BY DAILY SABAH
Countries neighboring crisis regions shoulder the real burden of migration and refugees, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday, calling out countries that host a “few hundred refugees” and use them for “advertising” but do not take any responsibility in face of the deepening humanitarian crisis.
In a video message for the Global Parliamentary Conference on migration, which was co-hosted by the Turkish Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Erdoğan said, “In fact, countries like us, which are neighbors to the crisis areas, bear the real burden on the issue of migration and refugees, not developed societies that have a loud voice.”
Expressing that he was very happy to host the parliamentarians in Istanbul, the crossroads of civilizations and continents, the president said: “The Inter-Parliamentary Union serves as an important platform for dialogue for parliamentarians with different political systems and ideas. The union, which allows the parliamentarians, who are the representatives of our peoples, to share their views and experiences with each other, also contributes to the development of solutions to global problems.”
Erdoğan stated that he believes this conference will fill an important need and added that with the coronavirus pandemic that marked the last 2.5 years, he saw that hate speech reached frightening dimensions on a global scale.
Stating that they observed that economic difficulties fueled xenophobia and hostility to refugees all over the world, especially in Western countries, Erdoğan said: “Simultaneously, with the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, more and more people are forced to leave their lands and homes. Currently, the number of migrants worldwide has reached 275 million, the number of displaced persons are approaching 85 million, and the number of refugees are approaching 30 million. With the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, 5 million more people have been added to the current number of refugees. In this human mobility, unfortunately, we come across many scenes that are painful to witness. Journeys embarked on with the hope of establishing a safe future by escaping from oppression, persecution and hunger sometimes end in disaster.”
Pointing out that nearly 30,000 migrants, mostly women and children, lost their lives in the Mediterranean in recent times, Erdoğan noted the whereabouts of tens of thousands of Syrian children who took refuge in Europe and were abducted is not known.
“Almost every day, we witness the plight of refugees who were persecuted, robbed, beaten or even murdered by the Greek security forces. In fact, countries like us, which are neighbors to crisis areas, bear the real burden on the issue of migration and refugees, not developed societies that have a loud voice,” he added.
A report by Turkey’s Ombudsman Institution said that Greece has pushed back nearly 42,000 asylum seekers since 2020. Noting that 98% of the pushbacks involved torture and ill-treatment, the report said 88% of the 8,000 asylum seekers who came to the Greek border were beaten. It added that 97% of them suffered theft, 5% sexual assault and 8% electric shock, while 49% were forced to undress and 16% drowned. Of the children among them, 68% were exposed to or witnessed violence and abuse, stressed the report.
Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back irregular migrants, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands have made short but perilous journeys across the Aegean to reach northern and western Europe in search of a better life. Hundreds of people have died at sea as many boats carrying refugees sank or capsized. The Turkish Coast Guard Command has rescued thousands of others.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants looking to cross into Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks, summary deportations and denying migrants access to asylum procedures, which is a violation of international law. Ankara also accuses the European Union of turning a blind eye to this blatant abuse of human rights.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.
Erdoğan also underlined the fact that Turkey has been the leading country in the world in terms of hosting the largest number of refugees since 2015.
“According to United Nations figures, high-income countries host an average of 2.7 refugees per 1,000 people, while middle- and low-income countries host 5.8 refugees. Those who use the few hundred refugees they accept as advertising material take no responsibility in the face of the deepening humanitarian crisis,” he said.
“As a country located at the crossroads of continents and cultures, the phenomenon of migration has been a part of our human and social life throughout history. We have opened our doors to millions of people who have been persecuted in the last 500 years, especially to the Jews who fled the Inquisition. Our brothers in the Caucasus and our compatriots in the Balkans have always taken refuge in Turkey as a safe harbor when they were in trouble. As we took care of our hundreds of thousands of Kurdish brothers who fled from Iraq in the First Gulf War, we also accepted 3.6 million Syrian refugees who fled from the conflicts in Syria in our lands. We did not reject anyone who came to our door because of their ethnic identity, religion, culture, political leaning and sect.
“We are the country that has hosted the most refugees in the world for the last seven years. I hope that we will continue to fulfill this duty that our history, culture and belief impose on us. Today, when the greatest human mobility after the Second World War is experienced, no one can escape from their responsibilities,” Erdoğan added.
According to official figures, Turkey hosts over 5 million migrants from 190 different backgrounds, frequently urging the international community to take concrete steps to tackle the global migration crisis.
It’s been more than 10 years since the first group of Syrian refugees, consisting of 250 people, entered Turkey, starting their new lives in the country after fleeing the war and persecution of the Bashar Assad regime. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has backed moderate opposition groups against the Assad regime and opened its doors to those who had to flee the country to save their lives.
Now, Turkey hosts more Syrian migrants than any other country in the world. The country also leads humanitarian aid efforts for Syrians in Turkey and opposition-controlled areas of northern Syria, while making large investments for Syrians in Turkey in social cohesion policies to help them integrate into society smoothly. Most Syrians who fled the civil war and escaped to Turkey are happy in the country and do not want to return home, a recent poll of Syrian refugees in Turkey revealed.