On the first day of a two-day working visit to Turkey, Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas visited the International Organization for Migration (IOM) suboffice in Gaziantep as well as Nizip refugee camp, both of which are located near the Syrian border.
The IOM suboffice focuses on identifying and ensuring the basic needs of Syrian families who have abandoned their homes due to violence and war, including ensuring that children continue to receive an education. "It is remarkable how 700 school buses are kept in operation a day solely to support school attendance," Ratas said according to a government press release.
The IOM suboffice also works closely together with Germany's Federal Foreign Office, or foreign ministry, which helps reunite refugee families who have ended up in Turkey with relatives now living in Germany.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Estonian prime minister visited the refugee camp Nizip II Container City, where he was given a thorough overview of the container city's structure and the living conditions of the refugees living there, including the work of the camp's educational institutions and library and the organization of recreational activities.
"Turkey is working hard together with international organizations to provide refugees with a decent living environment," said Ratas. "Turkish authorities have managed to create living conditions at the Nizip II camp that are the envy of many other refugees. What is important is that children and youth be able to continue their educations and adults be able to work. This surely isn't like life was back at home, in Syria, but it helps provide hope that they can return smoothly to normal life after the war."
In spring 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement which in large part stemmed the flow of illegal refugees into Europe via Turkey. There are currently over three million refugees currently residing in Turkey, the majority of whom are from the neighboring Syria. The EU is providing Turkey with €3 billion in aid over two years for the assistance of refugees there; Estonia's contribution to this funding is €2.8 million.
The EU and its member states are also cooperating with Turkey in all ventures involved in improving the humanitarian situation in Syria. A recent survey conducted by Harvard Business School and Boğaziçi University showed that 90 percent of Syrian refugees want to return home after the war; just six percent responded that they would like to live in Europe.
While in Gaziantep, Ratas also met with mayor Fatma Şahin. Gaziantep and Tartu, Estonia's second largest city, are sister cities. As a result, the Turkish city is well informed about life in Estonia and highly values all cultural as well as economic ties. Şahin provided the Estonian head of government with a thorough overview of the region's development, support of refugees as well as security risks caused by the city's close proximity to the Syrian border.
On Tuesday evening, Ratas traveled on to the Turkish capital of Ankara, where he will meet with Turkish leaders including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Wednesday.
Ratas is scheduled to return to Estonia on Wednesday evening.
Editor: Aili Vahtla