal believes that irregular migration is a global problem and has global repercussions. “This issue requires a global and comprehensive approach and all countries, including Canada, should exert joint efforts in order to prevent and overcome the problems brought by irregular migration to the countries.” The operations for combating irregular migration by sea have put a heavy financial burden on Turkey and neighbouring countries. “Currently, the operations conducted by the Turkish Coast Guard cost 5 million Euros per month that has to be met from national resources.” Ünal says that some of the target countries in migration tend to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of transit or forefront countries in the fight against irregular migration. However, he says: “this approach is not only unfair but will also not yield positive results.”

Ambassador Ünal also underlined that the overall solution will require a combination of elements. “The crisis will also require a political resolution, one that allows people to stop fleeing from their homes in Syria. Canada and other countries and the UN all have a role to play in making that happen.”

In terms of assistance, Ünal said he was pleased to see Prime Minister Trudeau is adopting a new approach to the refugee crisis by committing to provide more aid and to take in a larger number of refugees fleeing from Syria through Turkey to the West. Turkey is thankful for all the assistance provided during the crisis and looks forward to working with Canadian officials to learn more about the help from Canada.

The Turkish Community invites you to join us at Fundraising Gala Dinner for Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, CHEO on the occasion of Turkish National Sovereignty and International Children’s Day on Saturday, April 23, 2016 at Delta Ottawa City Center.

For information, visit tcca.ottawa@gmail.com