Already home to well over one million Syrian refugees, Turkey has recently become a destination country for Iraqis who flee from violence, putting further strain on Turkey, analysts said. “As long as the instability in the neighboring countries continue, Turkey will be facing influx of refugees,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara’s International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), told Xinhua. “The flow of refugees has already taken a toll on Turkish economy, national security as well as increased strain on its social structure,” he noted.
In fact, just last week, protests erupted against Syrian refugees in the border city Gaziantep where residents took up streets to express their anger over an incident that a Syrian refugee fatally stabbed his Turkish landlord. The riot police have been deployed to control the angry crowds with some 50 citizens detained. Several groups of Syrian refugees were shipped to other cities as a precaution. The violence in the Iraq that started in June in northern city of Mosul and later expanded to other areas amid clashes between Islamic militants and Iraqi security forces has sent waves of refugees to Turkish border.
Both Iraqi Yazidi religious minority and ethnic Turkmens sought refuge in Turkey after attacks by extremist militants of Islamic State. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said that around 1, 700 Yazidis came to Turkey to seek refuge and the government is providing aids to them. Unofficial figure is estimated to be much higher. Local reports claimed last week that the number of Yazidis in the southeastern province of Sirnak alone has reached 2,350.
Atalay also said that Ankara will build a tent camp in the Iraqi city of Zakho for Yazidi refugees, signaling that Ankara has shifted focus in refugee policy. Instead of building camps in Turkey, Ankara wants to attend refugee problem beyond its borders. “Now there are 50,000 fleeing Yazidis,” the Turkish deputy prime minister underlined. Turkish Prime Minister and president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the international community on lack of response to refugee crisis, saying that Turkey is the only country that opened its arms to fleeing Yazidis.
Erdogan underlined that some 20,000 Yazidis are at the Iraqi side of Turkish border. “We sent 120 truckloads of aid to the Yazidis and we’ll keep sending humanitarian aid over there,” he added. Mesut Cevikalp, Ankara-based researcher, said refugee problem could only be resolved with the establishment of working government in Baghdad that will provide stability security and hope for Iraqis.
“Turkey, in cooperation with the neighbors, should strive to achieve a political solution to the deadlocked government in Baghdad,” he told Xinhua. It appears the resignation of Nuri al-Maliki’s as Iraqi prime minister and his endorsement of the nomination of Hader al-Abadi for the post of prime minister may pave the way for a functioning government in Iraq. Maliki is seen as polarizing figure that was accused of marginalizing Sunni groups as well as raising tensions with Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government.
Al-Abadi was welcomed by regional heavyweights such Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and supported by the United States and the European Union. In the meantime, Erdogan government in Turkey has recently come under fire for not helping enough to a special group called Turkmens, Iraq’s third largest ethnic group after Arabs and Kurds. Turkmens are ethnically Turks and speak the same language as their brethren in 77 million Turkey. They are both subscribers of Sunni and Shite Islamic teachings.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party deputy Sezgin Tanrikulu criticized Erdogan for keeping mum in face of the slaughter of Turkmens by extremist militants. Erdogan dismissed criticisms that Turkmens were left alone, saying “We are paying more attention to Turkmens than we did to Gaza.” Erdogan, seen as the chief political Islamist in Turkey, is accused of catering more the needs of Gazans at the expense of ethnic Turkmens. “Unfortunately, I do not think the government has displayed towards the Turkmens of (Iraqi city) Tal Afar the (same) sensitivity it displayed towards Gaza,” said Mehmet Tutuncu, chairman of the Istanbul-based Iraqi Turks Culture and Mutual Aid Society (ITKYD).
It looks like refugee spillover from neighboring countries continue to be a major domestic political issue, Erol remarked. According to Turkish emergency relief agency AFAD, Turkey has spent some 3.5 billion U.S. dollars to manage the Syrian refugees but has received only 224 million U.S. dollars in international aid. It looks like the bill will only increase with the fresh wave of new refugees from Iraq.
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