Remarks By Ambassador O. Koray Ertaş On Turkey And The Refugee Crisis

Koray Ertaş 19.10.2015

(October 13, 2015, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj)

Honorable Rector,
Dear Professors,
Distinguished students,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to speak at one of the most prestigious universities in Romania. With its rich history, Babeş-Bolyai University contributes a lot not only to the beautiful city of Cluj but to the whole nation. I would like to thank Professor Pop for inviting me here. I also thank to Professor Cemil for his strong efforts to make this union reality.

As you know, Turks and Romanians were able to derive a strong partnership out of a long shared history. Today we are not only allies, but also strategic partners. From commercial ties to investments, from cultural ties to people to people contacts, from military contacts to security cooperation, our relations are prospering at all levels. It is a distinct privilege for me to work to further improve our relations with this important strategic partner of ours.

Dear friends,

Our common neighborhood is again marked by serious challenges. Last Saturday terrorism has once again reared its bloody head in Turkey. This time the target was a peaceful demonstration by civilians. We have lost almost 100 souls, while many more were injured. The Turkish Government declared a three - day national mourning, which ended yesterday. We as a nation once again bitterly faced with the reality that terrorism, regardless of its motivation and objectives, is the biggest threat to our fundamental values. We are grateful to the messages of solidarity and condolence by the Romanian President, the Prime Minister, the Government, and the people. We should continue to stay united to fight terrorism of all kind and manifestation.

My visit to Babeş-Bolyai also came at a period when serious instability factors continue to test our abilities both in the eastern and southern parts of our Alliance. Since, one of the major challenges that we face today is certainly the escalating conflict in Syria and the ensuing refugee crisis, today, as announced before, I will share Turkey’s position on the refugee issue.

In this presentation, I will basically focus on 4 major topics. First, I will try to depict the magnitude of the crisis. Then I will explain the response by Turkey and international community. Finally, I will try to offer the Turkish perspective on what needs to be done.

The world witnesses the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. The five-year old Syrian conflict has already inflicted a heavy toll: 300 thousand lives were lost, more than 4 million people left their homes and sought shelter abroad, and more than 7 million people have been internally displaced.

Turkey has certainly been one of the most affected nations in that regard. There are dramatic numbers that show the extent of the burden that we are facing:

- The total number of Syrians in Turkey reached over 2 million. Turkey is the biggest refugee hosting country in the world according to UNHCR.

(While suffering of a single individual makes a headline in some cases, a huge tragedy could become mere statistics for our societies if the tragedy occurs away from us. I would like to use a New York Times coverage to show the scale of the migrant crisis from a hundred to millions.)

- From the onset of the crisis, some 70 thousand Syrian babies were born in Turkey. Almost a million of the whole refugees in Turkey are children.

- In camps, we are hosting close to 260 thousand Syrians. Hence, 9 out of 10 Syrians live freely in cities. There are Turkish cities, such as Kilis, where the number of Syrians surpassed that of the Turkish citizens.

- There were instances during the last 4 years where thousands of Syrians flee to Turkey in only few days. In some cases we have taken in more refugees from Syria and Iraq in one week than all of Europe in months. During the fighting in Ayn Al Arab / Kobane, for instance, 200 thousand Kurds entered Turkey in a week.

Despite all difficulties, we still continue our "open door" policy for Syrians fleeing from violence and persecution. We do so without any discrimination with regard to religious or ethnic origin, regardless of their being Arab, Kurd, Yazidi, Assyrian, or Turcoman.

We strictly comply with the principle of non-refoulement. Turkish society has welcomed those seeking shelter in Turkey.

Now allow me to share some figures to give a sense of the huge humanitarian response that the Turkish government and people have displayed in the last 4 years:

- 260 thousand Syrians are accommodated in 25 temporary protection centers and are offered a wide range of services including provision of food and non-food items, health and education services, as well as psychological assistance, vocational training and social activities.

- The 1.9 million Syrians who live outside these centers are also enjoying a protective regime, benefitting from free health care.

- 9 million medical consultations and 280 thousand surgical operations were performed for this population.

- 230 thousand school-age Syrian children receive formal education and 460 thousand more will be integrated into the education system by the end of the year, including through second shifts. The Ministry of Education is bringing all informal Syrian schools, often run by Syrian NGOs, under its supervision.

- Overall, Turkey has spent more than 7 billion US Dollars to respond to this challenge.

Dear friends,

These were some hard facts and figures. The challenge is huge and continuous. This crisis is not a national or even a regional one. No one is immune from its effects. It took 4 years for Europe to face with this reality; and unfortunately only after the heartbreaking sight of a three-year old Aylan, whose body washed ashore in September after his boat capsized in the Aegean Sea. This dramatic picture woke up Europe to the horrors of the war that the Syrians have been living with over the last 4 years.

Still, the tragedy that was inflicted upon thousands of others remain unseen and unheard of. The number of "would-be" illegal migrants, who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, has reached at a staggering 6 thousand. This year alone, some 3 thousand refugees lost their lives in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe.

