Interview with Professor Dawn Chatty: The Situation of Syrian Refugees in the Neighbouring Countries
Interview with Professor Dawn Chatty:
The Situation of Syrian Refugees in the Neighbouring Countries
Syrian Civil War made many to escape the violence; more than four million refugees have left the country during the course of the war. Neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq still have the majority of the Syrian refugees while thousands also ended up in the Caucasus, the Persian Gulf, North Africa and Europe.
As Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), we conducted an interview with Professor Dawn Chatty about the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq as well as European Union countries. In this interview, Chatty evaluates the current situation and variety of problems that refugees face in those countries such as education and identity.
Professor Dawn Chatty is a social anthropologist whose ethnographic interests lie in the Middle East, particularly with nomadic pastoral tribes and refugee young people. Her research interests include a number of forced migration and development issues such as conservation-induced displacement, tribal resettlement, modern technology and social change, gender and development and the impact of prolonged conflict on refugee young people. Dawn is both an academic anthropologist and a practitioner, having carefully developed her career in universities in the United States, Lebanon, Syria and Oman, as well as with a number of development agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Synopsis of the Interview
“Now, Turkey, unlike Lebanon and Jordan actually has domestic legislation to deal with refugees from Syria.”
“If I were to compare Turkey to Lebanon and Jordan and how they have responded to these numbers (of refugees), Turkey is doing much better. They have spent nearly 3-4 billion dollars on these refugees, but it needs to consider how to better integrate these refugees from Syria in the country temporarily because many will go back someday.”
“The situation in Jordan is becoming so bad that even last week I heard the United Nations High Commissioning for Refugees (UNHCR), Andrew Harper maintained that Syrians are returning to Syria at the rate of 200 a day now from Jordan, because the situation in Jordan is so bad. That is the overall picture. Now, the refugees who are trying to reach Europe. Go ahead.”
“I think the problem that we are seeing in the city is people who could not get into refugee camps. So they are in the city and you are finding more people begging because they have run out of their savings.”
“You have to find ways to help people feed themselves, which means job creation while at the same time you provide food. It is a ‘tekiya’ system.”
“For those who move on many actually have relatives in Germany, Sweden, not so many in the UK, but they have relatives in Europe, so they are trying to move on, find a place, where they can settle temporarily, more than anything else if they have children. Now it is time to try to avoid a ‘lost generation,’ to provide education to the children. So families with children, they are trying to get to Europe because in the end if they cannot educate their children, they will become a lost generation.”
“Europe needs to think about a program of temporary protection, whereby it is possible to make an asylum request along the eastern Mediterranean and southern Mediterranean Rim, rather than have to go through criminal, smugglers to get in to the northern Mediterranean Rim in order to apply for an asylum.”
“The problem is that the European money, most of the money, has been going to assist not the refugees, but to assist the ‘moderate opposition,’ I think they call it, and also, for non-lethal arms.”
“Maybe, as a temporary place, to buy an island where people who have been displaced can receive shelter and food but how do you educate your children?”
“Suddenly you have this image of a dead boy picked up by the Turkish police officers, and I think it just hit people that we are doing something inhuman.”
“Obviously, there is more discrimination in Turkey against Kurds than rest of Syrians and this Kurdish Syrian family was tempted to immigrate to Canada where they had relatives.”
“However, we are in a very critical stage now because we have, we do have very large migrant flows, people looking for work but there is no work in their country massive unemployment or corrupt government and at the same time, you have people who are refugees by the 1951 Convention.”
“Syrians started their protests as in massive social movements for greater freedom and greater personal respect. Nevertheless, it was hi-jacked. It was hi-jacked by, I am going to say, extremist groups originally and then Assad of course fearing that he would not be able to defeat them, he brought in allies from Lebanon Hezbollah and of course from Iran.”
“The US and Russia are talking but they are talking really cautiously with each other whereas they should be embracing each other and trying to work with Iran and other regional powers including Turkey, to bring some kind of transitional transformation to Syria.”
“In Turkey, I know that the Turkish government, the ministry of education was a little bit slow recognising the education element for Syrians in Turkey because there is a language problem, which you do not have in Lebanon and in Jordan.”
“If Daesh is going to send infiltrators, they would not make them walk 200-300 miles; they would put them on an airplane, with a visa.”
“You have to remember that Angela Merkel herself was a refugee as a 5-year-old, she knows that. She recognises the tragedy before us. She has a very deep sense of what it means to be a refugee.”
“I would really like to see the West work together for a political solution with a transitional government even if it means that the Ba’ath party remains in power for few years and that there is a coalition that is able to work to destroy Daesh.”
Full Text of the Interview
According to Turkey’s President Erdoğan, the Turkish coast guards have rescued over 42 thousand refugees in the Aegean Sea in the first five months of 2015, and more than 2000 in the last week alone. Moreover, Turkey is hosting around 1.8 million Syrian refugees for a considerable time. We do know that there is a tension between refugees and the local people in the area, mainly the southeast of Turkey. Are you aware of the situation of these refugees in Turkey? According to you, is Turkey doing the best she could about help these people?
Well I can only speak from my experience in Turkey, but that was last October and then again in April this year. I can compare it with the situation in Lebanon and Jordan, because I have been conducting research with refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and exploring their relationship with their host communities. Obviously whenever population densities become very high there are going to be some social difficulties. Turkey has accepted nearly 2 million refugees from Syria. The majority seems to be managing well in Turkey. About a quarter of a million are in refugee camps set up by the Turkish Government not by the international system. Moreover, the camps run in a very humane fashion. So, that there is a waiting list of Syrian wanting to go to the camps. Nevertheless, this is only about 20% of the refugees from Syria. Of course, Syrians who are middle class, who have money, are managing without being in camps. Those who might have had money and they are running out of money are not doing so well, because they need to find employment. Now, Turkey, unlike Lebanon and Jordan actually has domestic legislation to deal with refugees from Syria. I know that in January of this year, actually two years ago they implemented some laws and they passed the laws and now they are trying to implement these laws, which give the refugees from Syria an ID, access to healthcare and access to education. The education issue we will come back to because it is more complicated.
“Now, Turkey, unlike Lebanon and Jordan actually has domestic legislation to deal with refugees from Syria”
Was it the same for Lebanon? I know this is the case for Turkey.
No, this is the case for Turkey. The problem in the southeast of Turkey is that the density of Syrians, in some places, in some towns is reaching almost 50%. In addition, there is some discontent, especially as Syrians who are desperate to work, to make some money, to feed their families are accepting jobs at lower pay than Turkish people. Therefore, there are Turkish people who are upset due to this situation. This is inevitable. The reason why I would say, if I were to compare Turkey to Lebanon and Jordan and how they have responded to these numbers, Turkey is doing much better. They have spent nearly 3-4 billion dollars on these refugees, but it needs to consider how to better integrate these refugees from Syria in the country temporarily because many will go back someday. In the meantime, the children need education; they need to learn Turkish quickly. I know that the Turkish Government has already passed a law allowing Syrians who finished secondary school may enter university in Turkey free but the problem is they have to learn Turkish. I know some Syrian young people who were in a big rush and they entered Turkish universities before their Turkish language was strong and they failed the first year. Nobody knows what is going to happen to them. Therefore, that is the situation in Turkey. I think the situation in Turkey is much better than the situation in Lebanon and Jordan. Why do I say that? Lebanon and Jordan have no legislation whatsoever on refugees. Neither of them has signed the 51 Convention, which Turkey has, even though the Turkish government did not sign the 1967 protocol meaning that it was only interested in providing refuge to Europeans under the 51 Convention. That is back in the 1950s. In Lebanon for the refugees coming from Syria, there are no refugee camps. Therefore, they dispersed in thousands of small impromptu camps.
Can we say that the population of Lebanon, in terms of the density becomes higher?
