EU refugee aid helping bring Syrians, Turks together in Turkey

Istanbul, Dec 9 (EFE).- The flags of Turkey and the European Union fly outside a new hospital that opened its doors this week in Kilis, near the Turkish border with Syria, which is the culmination of six years of work and billions of euros from EU funds.

The hospital is part of the EU’s aid program for Syrian refugees in Turkey, launched in 2016 after the previous year’s unprecedented wave of irregular migration.

The deal was criticized both in Europe, where it was interpreted as a payment to Turkey in exchange for avoiding taking in refugees, and by the Turkish government, which reproached Brussels for transferring the money in small increments for specific projects aimed at improving the lives of Syrians.

But six years and almost 7 billion euros later, the hospital in Kilis reflects the success of the approach, according to both European and Turkish officials.

While early efforts to tackle the arrival en masse of Syrian refugees in Turkey in 2013 and 2014 focused on creating hospitals and schools specifically for Syrian children, Ankara soon changed course to allow Syrians free access to the public health system on equal terms with Turkish citizens.

It also put an end to Arabic-language schools that were often funded by Islamist NGOs from Qatar and other Gulf countries and worked to integrate Syrian children into Turkey’s public schools.

Today, of the 1.1 million Syrians under the age of 18 in the country, some 780,000 are in school, European Union Ambassador to Turkey Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut told a group of journalists, including EFE, during an EU-funded trip to Kilis, the capital of the province of the same name, which has the highest density of refugees – nearly 40% of the population – in the country.

“There is a huge number of children” in the Syrian community, the ambassador notes, “often 4-5 children per family,” well above the Turkish average, and there is an urgent need to expand Turkish education infrastructure to avoid overcrowded classrooms.

That is why the EU is also funding the construction of schools in provinces with a high refugee density – 132 learning centers have already been completed out of a total of 411 planned – and is providing Turkish language courses and support classes for Syrian children.

There are also programs to facilitate the integration of Syrians into the labor market, with vocational training and financial aid for the creation of small businesses.

These programs, Meyer-Landrut pointed out, are offered both to Syrians and Turks who have similar needs.

The result in Kilis demonstrates that the approach is the correct one: unlike in Istanbul or Ankara, where there have been some reports of attacks on refugees, social and ethnic tensions are much rarer in the province, where the 90,000 Syrians make up 38 percent of the total population.

Syrians “are very active in trade, including cross-border trade with Syria, as well as working in agriculture and construction, but many also have businesses and enterprises,” Meyer-Landrut said.

Ten years after the start of the influx of Syrian refugees, opening public structures to refugees while making facilities set up for newcomers also available to Turkish citizens has resulted in the successful assimilation of the refugee population.

In fact, after a decade in Turkey, many Syrian families no longer have any reason to return to their homeland. EFE


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