The story of Syrians suffering since the beginning of the war in 2011 is just as terrible as their continuous suffering in migrating to safety to other countries. Many European Union nations have followed a policy to keep refugees away from their borders, which will be an unforgettable affront to humanity. What is more, thousands of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The refugees being forced to leave their homes and families to migrate are beaten with truncheons, shot with rubber bullets, tear gassed, shot by water canons, and left stranded without water and food at EU borders, making a mark in history as a dreadful example of injustice.
On the other hand, Turkey has fulfilled its moral responsibility by looking out for refugees with great warmth and kindness, and has agreed to host nearly 2½ million Syrians. However, the refugee flow, initially considered to be a temporary situation, has gradually turned out to be permanent. The growing numbers and uncertainty of their return to Syria come with certain technical challenges. The greatest one is no doubt related to their legal status.
Though they are called “refugees”, the people fleeing Syria are only granted the status of “asylum seekers” according to Turkish law. Nonetheless, this status, which is equal to that of a guest, does not ensure their rights and security. For that reason, given that the Syrians have no option but to stay, it is necessary to enhance and modify regulations on the status of asylum seekers to include their fundamental rights and to further extend the scope of resettlement programmes.
One of the urgent priorities is to grant Syrian asylum seekers the right to work. Indeed, a Syrian asylum seeker cannot dream of a healthy future in Turkey because of current regulations, even if that person is a doctor, engineer, lawyer or teacher. It is possible to eliminate this perception. The immediate enforcement of regulations to facilitate the process of asylum seekers obtaining work permits is the way to go.
Another very important issue in relation to the Syrians in Turkey is that of accommodation. About 1.7 million Syrians lead their lives outside camps. Most of them live in ruined buildings and unsound tents, on the streets, and in parks and backyards. This is an issue that can be overcome easily by increasing the number of satellite towns.
The exploitation of labour remains an important issue that is yet to be resolved. To survive, Syrians are vulnerably working for low wages in the underground economy. On top of that, they are forced to work much longer hours than regular workers. They work jobs that nobody else does in sectors ranging from textile to construction, agriculture and heavy industry, in return for considerably low wages that don’t allow them to earn a living for their families. For that reason, all family members have to work. Hence, women and children work in uncontrolled and illegal businesses, and in inhumane conditions, in exchange for very low wages and excessively long periods of time.
The reality is that more than 75 per cent of refugees are women and children, and the majority continue with their lives outside camps under harsh conditions. While the women work in housekeeping, childcare, patient care, elderly care or sectors like agriculture and tourism illegally for low wages, the children go around begging or become child workers. Moreover, they are forced into marriage and abused by means of commercial sexual exploitation. Nonetheless, the solution to these problems lies in granting refugees legal work permits.
The harsh conditions under which asylum seekers are forced to work also pose the danger of an environment of crime and violence. It is obvious that people with low incomes, who are confused by social exclusion and experience identity concerns, may have a tendency to commit crimes.
Another important issue in regard to refugees is education. A recent report by the Human Rights Watch points out the issue: “More than 400,000 Syrian refugee children living in Turkey are not attending school. While the Turkish government has been generous in its response towards the Syrian refugee crisis, Turkey has struggled to ensure that Syrian schoolchildren have access to education, to which they are entitled under international law.” 1
Furthermore, language, resettlement and financial difficulties are serious obstacles to educating these children. Syrian families who cannot work because they lack work permits or are forced to work for low wages are not able to meet their children’s schooling needs. In this sense, it speaks for itself that refugees should be able to have notebooks, books, stationery and other school supplies free of charge.
Besides getting an education in their mother tongue, Turkish should also be taught to Syrian children. To this end, it is a must to introduce new and necessary regulations to establish new educational institutions and employ educators to teach Syrian migrants in their mother tongue at the said institutions. Steps should be taken to overcome the language barrier that refugees face.
The report titled “Not Likely to Go Home: Syrian Refugees and Challenges to Turkey and the International Community” by the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution emphasises that the costs of caring for Syrian refugees are rising, there is growing recognition that refugees are in Turkey for the long run and there is an urgent need for a comprehensive integration policy.2
As highlighted in the report, there has been a sudden increase in the costs of caring for refugees. Turkey has spent US$10 billion (RM40 billion) to house refugees for five years. It is clear that the EU’s offer of €3 billion (RM13 billion) in aid to Turkey is considerably insufficient to satisfy the needs of refugees. Indeed, international players are required to provide sufficient financial aid so that Turkey can implement necessary policies to their fullest extent.
There is no doubt that Turkey faces a new reality, as Syrian refugees are likely to permanently stay in the country. The enforcement of extensive social integration policies that regulate certain areas, such as work, housing, municipal services, health and education, has an important role in recognising and creating a positive impact, despite the situation. With successful policies, the presence of refugees in Turkey will surely contribute to the country’s social wealth in the future.
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