Population density is automatically higher, because the population of Lebanon is only about 4 million and there are about 1.1 million people from Syria in Lebanon. The problem in Lebanon is that, have you ever heard the English expression, ‘familiarity brings contempt’?
“If Turkey is compared to Lebanon and Jordan and how they have responded to these numbers, Turkey is doing much better”
Ah yes, I have not heard but I understand that.
You have to remember that Syria and Lebanon are very close, that there was not even a border between Syria and Lebanon until 2005, when the US government insisted that the Syrian government define its border. Therefore, until 2005 Lebanese and Syrians could cross the border without visa.
It is historically like that.
It is historically like that and on top of that, Syrian laborers work almost completely at the construction industry and agricultural sector. So before 2010 there were half a million Syrians anyway, in Lebanon. They were the workers. Therefore, in many ways what you are seeing now is that the workers’ families have now joined them because it is not safe to remain in Syria. These are the poor, the less educated and now of course the most vulnerable and the most desperate. Moreover, the Lebanese government really cannot support them. They are looking at the UN system to support them. UN is trying to register them, to provide them with some elements of healthcare, some food vouchers, some cash transfer, and some education. Nevertheless, I say ‘some’ because it is very inadequate. Now we have just heard the announcement from the World Food Program that there is going to be a cut, because there is not enough international support. Therefore, you have people starving.
Is this a recent development?
Last week. Jordan is similar but not so extreme because again, most of the refugees from Syria in Jordan are from the south of Syria and they have strong kinship ties, strong tribal ties, and so on. However, the point, though, is that, in Jordan, the Jordanian government insisted on setting up a refugee camp, which is called as Zaatari. It was very poorly running, and there were very large discrepancies in that camp. It almost reached a 160 thousand people in one single camp in 2013. Now the numbers have dropped, people are leaving, they are finding ways of leaving, but they can only leave if they can have sponsorship. That has created a kind of smuggling system outside of the camp into Jordan. Syrians who are outside of the camps in Jordan have similar problems. They have to find work. Many of them are skilled; skilled carpenters, they are mechanics and so on and they are finding work but it has considered illegal. Therefore, if the police catch them, they send them back to the camps or some of them say that they send them sent across the border. However, the situation in Jordan is becoming so bad that even last week I heard the United Nations High Commissioning for Refugees (UNHCR), Andrew Harper maintained that Syrians are returning to Syria at the rate of 200 a day now from Jordan, because the situation in Jordan are so bad. Ok? That is the overall picture. Now, the migrants who are trying to reach Europe. Go ahead.
We will be coming there, but maybe if we can focus a bit on Turkey. I am sure that you know the extent of the refugee influx into Turkey, but even in west as Istanbul, Ankara İzmir, I am actually from Ankara, there are reports of Syrian refugees begging for food etc. What would be an appropriate solution to refugee situation of this magnitude? Because now not only the southern problem of Turkey but the big cities of Turkey, you know the pictures of Aylan which was very desperate. So what do you saw about this magnitude of refugees within the big cities, rather than the towns of southeastern, rural area?
We have to…
“Syrians are returning to Syria at the rate of 200 a day from Jordan, because the situation in Jordan are so bad. Now, the migrants are trying to reach Europe”
Does it mean that Syrian refugees are not willing to be in the camps anymore as it was 2 years ago in Turkey?
No, I do not think so at all. I think that Syrians, who are in refugee camps in Turkey, are still in refugee camps. The camps that I visited, people can go out in the morning and some of them they go out, they work, and they come back. Therefore, it is not like a prison. I think the problem that we are seeing in the city is people who could not get into refugee camps. Therefore, they are in the city and you are finding more people begging because they have run out of their savings. Therefore, this is now 2-3 years. Moreover, it may be that the civil society cannot cope. At the time, I went to one of the associations that are based on ideas of Sufism, and they were providing hot meals for anybody every day. So a hot meal and bread. Anybody, they did not have to be from Syria, in the neighbourhood could come… I saw that in Gaziantep, that was very well done. But these civil society efforts to try and provide at least food to people who have no more money, and for one reason or another have no way of working, is a temporary measure. In the end, there has to be an effort made to help people find work without threatening the employment of the local people. Because if the local people are unhappy with the refugee presence, then the situation will become very bad. Nevertheless, if you are assisting the local poor at the same time as you provide assistance for the refugees from Syria then it becomes more manageable. However, some of the begging, and not all the begging, I must say, is also because of the massive displacement of the gypsy communities of Iraq and Syria. In addition, I am sure there are also gypsies in Turkey. Nevertheless, their economies have been completely disrupted, too, because most gypsies in Syria and Iraq and Lebanon, used to make seasonal income from summer tourism, from festivals, from weddings, from these kind of celebrations. They do not have that income anymore and many of them have gone to the big cities. You find them even in Amman, in Beirut and they are begging on the street. Their children are begging on the street. This is a sign of the massive disturbance to the economy. What can you do? You have to find ways to help people feed themselves, which means job creation while at the same time you provide food. It is a ‘tekiya’ system. The ‘tekiya’ system, it was an old system in the Ottoman period. Now they are beginning to do that in Jordan. Some of the big mosques are now…
Do you mean ‘tekke’?
You say ‘tekke’ I say ‘tekiya.’
“In the city there are more people begging because they have run out of their savings”
‘Tekiya’ is, in the Islam religion, if you are pretending to be someone that you are not, to overcome an Islamic goal, it is doing ‘takiye.’ ‘Tekkes’ are some places where the education, clothes, food are given.
Yes. Therefore, they are beginning to do that in Jordan and I think some of the mosques in Lebanon are also doing that. I am sure also that you would find that widespread in Turkey, no?
Yes, as you mentioned before, the Sufist organisations, we a lot of international assistance, international Islamic associations, to Gaza, to Sudan, to Afghanistan. They are also providing, there were some trucks of them in Bodrum, in the coastal side, providing hot food as you said. Not the mosques itself because in Turkey mosques are operating independently and are bounded by the central authority and the Directorate of Religious Affairs. It is very much similar how government has operated after the republican era. So probably, Islamic civil society organisations are doing the same in Lebanon and Jordan by the mosques and communities maybe. In that manner, I understand that there is a problem of putting a balance between the refugee poor and the local poor and just providing them jobs, which seems not very likely in this current economic and political situation of Turkey as you follow, too. Is it justifiable that Turkey, appealing for financial help for the developed world to take refugee problem, from not only the UN but also EU and US? President and the prime minister openly says that for 2-3 years. What do you think about that? Is it justifiable to appeal for that kind of assistance?
Of course it is. If you look at the figures, but I do not have the exact ones with me, but you could consider that Turkey has spent approximately 5 billion dollars. UK and US together, have not spent more than 3 billion during the same period. So, why should the burden be on Turkey? We have to share the burden and even if it becomes a matter of a serious of bilateral agreements, this is a form of job creation during depressions and so on. That is very important. I know that the US government is now talking with the Jordanian government to create some large infrastructure projects, big road building projects and so on, with the idea of hiring 60% Jordanian, 40% Syrian refugees. It is kind of a bilateral system to bring in money, to give a boost the economy but also at the same time to be able to provide employment for the, I am not going to say unskilled, but for the poor and the refugees.
Yes, do you agree this statement, Erdogan says, ‘Europe is responsible from every refugee death,’ in that manner, by not helping Turkey or Lebanon or not expecting the security zone proposal of Turkey?
You are asking me really a political question. I do not know that safe havens work; we know what happened in the safe haven in Srebrenica. I think, yes, there is a problem, and that is that of course not all of the nearly 2 million refugees coming from Syria to Turkey are happy. Some are trying to move on to Europe. Many of them, who are trying to move on, have reached the stage where they realised they are not going back straight away. Therefore, originally, they wanted to stay close, same in Lebanon and Jordan but now they realised it is not possible. Therefore, they are trying to move on. For those who move on many actually have relatives in Germany, Sweden, not so many in the UK, but they have relatives in Europe, so they are trying to move on, find a place, where they can, more than anything else if they have children. Now it is time to tyr to avoid a lost generation, to provide education to the children. So families with children, they are trying to get to Europe because in the end if they cannot educate their children they will be a lost generation.
