On 4 June, the European Commission proposed a €485 million ‘top-up’ to support Syrian refugees living in Turkey. The funds would be used to extend the Emergency Social Safety Net, a program that provides monthly financial assistance to approximately 1.7 million refugees and the Conditional Cash Transfers for Education program, which ensures children can attend school. This is part of a larger package worth €585 million, to help refugees and communities affected by the Syrian war. Jordan and Lebanon, who have the most refugees per capita, would collectively receive €100 million. The proposal will go through the European Parliament and Council for approval.
The European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Oliver Várhelyi said: “With no immediate end in sight of the Syrian crisis that continues to threaten the region, it is in the EU’s interest to increase support to reinforce the resilience of refugees and local communities that host them, especially in the current context of the coronavirus pandemic.” The European Commission reports that since the Syrian war began in 2011, the E.U. and its member states have contributed over €20 billion towards the crisis. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has criticised the E.U. in the past, believing they have not done enough to share the burden of refugees and claims Turkey has spent €40 billion supporting Syrian refugees. Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s Chief Advisor said:”For many European countries their approach seems to be that as long as they don’t come our way, they don’t come to our cities, it’s somebody else’s problem.”
Many refugees are often exploited to perform difficult and demeaning work, for a pittance. In 2019, Reliefweb reported that only 1.5% of Syrian refugees held Turkish work permits. The New York Times reported the experience of a refugee, Shakar Rudani, who was paid only $10 a day for working on a Hazelnut farm in Akcakale, Turkey. Many of Turkey’s refugees are encouraged by their financial insecurity to seek better futures in western Europe. This is why when Turkey purposely opened its borders earlier this year, over 80,000 refugees made their way towards Europe.
Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s Communications Director said: “We have said it, time and again, that we can no longer accommodate renewed refugee inflows if there is no serious burden sharing. We have called on the U.S. and E.U. to create a safe zone, which we are doing on our own now.” In 2016, the EU-Turkey Agreement was established to prevent Syrian refugees from migrating to western Europe, by tightening border restrictions in Turkey. As part of the agreement, the E.U. would give Turkey €6 billion by 2020, to support its Syrian refugees, of which there are currently 3,579,368 registered. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister claimed that the E.U. “has not even paid half of the 6 billion euros that it had promised Ankara for Syrians.” Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s Foreign Policy Chief said member states would be willing to give Turkey more than the agreed-upon €6 billion. However, the E.U. could not “accept that migrants are being used as a source of pressure.”
Turkey has a disproportionate number of refugees compared to its European neighbours. This is unfair to both Turkey and its refugees who often do not receive the treatment or opportunities they deserve. Although the €485 million will help support Syrian refugees in Turkey, more international cooperation is needed, including more even distribution of refugees between countries.