No tent, no food, no medicine

Last night, (an advisor of) president Gül said the Syrian refugees in Turkey are not refugees, but guests in Turkey, and that they can come and go as they please. I just couldn’t believe my ears. The last thing Turkey does to refugees coming in, is treating them as guests. Yes, for now, Turkey is building the Syrians a (plastic) roof over their heads, feeding them and providing medical care, but be very sure that’s a very temporary thing. Not because Syria will soon be on some democratic path and the refugees can safely return to their homes, but because the word ‘refugee’ just doesn’t exist in Turkish law books. Soon Turkey will leave the ‘guests’ totally to their faith again, like they do with every person that comes in to escape a brutal regime.

Turkey is a partner in the Geneva convention which, among other things, arranges the treatment of refugees. But since 1967, Turkey uses a so-called ‘geographical limitation’, which means the number of countries Turkey accepts refugees from, is limited. The amazing consequence is that Turkey can only recognize people as refugees if they come from a country in Europe. Not the weirdest thing when you look at it from a Cold War perspective, but in nowadays international realities it’s plainly ridiculous.


Turkey feels no obligation whatsoever to take care of people who come to Turkey because their lives are in danger. What Turkey gives the Syrian refugees now, can be considered a cloth against the bleeding highly visible to the outside world. But what does a refugee from Iran get, who is in trouble with his or her government? A refugee from Pakistan, from Afghanistan? From Somalia, the Palestine Territories, Egypt or from any other country in the (wider) region where oppressive regimes brutalize human rights day in day out? Nothing. No tent, no food, no medicine. No work, no education, no insurance.

The only option refugees in Turkey have, is to go to the UNHCR, the UN High Commission for Refugees, to apply for refugee status. If it’s granted, they can apply to be transferred to a ‘third country’, usually the United States, Canada or Australia. When they leave Turkey, the Turkish state presents them a bill in exchange for nothing: hundreds of dollars for residence permits for the time the applicant stayed in Turkey. That’s not an easy bill to pay when you have no right to work and have been struggling in illegal jobs to stay alive.

I understand Turkey doesn’t open its legal borders for refugees just like that. The country is bordering several countries that ‘produce’ a whole lot of refugees. As soon as Turkey has a proper refugee law, there is a risk that Europe feels they can dump their refugees in Turkey with a clean conscious. With the EU accession process in trouble and membership years ahead, that’s naturally not a tempting prospect for Turkey.

Human beings

But now who are the victims of these broader political backgrounds? The very people that Prime Minister Erdogan says he cares for so much when he calls on undemocratic leaders in the region to show more respect for democracy and humanity. Now that the eyes of the world are on Turkey and the Syrian refugees, he has to provide them with some essentials, but as soon as the worlds interest is faiding, the tents will be folded again and the refugees kicked out. Over the border, or to the UNHCR, or into years of anonymous and poor living in Turkey.

If Turkey really sees a role for itself in the international arena and present itself as a full democracy standing up for humanity, they better start developing a refugee policy that does rights of the people who cross their borders in danger of their lives. It’s not even necessary to treat them as guests. As human beings would be enough.

3 replies
  1. Mehmet SC
    Mehmet SC says:

    I think it was too harsh an article to read and a bit unfair to all those people who work in these camps and also to Turkish taxpayers in Turkey who share their limited food with them. I am sure many would feel quite insulted, particularly after having seen how the Libyan refugees had been left to death in the Mediterranean sea. I also find the article poor in terms of establishing the relationship between the events described in the article and the consequences drawn from them, but not the major point here.

    Despite all, dost aci soyler, we say, and I think we should take your criticisms as a warning to reflect better on our responsibilities towards our brothers and sisters in Middle East, and towards all human kind in the world who have been suffering greatly since the European colonisation began in the area.

    However, I still think the tone in your article should have been lighter and you should have appreciated Turkey’s efforts to help those people, assuming you really want to make an impact in Turkey.

    This harsh tone is good to make an impact abroad, in European newspapers, (i.e., Jonathan Head from bbc) however we, are all aware now that the Western influence on Turkey is getting slimmer and slimmer each day, and it is an old method that even didn’t work very well in the past.

    Good luck in your journey in Turkey, looking forward to reading your observations about some nice stuff, too.

  2. Linda Moore
    Linda Moore says:

    My husband Chris and myself have just arrived (26/6/11) in Antakya. We have been collecting donations from people in Turkey and beyond for the Syrian ‘refugees’.

    We have an eastate car fully loaded with clothes, shoes, toys and other things for the children. We have also collected money to buy required things locally.

    We’re not at all interested in politics, just in helping the people….as are the people who have donatedto us.

    God willing we are travelling to the nearest camp tomorrow with our aid. Hopefully we will be allowed in, but if not, as long as these people get what we have…then that will be enough.


  3. Turk
    Turk says:

    In several cases , I have seen that the Islamic world is getting the Turkish democracy as a model . In my opinion , Turkey should not be model as there are a lot of democratic problems inside Turkey . More and more, Turkey is implementing an aggressive and much patriotic atmosphere, by brainwashing the young generation . Till AKP regime , the Kemalism was the only way for the young but nowadays Turkey has becoming more similar to the Ottoman Empire. I really do not understand why Turkish people feels the need to rule other people. Why they want to be the leader of the Islamic world ? Where is the modest , diligent , clever Turkish generation?

    AKP is constantly irritating Turkish citizens with non-diplomatic statements. But on the other hand , the actions are much different that the statements .

    The world is not stupid anymore like in the middle ages . People has much more awareness . What is happening in the dictatoric regimes should be a good sign for the young generation of Turkey . As Ataturk said : Peace in our country , peace in the world .


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply