According to the United Nations, there are some 50 million refugees in the world. Muslims constitute a large portion of these refugees; a full one-third of the Palestinian people are refugees. There are large numbers of Iraqis following the American intervention, Muslims from Rakhine who had to abandon their homes due to oppression in Burma, some two million Afghans, Kashmiris, Somalis, in short there are millions of refugees and Syrians have been added to these in recent years.
The civil war in Syria has entered its fourth year. The number of people forced to migrate because of the ongoing civil war has reached into the millions. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the migration in Syria is the largest observed since the foundation of the organization. Half of the Syrian population, which stood at 22 million before the civil war, has had to migrate to other countries. Seventy-five percent of those Syrians living as refugees are women and children. The great majority of Syrians are internally displaced within Syria itself while 97% of the 2.5 million fleeing Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Among those neighboring countries, Turkey is the one receiving the highest number of immigrants.
This is the first time in Turkish history there has been such wide-scale migration; 1.2 million refugees entered the country in the last three years. Some 250,000 of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are living in camps, and the rest are in various cities. That number is expected to reach 1.4 million by the end of 2014.
Looking back in time, we see that Turkish territory has embraced refugees for hundreds of years. Russians fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, Armenians, Iranians in the wake of the 1979 Revolution, Afghans, and Iraqis fleeing Saddam have all sought shelter in Turkey. The conscience, compassion and hospitality of the Turkish people have always kept the country’s doors opened to the wronged and stranded. Even in times of the worst economic suffering, this fine virtue of the country has remained unchanged.
The hospitality of our country has also been confirmed in the international arena. The refugee camps in Turkey were described as “perfect” by the New York Times. Every official visiting the camps has expressed great appreciation.
As material and logistic support to the camps continues, better-off refugees are settling in cities. It has been reported that the number of Syrian immigrants in Istanbul alone has reached 67,000. However, there are also those not so well-off and living in poverty in the big cities. Those living in tent cities are facing difficulties like being colder in winter and hotter in summer. They are facing problems regarding security and infrastructure, food and water difficulties, problems with cleanliness and hygiene. State authorities have announced that measures will be taken accordingly in line with Turkey’s means .
However, some troubling voices have recently begun being heard regarding our Syrian brothers and guests. Some people who think of our relations with these brothers solely in terms of politics or the national economy, hiding behind such concepts as “conjunctures, geopolitics and realpolitik”,
are issuing disturbing statements about their being sent back to their own country. In truth, such statements are totally incompatible with the Turkish people’s traditional sense of hospitality, good conscience and compassion.
On the basis of these alarming reactions that seem to be emanating from a small, ruthless and selfish community, those who say that “The doors to refugees must be closed and the refugees must be sent back home,”
because they regard the refugees in the country as a burden, or because they fear they will damage the country’s demographics, should put themselves in these people’s position for one moment. Remember that many of these people had jobs, cars, homes and resources of one kind or another; yet the oppression in Syria became so terrible that they had to flee to a neighboring country in fear of their lives. They preferred being refugees to being bombed, raped or beaten to death with truncheons. They sought refuge in our lands to protect their families, without thinking about their lives they worked so hard to build over the years. Do not forget! Nobody abandons his country, home and family to live in poverty on the streets of a country he does not know, not unless he is in the most dire need. It is therefore a violation of good conscience and shameful to slam doors shut in the faces of people fleeing death, or to supinely wait for U.N. approval before letting them in or to demand sending them back.
The Turkish people will never accept such ruthlessness by saying “Great, now we can keep everything to ourselves”
after closing the door on those fleeing for their lives. Those who say, “Let us not admit any more refugees, and send them all back
” need to make what it is they are proposing clear. Will these people have food to eat in the place they return to? Will they have a place to stay? Most important of all, are there places ready for them to live in safety? Or do they simply want to send them back to a hell on earth? Have they found a solution for their problems or are they simply being heartless? First of all, those calling for repatriation of our Syrian brothers must give the Turkish people the answers to these questions; otherwise, those who send them back will be responsible for their deaths. Telling a refugee to “go back home”
means nothing less to hand him over to murderers and say, “Here you go, kill him at your earliest convenience.”
If that happens, those who say ”let us send them back”
will have blood on their hands. No pretext can justify handing someone over to a murderer; that is an indescribable hollowness of the soul.
It is even worse if that mindset is present among people in charge of running the country. Someone who does not have mercy for others in difficulty will not have mercy toward his own people, either. Someone who does not protect the innocent in times of need will not protect his own people. A spirit without compassion is the same everywhere, regardless of the circumstances.
No matter what their numbers are, the Syrian refugees are the brothers and sisters of Turkish people. They become our citizens the moment they seek refuge here and we have a duty to protect them. We will happily undergo difficulties for that purpose. We will not hand people over to killers, because we are their protectors. We do not forget that the guests of God bring goodness with them. Therefore, those loveless and ruthless voices raised against the refugees will find no support in our country. On the contrary, they will spur the conscience of the Turkish people and strengthen their hospitality. Throughout history, Turkey has shown great care and love to the refugees, no matter what their religion, ethnicity or race. Our Syrian brothers need not be alarmed; a mindset that would compromise that system and send them back into a charnel house has no place in this country.
The Turkish people will continue to keep their doors open to our wronged brothers, and will continue to take care of them and protect them. However, it is also very important for Turkey not to be left to do everything alone in this matter. The best thing to do would be for Muslim states to form a union like the European Union, in which the citizens of the member countries will be bestowed the right to move freely within the union, just as the citizens of the EU do at home. People will thus have a way out and a humane safe corridor in times of such difficulties. Rights such as dual nationality and the right to work without visas can be granted in times of need, and obstacles restricting refugees and preventing them from living under humane conditions will thus be eliminated. Let us not forget; it is not industry, great wealth or ethnocentric attitudes that bestow well-being on a country, but rather, a nation’s human decency that is the true measure of a country’s greatness.
Adnan Oktar's article on Voix Magazine: