Syrian refugees: Journeys of dashed hopes

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said Turkey had spent $4.5 billion on Syrian refugees

Sinem Cengiz
Sinem Cengiz
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“In front of my eyes, I saw my fiancée and people with whom we took a journey for hope drowning one after the other,” said 19-year-old Syrian Doaa al-Zamel. She was one of six people to survive after a boat carrying 500 migrants sank in the Mediterranean in September. “I spent four days and three nights in the water with dead bodies... The only thing that gave me courage to fight the waves was my belief.”

Zamel and her family had fled the war-torn city of Deraa and took refuge in Egypt. She was planning to marry and start a new life in a European country. She was a focus of attention not only due to her battle to survive, but because she saved an 18-month-old baby girl with her lifejacket.

We are witnessing the largest global refugee crisis since World War II, with serious humanitarian repercussions

Sinem Cengiz

As a teenager who witnessed a bloody war in Syria, faced difficulties during her refuge in Egypt, and survived a deadly boat disaster, Zamel’s strength impressed me greatly when I met her days ago. She is waiting for her documents to be prepared to take refuge in a European country. When I asked what her plan was, she replied: “I want to study law and return back to my country one day.”

Zamel’s story is just one example of a tragedy that millions of Syrians face daily. The ever-worsening conflict in their country is causing an increasing number of people to flee to neighboring states and Europe. We are witnessing the largest global refugee crisis since World War II, with serious humanitarian repercussions.

Refugee burden

Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are grappling with the socioeconomic effects of the Syrian conflict, and are trying to cope with the refugee burden, which grows daily. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is more than 1.5 million, including around 200,000 from the besieged border town of Kobane.

Some 900,000 Syrians are registered and living in refugee camps across Turkey, while those outside camps are spread out across the country. The overwhelming majority are concentrated in five provinces adjacent to Syria: Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and Mardin.

From the beginning of the conflict, Turkey pursued an “open-door policy” toward Syrians, and carried out successful humanitarian assistance to refugees in its camps. Turkey is appreciated for this policy and the conditions of the camps. A report published in April by the International Crisis Group described them as the “best refugee camps ever seen.”

Hosting refugees and providing them with all kinds of services was the only positive aspect of the Turkish government’s Syria policy. However, the number of Syrians living outside camps is increasing significantly, causing serious social and economic problems, particularly in the border provinces.

Inadequate help

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said Turkey had spent $4.5 billion on Syrian refugees, and criticized the amount of aid provided by the United Nations and Western countries. Including aid from the U.N. refugee agency, Erdoğan said Turkey had so far received some $150 million from the international community.

European countries are also criticized by Ankara for not receiving enough Syrian refugees. The total number received by them is 130,000. It is important that the international community – especially the European Union and the United States – understand that Turkey does not have limitless resources. It is facing serious challenges coping with the refugee burden, which the international community should share.

Compared to Turkey, European countries and the United States are far better able, socially and economically, to host refugees. It would be easier for Turkey to maintain its open-door policy if the international community shared the burden. The latter would also benefit if Turkey successfully managed the refugee crisis, as the number of Syrians trying to pass through illegally to European countries would decrease. These countries need to do more.


Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst based in Athens. Born and lived in Kuwait, Cengiz focuses mainly on issues regarding Middle East and Turkey’s relations with the region. She was also the former diplomatic correspondent for Today’s Zaman newspaper, English daily in Turkey. She is currently researching on Turkish-Saudi relations to complete her MA in International Relations. She can be found on Twitter: @SinemCngz"

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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