BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
Syrian refugees have become a domestic issue in Turkey in the 10 years since the Syrian civil war started.
The AK Party government, which opened the doors of Turkey to Syrian citizens after the Syrian civil war began but hasn’t taken any action in terms of integration, jumped into action once the issue started to affect political polemics.
The AK Party government has developed an approach from three different legs for the Syrian refugee issue;
►The cards the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have to play have been revealed. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has handed the card of the attrition of the TSK. Akar, in stating that Turkish troops have sufficient equipment and power to protect Turkey’s borders, warned that the discourse that “the borders have turned into a colander” could pave the way for a break in the TSK. However, the opposition is not criticizing the TSK for the inflow of refugees and irregular migrants, criticizing instead the political authority that shut its eyes to illegal migration and directs the army in this direction. From this aspect, it is Hulusi Akar, the head of the TSK, who has dragged the TSK to this dispute, not the opposition. The AK Party government seems to be set on bringing the issue to the Turkish army security break axis and making it indisputable.
►The second approach, the cheap labor force approach, is conducted through the economic function of refugees. The AK Party Chairman of Local Administrations Mehmet Ozhaseki said Syrian and Afghani refugees keep the industry in some cities alive. Yasin Aktay, the Consultant to the AK Party Chairman, stated that the national economy will collapse if Syrians leave. These statements are still being echoed by some figures. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently joined this group. Addressing the business environment demanding that Syrians should return to their home country, Soylu said: “Employ Syrians at your factories, exploit them, don’t insure them. Then say what the state of Syrians will sit in a cross-legged manner. 1 million people will leave the country. Do you know who will suffer from this? Business owners.”
►Return is the third approach announced by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in person. Erdogan stated that briquette houses will be built in the regions controlled by opposition groups, that are supported by the TSK against the Assad administration, for Syrians who will return. Erdogan also estimated that 1 million of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey will return when social facilities such as hospitals and schools are constructed along with these houses.
WILL THE BRIQUETTE HOUSE PROJECT WORK IN SYRIA?
From the perspective of international law, it is possible to see the potential of the AK Party’s “briquette house” project to cause more problems than solutions.
There are many unanswered questions. How will the areas where briquette homes will be built be determined? Are these areas owned by the Syrian state or by the people who were forced to migrate due to the war? If it is owned by the Syrian government, then how will these areas be zoned for construction without talking with the Assad regime, which is still the official representative of the Syrian government in the United Nations?
Although President Erdogan stated that the briquette house project will be carried out with the local councils in the region, there are still disputes about the “legitimacy” of these councils. Who are these councils? How have they been established? Who and how have they been chosen?
WHO WILL BE SENT TO BRIQUETTE HOUSES?
Another question is how transparently the AK Party government, which hasn’t been transparent in any Syrian policies it has pursued, will act in getting refugees to move to these briquette houses.
Who will be sent to these briquette houses? Will they be chosen in line with the regions where they come from, or in line with the economic need? Or will their ethnic or religious features be accepted as a criterion for sending them back?
The AK Party government officials mention Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty on almost all occasions. This means that the regions controlled by the TSK now will be returned to the Syrian government. But what will happen if those who own the land where briquette houses are built by Turkey return? Will those who will live at the briquette houses have be evacuated?
WARNING FROM THE EU: THERE ARE NO CONDITIONS FOR AN HONORABLE RETURN
Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, the Head of the EU Delegation to Turkey, stated diplomatically that the project cannot be operated under the current circumstances following Erdogan’s announcement of the briquette house project. The Head of the EU Delegation to Turkey added: “An honorable return of Syrian refugees, from not only Turkey but also Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Europe, will make everyone happy when the conditions are proper. But there are no these conditions now. The necessary conditions especially for a large-scale return don’t exist. We depend on the evaluation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the return.”
The trouble is that the perspectives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Turkey about Syrians are not legally consistent with each other. While Turkey defines Syrians in the country as “asylum seekers”, the United Nations describes them as “refugees”. (The right of immigration is not given to those who come from the east of the country due to the geographical limitation imposed in the UN Refugee Convention)
While the complicated property issue that emerged following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 has not been resolved yet, are we ready to fight against ownership problems stemming from Syria with the “briquette houses” project?