As the war in Syria worsens, the number of displaced is rapidly growing. So far, 5 million people have been displaced, with 2 million of those fleeing to other countries. More than half of them are children.
The countries that are carrying the load of these refugees, in order of the burden they have assumed, are Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Western countries and the oil-rich countries of the region are staying away from the refugee issue. Germany has agreed to receive only 5,000 refugees for a maximum of two years. But the ones they accept are "hand picked." They are all educated, and are the kind of Syrians the German economy wants.
The number of Syrians who have fled to Turkey has surpassed 500,000. Nobody knows where it will stop. In one more year we may well have more than 1 million Syrians living in Turkey.
In short, it is time to start worrying. Turkey will face serious problems handling such big numbers. The Syrian refugee problem could harm Turkey’s economic, social and even political balances. That is why the issue has to be handled quickly and seriously, to come up with needed policies.
The first dimension of the issue is economic. The financial burden of the refugees for Turkey has passed the $2 billion mark. The situation is actually worse when you look also at indirect costs. The country that already has employment problems will have a new set of complications with half a million people willing to work for low wages coming from Syria. In some regions, the refugees are actually worsening the employment situation as well as bringing down wages.
Turkey has to seek the support of the United Nations and other international organizations to cope with the economic costs of the refugees. Regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the rich economies of the West have to share the burden of the refugees. But we have learned long ago that the world is not an equitable place when it comes sharing humanitarian costs.
The real problem Turkey will have in regards to the refugees matter will be its social aspects. Refugees coming from a relatively different culture will have problems adjusting to the Turkish way of life and that may well manifest itself in violent reactions to each other. The refugees struggling with employment and other problems may well be drawn to criminal activities.
But there are also opportunities. Our land has been receiving refugees for centuries. After the 1917 revolution, Russians came to Turkey, and after 1979, Iranians. Then Afghans and Iraqi Kurds escaping from Saddam Hussein. These are only a few of the many refugees groups who have taken shelter in Turkey. Turkey has always done its best to take care of all of them.
Unfortunately Turkey, while carrying the burden of helping these people, is lagging badly when it comes to benefiting from the opportunities offered by such a flow of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people leave Turkey without contributing anything worthwhile once the danger has passed or when they find a richer country.
Russians and Iranians are typical examples. Syrians must not be the same. With good and quick planning, the most qualified Syrian refugees must be steered toward remaining in Turkey for a long time and contributing to it.