Today, while we are exhausting nearly all our capacity to host asylum-seekers from the region, the rest of the Western World, despite their means, account for radically low shares in global resettlement rates. In total, more than 100 thousand resettlement places have been offered globally since the start of the Syria crisis.

This equates to a mere 2 percent of the total population of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

No country alone could tackle the current crisis and international solidarity and response is a must. We expect the family of nations, especially the EU and other European states, to adopt a more generous approach and accept people fleeing conflicts. As I mentioned, Turkey has spent more than 7 billion US Dollars to respond to this challenge, while the contribution that we received from the international community is only some 400 million US Dollars, out of which some 170 thousand came from Europe.

What needs to be done? There are no quick answers and easy solutions. There are short and long term measures:

First, we need to tackle the recent pressure caused by hundreds of thousand asylum seekers waiting at the gates of Europe. We need to improve the conditions of Syrians living abroad including in Turkey. We should increase the institutional capacities of the host countries. We should build new shelters, provide further services, including in health, nutrition, and education. We need urgent action from UN agencies and international community. Once these people lose their faith about the future, they either move further west or face the risk of being more radicalized.

Sustainable assistance in health and education is particularly vital. On average about 100 Syrian babies are born every day in the protection centers. There are almost 600.000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey. New schools, classrooms and teachers are urgently needed. Particularly on nutrition and education, one-time, quick impact projects will not deliver any meaningful benefit.

Second, we should increase efforts to tackle with organized smuggler rings that try to benefit from illegal crossing attempts of the asylum seekers. On its part, Turkey spends huge effort to prevent illegal crossings at sea and at the land borders. Turkish Coast Guard intensified its activities in order to maintain safety and security at sea. Since the beginning of 2015, the Turkish Coast Guard has rescued over 55.000 migrants from sea. This number is more than the total number of rescued migrants at sea in the last 5 years.

Meanwhile, the operations conducted by the Turkish Coast Guard cost about 5 million Euros per month. Overall, 235 thousand illegal entrants were intercepted by Turkish Law Enforcement Agencies since 2011. We continue to increase our cooperation with our European partners and agencies, including FRONTEX.

Last month, thousands of refugees seeking transit through Turkish western town of Edirne to Greece and Bulgaria were hardly prevented by the Turkish authorities. Once the efforts of the local authorities were not enough to convince thousands of people accompanied by elderly people and babies, the Turkish Prime Minister received their representatives and personally convinced them to return back inside Turkey. However, Europe should not have the illusion that Turkey will continue to be the strong gatekeeper in this crisis. It is practically impossible for any single nation to deal with the crisis.

This brings me to the third step that we should take: We need to address the root causes to eliminate what we call as the “push factors”. Even if we build the most exemplary shelters, more people will flee as long as the conflict continues. We can have thousand today, but we could have two thousand soon after.

The current disaster is a direct result of the war in Syria, which has driven millions from their homes. After almost 5 years of conflict and strife, the Syrian crisis is now the world’s worst humanitarian tragedy. Almost half of the country’s population, close to 12 million men, women and children have been displaced. International community, notably P5 and regional countries, should work out their differences on the crisis. The recent Russian intervention only complicated the picture further. This tragedy will not end before the people of Syria have a legitimate government that represents their will and enjoys their consent.

We should, together with our allies, also increase our efforts to fight against terrorism in all its manifestations. We should particularly focus on DEASH and their inhumane ideology. Turkey is doing its utmost to fight against DEASH terrorism as an active member of the international coalition. As a Muslim majority nation our efforts have a deep effect on their distorted ideology, which has nothing to do with our religious values.

We should not differentiate between terrorism motivated by different origins. For us there is no difference between DAESH and the PKK, which is responsible for the death of thousands of civilians including our Kurdish citizens. As a matter of fact, my country is currently fighting against three different terrorist organizations at the same time. We are resolute to continue to defend our nation and democracy against these religious, ethnic, and ideologically motivated terror groups.

Last but not least, we should prepare necessary conditions for the return of Syrians to their homes once the conflict is over. They need more than emergency response. If Syrians lose their faith in the future of Syria, we will have a permanent issue, not a temporary problem.

As a concrete step, we have been favoring the establishment of a “safe zone” to be created in the north of Syria. We believe that such an area would allow for the voluntary return of refugees. If we cannot devise such safe zones, it will become inevitable for more than 7 million people in Syria to embark on a journey to Europe, which will further deepen the current humanitarian crisis.

Dear friends,
Turkey will continue its responsible and generous response to the refugee crisis. We cannot completely halt the migratory flows. But with joint efforts we can manage them. Therefore, we need burden sharing and real cooperation to devise a global response and more importantly to bring an end to the tragedy that causes the flow of innocent people. Turkey is ready to continue to undertake this huge effort.

Thank you for your attention. Now I am ready to have your questions.