Yes, this is one of my questions.
Therefore, I do not think, I think Europe has been irresponsible and that led by the UK and some of the statements by the Theresa May that if we save people from drowning in the Mediterranean we only create a ‘pull factor.’ She made that statement when she refused to help the Italians in their program of the Mare Nostrum. It did not stop refugees from trying to come. If your life is under threat behind you, you are going to take any measure you can to come forward. What I think she did, was to create a more profitable smuggling, a criminal, smuggling program. I have been saying this for a very long time, at least the last 18 months. Europe needs to think of a program of temporary protection, whereby it is possible to make an asylum request along the eastern Mediterranean and southern Mediterranean Rim, rather than have to go through criminal, smuggler to get in to the northern Mediterranean rim in order to apply for an asylum. So it means that, the Great Britain, France, Sweden, Germany, they all need to have mechanisms which they can apply while they are still in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan.
“Europe needs to think about a program of temporary protection, whereby it is possible to make an asylum request along the eastern Mediterranean and southern Mediterranean rim”
So do you think that they were not prepared in the first place and now they are trying to find a solution?
They were definitely not prepared. They were lulled into a false belief that you can throw money at a problem and that will solve it. What I mean by that is, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq it took about three years before the Iraqis began to flow out in massive numbers, nearly 2 million Iraqis left Iraq between 2006 and 2008. Most of them went to Syria; a few went to Jordan. They did not invade Europe, but the aid came to this region. Many of them wanted to stay near Iraq and some went to Australia, some went to Canada and so on. However, Europe had no mass influx, so they thought if you just give money that will solve it. The problem is that the European money, most of the money, has been going to assist not the refugees, but to assist the ‘moderate opposition,’ I think they call it, and for non-lethal arms.
In Syria, you mean.
In Syria and on the southern Turkish border because the opposition is in Gaziantep. These are all receiving salaries, they take training and they have equipment. Of course, there is a lot of corruption. I would be surprised if the percentage of the corruption was very deep into the two figures.
“The problem is that the European money, most of the money, has been going to assist not the refugees, but to assist the ‘moderate opposition,’ I think they call it, and also, for non-lethal arms.”
You said in an interview on June 2015 that the EU is really struggling to put a proper search and rescue operation in place. Do you think the situation has improved now in that manner?
Well, there is now more, but I am not sure that it is sufficient because I am not getting as many reports, you know, all the tension has shifted really to a movement of people through Turkey and Balkans. Turkey into Greece and so on. Yes, now the British have a war ship in place, the Italians are doing some, but the idea of the front text still is more of protecting the border of Europe rather than saving live.
Okay. So, how do you evaluate the debates on Dublin Regulations? As you said, there should be some regulation for the east and south part of the EU. Do you think refugees need stay where they first enter the EU, or the first country they entered EU?
Well, everybody knows that Dublin does not work. It does not work and, even if a refugee stayed in the first country that provides asylum, once its status is official then he can move, or she can move. Therefore, in the end it is not logical why the refugee or the person is required to request asylum in the first country of entry. Take a young Syrian, a seventeen-year-old; he is smuggled into Italy who has a brother who is a doctor in Edinburgh. Why should he ask for asylum in Italy if his brother is waiting to have him come live with him in Edinburgh? In addition, they cannot get to England, because the embassy has no mechanism to apply for asylum. Moreover, you know when you register with the UNHCR, a third country resettlement, you do not have the choice, and you go where they send you. Therefore, I know many Iraqis for example who were in Jordan, when they were registered with the UNHCR, they even said to the people please send me anywhere but not to US, and they were sent to the US. Some of them received rejection. Therefore, there is no choice. I am not saying that it is like going into a supermarket, no. If somebody registers with an agency and says, “my older brother is ready to look after me and he lives in England, please get me sent to England,” why put him in Spain or Italy or Malta. Does that make any sense?
