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Mar 29 2019

Turkey quietly working for integration of Syrian refugees - Reuters

Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying his government is trying to create conditions for some 4 million Syrian refugees to return home, Turkey is quietly paving the way to integrate Syrians into Turkish society, Reuters reported on Friday. 

The European Union and Turkey agreed a deal in 2016 to reduce the large number of refugees reaching Europe via Greek islands near the Turkish mainland. Turkey agreed to tighten controls along its coastline and take back the migrants arriving irregularly in Greece in exchange for 6 billion euros to help accommodate the millions of refugees the country. 

Instead of humanitarian aid, the EU is now diverting its funds allocated for refugees in Turkey to longer-term projects such as preparing Syrians to compete in the job market and funding language courses and vocational training, Reuters said. 

“There is now a slight shift from providing basic humanitarian assistance to more long-term assistance which also leads to better socio-economic integration of refugees, of people who want to stay in Turkey,” Reuters quoted EU Ambassador Christian Berger as saying.

But resentment against the Turkish government’s Syria policy, especially in provinces which host high number of Syrian refugees, could play an important role in local elections on Sunday. As a result, the Turkish government has been playing up the prospects of the Syrians’ imminent return to their homeland, Reuters said.

In Istanbul, where some district candidates promise to send Syrians back home if elected, Binali Yıldırım, a former prime minister standing as mayor of the city for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), said this week he would not tolerate Syrians disrupting the peace.

“If they negatively impact normal life and order here, there will be repercussions,” he said.

But a senior government official told Reuters that Ankara was aware that some Syrians might choose to stay in Turkey, even if peace was restored in Syria

“There will be people who have established businesses, got married. We will not force them to return,” the official said.

Since 2016, the Education Ministry and the EU have been phasing out temporary education centres, where classes were mostly taught in Arabic, and moving Syrian children to mainstream schools. Turkey is also building two hospitals along the Syrian border, as well as 55 schools and community and training centres with the EU’s financial assistance. 

The government has also made it easier for Syrians to get work permits, but only 32,000 out of 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees have acquired permits so far, Reuters said.

“Turkey’s view towards Syrians depends on the political environment,” an aid worker told Reuters. “But operationally speaking, Turkey has been doing a fantastic job in integration for the last eight years.”