I wish it was as simple as that, and that it was Elvis I was actually referring too. Last year I wrote about how the Syrians in Mersin, and throughout Turkey, were not being treated well. It’s now been 4 years, and while Turkey still has almost 2 million refugees in camps and scattered around the country, the rest of the world-especially the EU-have been bitching and moaning about how they can stop the “tide of migrants’ coming to their countries. Much of this fuelled by various media outlets and one in particular in the UK which LOVES to run a story about how these hoards come over to the UK and either take our jobs or draw on the benefits system. Hoards, really? Let this Prof explain
The rhetoric in places like Mersin is not much different these days. Lots of stories about Syrians coming and under cutting Turkish people and taking poorly paid construction jobs at lower rates than Turks can work for. As I said last year the complaints also cover how they are pushing up the price of housing, both rental and sales. There are some other pretty abhorrent and racist things being said about the Syrians here, despite many of those in Mersin setting up businesses and contributing to the economy.
The trouble is, trying to explain to people how people fleeing Syria are:
- not doing so out of choice
- not all uneducated and if given half a chance could contribute to the country that is willing to accept them-doctors, nurses, engineers etc
- won’t automatically place a burden on economies and sit on their arses drawing benefits
- don’t get on boats for the pure fun of it, or think that the streets of London are paved with gold
- don’t actually want to be in another country at all and just want to go HOME
It just falls on deaf ears, or at least the ears of those with the power to actually DO anything are decidedly deaf. They don’t want to hear or see the statistics which show that the vast majority of people who enter the UK and are non British citizens, actually contribute in taxes and voluntary work. Rather, they are too busy putting up extra barriers to entry–build those fences higher! More razor wire! Hey, here’s and idea, how about a Israeli/Berlin style wall to keep those pesky refugee/migrants/cockroaches/whatever filthy word you want to use to dehumanise people, out.
Or perhaps……just perhaps…..they might start listening now. Because unless you live under a rock, a toddler died. UK press apparently censored many of the more shocking of the photos of the child laying on the beach, in favour of a Turkish coast guard carrying the boy. So hardened are we to images of war, hearing numbers of people dying (2600 Syrians from Turkey so far, and due to get worse), or sucked in by various press outlets that we have no room, that sadly it is this image of this poor boy-out of the many thousands-which may be the one to turn people’s stomachs enough to start a wave of reaction. Within hours of the image being on the internet it have been posted in various forms by newspapers and all over social media and blogs. It’s this image, over and above people being beaten, locked out of train stations, breaking down fences, walking hundreds of miles, having numbers written on their arms in biro, this image which might, just might make a difference,
Or will it? I’m afraid that the cynic in me says that these days even this isn’t enough. EU leaders are talking about quotas. Well how about this? Watch how this boy explains to all of us how things really are, how actually they would quite like to carry on living where they were born, where their home is/was, where their culture and everything familiar is/was. They don’t want to be in Europe any more than European is making VERY clear that they don’t want them. Well perhaps with the exception of one of the smallest EU nations, Iceland, but even with people saying they would be happy to take Syrian people into their own homes, their Prime Minister is not exactly enthusiastic about that idea.
The cynic in me also realises that unless the various political leaders stand up and do something rather than talking about how to minimise it or actually having a proper solution (not that I would trust them to get that right given how royal messed up so much of the region is right now), it’s just going to go on. And soon, sadly we may even become immune to the image of a child laying lifeless on a beach. I do hope not.
Bodrum is one of the wealthiest holiday resorts in the country. It’s where many rich Istanbullers choose to have their summer houses, and where many of the famous Turks are pictured in the equivalent of OK or HELLO magazine during the summer. Yet it’s also very very close to the island of Kos. There are other islands close to other parts of the Turkish coast, but Kos is one of the closest. Those other ares are also facing daily groups of Syrians with no other plans than to find the traffickers and get on a precarious boat to make the journey. The traffickers are gangs, and aggressive with it. The Turkish authorities are either powerless against them or just don’t care because once out of Turkey the Syrians are no longer their problem any more. That is till the boats capsize in Turkish waters or bodies wash up on the shoreline. This is just one account of what people who live in the not so rich districts of Bodrum are seeing, but I have heard many other accounts in other resort areas of life vests on the beaches and other evidence of people having left quickly in the night. The reason we’re not seeing it ourselves, in Mersin, is because the nearest island to us is Cyprus and that’s a day away by ferry. Besides Cyprus is too complicated, being half Turkish and half Greek Cypriot.
So why flee? They made it out of Syria to Turkey. Again, not that simple. Here there is no system for asylum, it’s run by the UNHCR who make decisions on whether people are eligible for asylum in other countries, and if they are lucky enough to get through the lengthy process will be supported to exit legally to whichever nation they have chosen/has accepted them. Trouble is that the UNHCR system was already at breaking point, and now it has declared that for non Syrians it is likely to be 10-15 years before they can even start to have their applications for asylum. If you read it, you’ll soon see how being a refugee in Turkey is far from great. Most of the Syrians who fled are in camps near the border, those who get out can’t guaranteed being allowed to stay in host cities, as last year all were ordered back to the camps from one city after a fight broke out. Often they have to report daily to the police, who don’t always treat them well. They may get a food voucher but it’s hardly enough to last them a week, let a lone a month. They are severely restricted in how or if they are allowed to participate in society-jobs, schooling, business etc. Many are educated but not allowed to practice their professions, ie not sure if it’s still true but definitely up until a few years ago if your didn’t train in Turkey you could not practice as a nurse or a doctor.
In fact the few Syrian people who are in Mersin are actually very very lucky. They have cars and housing, and several have set up businesses to employ each other. Sadly the majority are not so lucky. And that is why people flee. What is better, staying in a country where asylum claims will take years, and in that time you are in complete limbo, or try and get to a country where the process will hopefully be quicker and you’ll actually be able to be a functioning part of it? This doesn’t mean that it’s Turkey’s fault, far from it, but while they opened their borders and accepted 2 million people fleeing from their homes, what exactly have the EU done other than bitch and moan, and send out nasty negative rubbish. Do they think that Turkey can cope with and extra two million people? Or more to the point do they even care? As long as they are in Turkey, they are not the EU, or anybody else’s problem. Trouble is, they don’t want to be in Turkey, so they are other countries problem.
So we have a stalemate. The EU will talk their quotas while expecting the Turkish authorities to hold back the ‘tide of migrants’ and stop the people traffickers. The Turkish authorities know that short of building a wall in the sea, which would be bad for tourism, and arresting all the traffickers, of which more will cheerfully appear and take extortionate payments for unsafe vessels packed with desperate people, there’s not really a lot they can do to stop people desperate to leave who will do anything to do just that.
So what we have now are images of a little boy called Aylan Kurdi, a list of ways to help out, local charities in Turkey and elsewhere doing their very best to make life easier and more bearable, and an image which hopefully shows that not all is lost.
What we need is a little less conversation and a little more action please, from those with the power to do so.