Turkey’s relief agency said Friday it was time for the world to start “sharing the burden” of the 1.2 million Syrian refugees it is hosting, after tensions between Turks and refugees again turned violent.
The latest clashes in the southeastern city of Gaziantep were sparked by the fatal stabbing earlier this week of a Turkish landlord, allegedly by his Syrian tenant, and led to a major exodus of refugees from the city.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled their country’s civil war to neighbouring Turkey in the last three years after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — now president-elect — announced an open-door policy.
Some 285,000 Syrian refugees are living in refugee camps, mostly in the southeast, according Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).
But some 912,000 are living outside of camps in cities across the country, according to AFAD, and their presence has become an increasing source of tension with local residents.
After the latest clashes in Gaziantep — where refugees reportedly now make up a tenth of the population — AFAD’s head Fuat Oktay said that the international community should do more to help Turkey cope.
“The international community has to come to an understanding that they should become part of the solution,” he said.
“They should start sharing the burden.”
Turkey has spent some $3.5 billion (2.6 billion euros) managing the situation but has received only $224 million in international assistance, AFAD said.
Oktay said other nations could help Turkey by building, and even running, new refugee camps inside the country.
Other countries could also help building schools, a huge priority given that a quarter of refugees are of school age, and ensure that the young are not left on the streets, he added.
– ‘Syrians leaving Gaziantep’ –
Tensions between Turks and Syrian refugees living outside of camps first boiled over in Gaziantep last month, when locals attacked a Syrian after a traffic accident, and there were also protests against refugees in Kahramanmaras to the north.
The authorities in Istanbul have also threatened to act against an influx of Syrian beggars to the city and sent them back to camps along the border.
According to Turkish media, city officials in Gaziantep have now drawn up an “action plan” to calm the situation and some 7,800 Syrians will be moved to camps near the city, or to others in the neighbouring regions of Mardin and Sanliurfa.
Some Syrians have already begun to move to other cities across Turkey including Konya, Kayseri, Izmir and Istanbul, local media reported.
Up to 13 bus loads of Syrians are now leaving Gaziantep daily, bus company officials were quoted as saying.
“We are trying to bring the tensions down (in Gaziantep) and within a couple of days it will calm down,” said Oktay, without commenting specifically on the measures.
He insisted that no Syrian was forced to move, although the authorities did not want to see Syrians sleeping on the street or in parks.
Asked if Syrians were free to choose whether they lived in camps or outside, he said: “They do have a choice, as long as it is within the same legal framework that Turks are also under.”
In a bid to show goodwill, officials have always tried to describe the refugees as “guests” and their camps as “tent cities”.
Meanwhile, Turkey is also dealing with another influx of refugees after some 2,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority fled over the border from Islamic militants in Iraq.
However, Oktay said Turkey’s “main policy is to help refugees inside Iraq” and that it was building three camps inside Iraqi territory for displaced Yazidis and Turkmens.