Turkey and Jordan to EU: Our Refugee Problem Is Bigger Than Yours
At the United Nations Monday, Turkish and Jordanian leaders called on the international community to bear more of the refugee burden.
The European Union might be overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers who have flooded into European territory in recent months, but Turkey and Jordan aren’t all that sympathetic.
Leaders from the two countries, both of which border Syria and house millions of refugees each, used appearances at the United Nations Monday to blast the international community for not bearing more of the burden from Syria’s civil war.
“Syrian refugees alone constitute 20 percent of my country’s population,” Jordanian King Abdullah II said in a speech to the General Assembly Monday. “However, support to our country has been a small fraction of the cost we have endured.”
Refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war have arrived in Europe en masse in recent months, and many others have died on the dangerous trek across the Mediterranean. But Syria’s neighbors in the Middle East complained Monday that the international community started paying attention only when the migrant flood hit close to home.
Abdullah said it’s “high time” other world leaders step up to the plate and find ways to take in more refugees.
Disagreement within the EU over how the 28-nation bloc should handle the influx of migrants has strained relations between member states and torn at the very sinews of Europe’s political union. Last week, after an emergency summit, the majority of leaders agreed to quotas that will distribute some of the asylum-seekers throughout the EU.
Germany, with a population of 80 million, expects to receive at least 1 million asylum applications this year. Meanwhile Jordan, with a population of just 8 million, has already taken in that many. Slovakia, in contrast, has refused the quota system, despite the fact it would only require them to integrate around 1,500 refugees into its population of 5.5 million. And Hungary went so far as to completely close off its borders with Serbia to prevent migrants and refugees from entering. Earlier in September, police forces began targeting prospective migrants trying to push through ramshackle fences with pepper spray and water cannons.
A large number of the asylum-seekers who are now in Europe first spent time in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria, but left as conditions in the camps deteriorated and the situation in Syria continued to spin out of control.
Speaking at a press conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this mass exodus could have been prevented if foreign leaders had paid heed when the crisis began in 2011. His government, he said, suggested three years ago that world leaders create a safe zone in Syria to house displaced people there before they become refugees elsewhere, but no one stepped in to help. There are now some 8 million displaced still living in Syria who he fears will move to Turkey and then onward to Europe if such safe zones cannot be established in the near future.
“We have been [saying] this for the past three years but unfortunately that voice of Turkey was not heard enough by the international community,” Davutoglu said, adding that Western countries first saw the Syrian civil war as a Syrian problem, then as a problem for Syria’s neighbors, and only as a global problem when refugees started washing up on Europe’s shores.
He added that his country has spent $7.6 billion on the crisis, with “very minimal” contributions from the international community.
“Until now, the management of these refugees has been only on the shoulder of neighboring countries,” he added.
Abdullah and Davutoglu echoed sentiments expressed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who addressed the General Assembly earlier Monday.
“All countries need to do more to shoulder their responsibilities,” Ban said. “I commend those in Europe that are upholding the union’s values and providing asylum. At the same time, I urge Europe to do more.”
Photo credit: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP/Getty Images