The humanitarian catastrophe that engulfed Europe in the summer of 2015, when hundreds of thousands fled war in Syria and conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Africa is now under control — in large part thanks to Turkey’s solidarity.
The European Union and Turkey both still face considerable pressure. The Syrian conflict alone displaced nearly 5 million people. In Europe, the crisis overwhelmed its southernmost countries and threatened one of its key principles: the freedom of movement.
Media reports have covered the hardships of Syrians who sought refuge in neighboring countries including Turkey — and rightly so. But the sheer scale of the burden Turkey is shouldering on Europe’s southern flank must not go unnoticed either.
Turkey has kept its borders open to people fleeing bloodshed and turmoil. It has accepted 3.2 million Syrians and 300,000 Iraqis and Afghans, with no discrimination based on their religion, sect, gender or ethnicity, making it one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world.
Turkey has so far spent approximately $30 billion — 3.5 percent of its GDP — to support refugees living inside its borders and help them to integrate socially and economically. Most of the 3.5 million people under temporary protection in Turkey live outside its temporary protection centers and live peacefully alongside the Turkish population.
Turkey’s humanitarian temporary protection policy toward Syrians includes language courses, and education and vocational training. It also ensures they receive access to the Turkish labor market and grants them free health services.
Since January 2016, the Turkish government has issued work permits to 22,600 Syrians. Among the approximately 835,000 school-aged Syrian children living in Turkey, some 508,000 are currently enrolled in primary and secondary education.
It is fair to say that, compared to Turkey’s vast efforts, the international community has been more reluctant to share the burden.
The contribution of the international community — minus the EU — to the Syrians in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian conflict stands at $526 million. The EU, meanwhile, so far has only spent €838 million of the €3 billion it initially pledged to Turkey. The amount represents a mere 0.02 percent of the EU28’s total GDP.
What’s more, this money is granted not to the Turkish government, but directly to Syrians in need, in large part under the auspices of European NGOs and aid agencies.
In March, the EU and Turkey reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate on managing the migration crisis. It has been one of the main targets in our bilateral relations. And, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, Turkey is determined to honor its obligations.
EU-Turkey cooperation has been effective: As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted in his State of the Union address, the number of new arrivals coming to Europe via Turkey dropped by 97 percent over the past year.
Had it not been for Turkey, the EU would have seen the arrival of approximately 1.5 million migrants this year. The model has proven to be so efficient that the bloc is discussing how to replicate it with other countries to curb irregular migration flows in the Central Mediterranean.
But the relationship cannot be a one-way street. Turkey expects the EU to fulfill its end of the bargain as well.
We expect the EU to accelerate both the allocation and spending of the remaining amount pledged as part of the initial €3 billion package. The EU also must not forget its commitment to creating a voluntary humanitarian admission scheme to give Syrian refugees a legal, dignified path to Europe and allow the bloc to better manage migration.
Turkey has undertaken vast efforts to help Europe manage migration flows, despite the fact that last year’s attempted coup partly disrupted the functioning of our state machinery. The bloc cannot remain indifferent to the costs Turkey has undergone.
Turkey is committed to its humanitarian approach to the Syrian crisis. Our willingness to share in the heavy burden is proof that we, as an EU candidate country, truly espouse universal values that make us European.
By helping to stem migration flows, Turkey has proven itself to be a reliable partner in times of crisis in Europe. The EU must also uphold its side of the agreement.
Faruk Kaymakcı is the ambassador at the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the European Union.