Saturday, 20 July 2024
Education, health remain EU’s priority in helping Syrian refugees in Turkey: Envoy

Education, health remain EU’s priority in helping Syrian refugees in Turkey: Envoy

The European Union’s preferred areas in lending the millions of Syrian refugees a helping hand will continue to be education and health, the EU’s envoy to Turkey has said, as European leaders will discuss how to continue cooperation with Turkey at a summit on March 25 and 26.

In an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News during his two-day trip to the border town of Hatay, the head of the EU Delegation in Turkey Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut outlined the performance of the migrant deal between the two sides since March 2016.

How do you evaluate the fact that Turkey is hosting four million refugees and the performance of the ongoing Turkish-EU migrant cooperation on the 10th year of the Syrian crisis and fifth year of the migrant deal?

Turkey, its government, its municipalities - as we have seen in Hatay and other places - but also the Turkish people are making a really remarkable and extraordinary effort to host such a huge refugee population which is right now the biggest refugee population any country is hosting. And this puts of course on the state and the people a burden which is not easy to shoulder. This is where the EU is contributing. But it is just a contribution, the biggest part of the burden is, of course, carried by Turkey.

How would you assess the impact of the Turkish-EU deal?

First of all, this deal has saved many, many lives. Because much fewer people have ventured the very dangerous journey from the Turkish mainland to the Greek islands. Secondly, the cooperation in terms of relocation, migration management - with some difficulties - have produced some positive results. Even if now, under the pandemic, some of these obligations have not been able to be fully implemented as promised by the EU. The third dimension is financial support from EU to the projects to implement programs to help Syrians and Turkish host communities to cope with the burden. These programs have proved the value when you speak with the people responsible in the cities, provinces, municipalities chambers of commerce. They acknowledge that these programs have contributed to –at least- mitigating the problems. The EU has now contracted the full 6 billion Euro which we promised and the implementation of some projects is taking more time than we hoped but they are partially complex projects which are not easy to implement.

One of the voiced criticisms is about the unwillingness of member states to resettle the Syrians…

Over the five years, around 25,000 Syrian refugees were resettled from Turkey to Europe with the help of the UNHCR. This is proximately 10 times the number Turkey readmitted from the Greek islands. So, you can, of course, hope for bigger numbers but some resettlement has taken place. And, actually, the number of member states which have participated in the system has been increasing.

But, still, this number is still too little when comparing to millions of refugees in Turkey.

Yes, the number compared to the burden which Turkey is shouldering is limited.

Syria donor conference will soon convene

What is the EU perspective for renewing the deal?

The head of states and governments back in December expressed their continued political will to support Turkey also financially in coping with this huge refugee problem in Turkey. The EU has expressed its fundamental political support for continued cooperation in this area. And at the end of the week, the EU council will meet again to address these issues. At the end of this month, we will have a conference together with the U.N., Turkey in which the Turkish government will participate where the focus will be on the assistance to the Syrian people.

Comparing to 2016, the refugee number doubled and there is less prospect for their return. We are talking more about their integration than their return. The nature is changing, do you think the scope of the deal will also be changed?

Let me start by saying one sentence about the 10th year of this conflict. The root cause of this situation and refugee crisis remains: The brutal repression by the Assad regime within Syria and unwillingness of this regime with its international supporters to enter in any meaningful process which could lead to a political solution, which could be the precondition of for discussing the returns and the reconstruction and anything. The responsibility of the prolonged responsibility lies with those I just mentioned.

On the orientation, already in the second part of this refugee assistance and contracts you can notice the shift in priorities. Of course, health is and remains a priority.

We have prolonged our cooperation with the Health Ministry for the value of 300 million euros in terms of health support to Syrian refugees. Education also remains a priority. We continue to support with a large program with the Education Ministry to include the Syrian children to the national education.