Turkey’s ‘open border’ policy has not backfired
By: Ceylan Ozbudak
Five-year-old Asiya fell asleep over a dirty blanket under the intense sun as she and her family arrived in Kilis, Turkey after an arduous three day journey from Syria. Her fragile body could not take any more, yet she carried more of her belongings in a plastic bag all the way from Aleppo.
A plastic bag per person was what her family could take out of the rubbles of their house, which was barrel bombed to pieces by Assad’s forces. They had nowhere to stay, nothing to feed on and no more relatives alive. Caught up in the hope and promise, many battered Syrian families fled to Turkey.
Reaction for Syrians in Turkey
Last week, hundreds of people in Turkey marched against the ever-increasing number of Syrian refugees in the country. People blocked roads, some attacked cars, some threw stones into shops owned by the Syrian refugees, claiming that the migrants are committing crimes and violating the peace. This outrage might well be the result of a minority group of ‘less tolerant’ Turkish ultra-nationalists, but we cannot ignore the fact that some reports from the West have also helped fuel the polarization against the Syrian people who are in desperate need.
Turkey adopted an ‘open border’ policy with Syria in order to help save the fleeing Syrian people. This decision was clearly the result of the compassion the Turkish people have for the people of Syria, with whom we share not only an 877 kilometer-long border, but also centuries-old close kinship ties from Ottoman times. As the Syrian civil war gathered pace, refugees started to flock to Turkey and Turkish authorities made a decision not to have them wait at the border for checks, risk their lives in long queues or compound the frustration of people who already lost their homes to a brutal dictator.
Saving the innocent people of Syria — who are unable to save themselves from brutality they did not invite and from an evil they did not appoint — is the very least Turkey can do
Like every political decision, this one also had its ups and downs; when you open the door to greet your long-lost relatives, parasites can also enter your house but you don’t close the door on people’s faces fearing unwanted elements might disrupt your peace, especially if your guests are wounded, sick or in desperate need. Certainly, this decision has had some repercussions for the Turkish nation; many unwanted elements such as radical fighters entered Turkey through open borders, but contrary to common speculation, it is my belief that Turkey never ‘accepted’ or ‘assisted’ extremists. For some reason, the reports of Turkey’s operations against these radical elements have been largely ignored and, inexplicably, media outlets let the speculations grow. Perhaps there was a desire to increase ratings through sensationalistic or hostile analysis.
Turks are immigrants too
The people of Turkey consist of an overwhelmingly immigrant majority. Starting from the beginning of the twentieth century and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which encompassed three continents, immigrants started flocking to cities still under Ottoman control.
These groups were followed by the large population exchange with Greece, eventually forming the great diversity of Turkey with millions of immigrants. Looking at the Syrian example on the other hand, Syria used to be one of the top refugee-accepting countries. When the Kuwait war broke out, they accepted 4 million refugees. The majority of the Turks now feel it is our duty to welcome the Syrian guests as generously as possible— despite the clear lack of international financial or political support.
Ask a Syrian about Turkey
I asked Aboud Danachi, a Syrian author and blogger living in Turkey about the latest protests and wanted to learn how he felt about these. He said “All throughout human history when large groups of people have been introduced into a society, there has always been tensions. It happened with every wave of immigrants in the USA, and we see it happen with African migrants in Israel. So the remarkable thing is that such incidents in Turkey have been the exception rather than the rule.
“It is a credit to the generous spirit of the Turkish people that such incidents have been so rare. We have to keep in mind the unprecedented amount of freedom of movement and work that Syrians have in Turkey. If I was applying for asylum in the UK, I couldn’t work for years. Every single time my stepmother gets on a bus or metro there is always someone willing to give up their seat for her. It’s kind acts like that which make all the difference.”
Despite decades of what I believe to be Baathist ideological education to alienate Turkey, in the near future when the Syrian civil war comes to a close, many Syrians will have very strong ties with Turkey thanks to this policy.
Let us not forget most of those refugees had careers, affluent lives, houses and more only four years ago in their own county; they chose to be refugees instead of being tortured, beaten to death or raped or see their families torn to pieces by bombs; they left their lives behind to save their families. If those who oppose Turkey’s open border policy met the same fate, they would suddenly appreciate the humane nature of Turkey’s policy.
When people are being mercilessly slaughtered, those who can act, must.
There are 1,200,000 refugees right now in Turkey: 804,000 of whom are registered as such. The Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish Disaster Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) together have spent $2.5 billion for the Syrian refugees. Saving the innocent people of Syria — who are unable to save themselves from brutality they did not invite and from an evil they did not appoint — is the very least Turkey can do. This issue cannot be dealt with through cold analyses, or heartless assessments, talk of national interests or by citing “realpolitik” and ‘geopolitical requirements.’
The world needs to understand Turkey’s approach on the matter. Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country and God has made it an obligation on Muslims to help every oppressed person regardless of their race, faith, or nation. Turkey will continue to welcome our Syrian neighbors, fellow humans, and co-religionists. Turkey is leading the way, will other nations in the region and beyond follow?
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak