Ankara’s open-door refugee policy under spotlight

Internally displaced children walk inside Al-Karameh refugee camp beside the Syrian-Turkiish border in the Northern Idlib countryside January 10, 2015. (Reuters)
Updated 23 June 2019

Ankara’s open-door refugee policy under spotlight

  • Saban doesn’t expect the border to open or that Turkey will allow a flow of refugees that it cannot handle

ANKARA: When the offensive in the countryside around Hama and Idlib by Russian and Syrian regime forces resulted in the displacement of about 300,000 people, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned that mass refugee waves should be expected if humanitarian conditions get worse.
The reaction of Ankara is a key: Will the open-door policy be maintained?
However, Ankara has made it clear that the country can take no more refugees.
Hosting 4 million Syrian refugees, “Turkey’s capacity to host a new wave of migrants has almost reached its limits,” Abdullah Ayaz, head of the Turkish Interior Ministry’s migration management department, said on June 19 during a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean in Ankara.
Rather than maintaining its open-door policy, Ankara has said a political solution is the priority for the conflict around Idlib, the rebel-held stronghold in Syria that became the scene for serious clashes between Assad-linked forces and opposition forces.
“There is no agreed mechanism for going from Idlib to Turkey because for the moment Turks don’t know how hard it will be for them to handle a new refugee wave. Instead, they are focusing on placing them in the safe zones in the north (of Syria),” Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, told Arab News.
Saban doesn’t expect the border to open or that Turkey will allow a flow of refugees that it cannot handle.
“But, from a humanitarian perspective, Turks should work to provide services to those internally displaced people inside the safe zone along its border with Idlib. They have to monitor the actual procedures for the local allies to provide help for them,” he added.
Saban also noted that Ankara should put more pressure on Moscow to follow the Idlib cease-fire agreement and to stop attacking the safe zone.
“By doing that Turkey will avoid a whole new wave of refugees,” he said.
Turkish observation posts in Idlib were also recently attacked by Assad regime forces.
Since late April, around 375 civilians are estimated to have been killed by Russian and regime bombardment in the region.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Ankara has made it clear that the country can take no more refugees.

• Rather than maintaining its open-door policy, Ankara has said a political solution is the priority for the conflict around Idlib.

Selim Sazak, a doctoral researcher at Brown University and adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation, thinks that Turkey’s refugee crisis is past the point of sustainability.
“Refugee policy, or more properly, anger toward it, is one of the few things that unites Erdogan’s supporters and detractors alike,” said Sazak, pointing out a report by Bilgi University’s Migration Studies Center, whose survey found overwhelming support for the repatriation of Syrian refugees across all parties.
“Ought Turkey to keep an open-door policy? Maybe. Can it? Not as easily as it used to, especially with political upheaval and economic troubles at such an all-time high,” he told Arab News.
For Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian-origin researcher on refugee integration at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, it is costly both politically and economically to pursue an open-door policy.
“This why Ankara favors diplomacy to contain further military escalation,” he told Arab News.
“If, however, large-scale displacement becomes unavoidable, accommodating the displaced in areas close to the border would be the lowest humanitarian denominator since the capacity of the Euphrates Zone is limited and the situation in Afrin (north of Aleppo) is further complex and fragile,” he added.
Therefore, Kadkoy thinks that this won’t be an easy task and in a similar scenario, the international community must act alongside Ankara to bear the responsibility of meeting the emergency requirements.


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 2 min 36 sec ago

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


Artists also expressed their solidarity with protesters. Actress Nadine Nassib Njeim tweeted her photo in the heart of Beirut: “May God protect our youth, give you strength, grant you victory and be with you. We all stand together against corruption, parties, slogans and robberies.”
In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”