Maybe it is a little bit more work but in this day with electronic programs, software it should be easy. It should be family reunification. If you have a brother or a sister, the problem is that the definition by the UNHCR of the family is very narrow. It is husband, wife and children. Therefore, when you say I have an older brother, well in eastern society an older brother is going to look after the younger brother. Maybe in the west it is not always the same. However, I think that Europe knows Dublin treaty is not working and there has to be a reconsideration.
Yes. As you know, an Egyptian businessperson offered a Greek island, buying it and putting the refugees there. In that manner do you think Europe can help refugees outside of EU by some other mechanisms, that they have been going through, like maybe in a closer location, the Middle-East, in Turkey funding a camp or do you know any near plans about that kind of help out of EU?
No, I know that there were a couple of suggestions about buying an island and creating a new country made of refugees, but it is not as easy as that. It is kind of wishful thinking. Maybe, as a temporary place, to buy an island where people who were displaced can receive shelter and food might work for a short time, but how do you educate your children. You know, the problem of refugees is not just about now but it is about the future. In addition, if you are a refugee for too long and your children have no education, you have no future. So, it is about trying to find a place where you can survive in dignity.
“Maybe, as a temporary place, to buy an island where people who have been displaced can receive shelter and food but how do you educate your children?”
You know in our recent wars, there has come a point where a particular image suddenly hits the public consciousness even though there are many images before and there is a growing unease. Therefore, if I use the Vietnam War example, there was a lot of unease in the US; there were some demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, when a photographer captured the image of two children who were running away and it hit the newspapers. That coalesced the outcry. I think the picture of Aylan, the dead little boy on the beach, did the same. There had been, before that, almost a media effort to make all the migrants crossing the Mediterranean look as all there were young men from Sub-Saharan Africa. Suddenly you have this image of a dead boy picked up by the Turkish police officers, and I think it just hit people that we are doing something inhuman. In addition, there was a massive reaction here in Oxford, in London, people opening up their homes; I have seen signs on peoples’ windows saying ‘Refugees Welcome.’ In addition, a lot of pressure, enough pressure that David Cameron had to turn around form saying ‘nobody…’
“Suddenly you have this image of a dead boy picked up by the Turkish policemen, and I think it just hit people that we are doing something inhuman”
In a day!
In a day and now, he says ‘20.000 in 5 years’ and everybody’s saying ‘20.000 in 5 years. Are you kidding? ‘200.000 in 5 years’ the numbers he is saying are insignificant, insignificant! However, I think personally that picture said something else. That image also told us that the many of the refugees in Turkey, are in Turkey, they are integrating, they are working, and they are doing well. However, you have to remember that Kurdish Syrians are holding the northern Syria. The Kurdish Syrians who took refuge in Turkey have had a more difficult time. Therefore, Aylan and his family were from Kobane, they had been in Turkey for two years and the father had said we are not managing well. Obviously, there is more discrimination against Kurds than rest of Syrians and they were tempted to immigrate to Canada. However, we do not know what this full story is; the Canadians claim he did not have an exit permit from Turkey, but Turkey does not provide exit permits; it is allowing refugees to come from Syria but it is not giving them citizenship documentation so they would not have had an exit permit.
“Obviously there is more discrimination against Kurds than other Syrians and they were tempted to immigrate to Canada”
So called, opened doors.
So open doors, you can come and you can leave. The Canadian government was at fault and they know that. In addition, there was a huge outcry in Canada as well. Nevertheless, a picture is probably going to go down to history as that picture of the turning point of the European policy towards refugees from Syria. Moreover, you can see it now, because the numbers are massive but the numbers are massive for many reasons as well. That has to do with the way that Syria conducted armed conflict in itself now.
Yes, and there is a part of Turkey due to the Kurdish issue. In addition, the other thing is again in an interview with Al-Jazeera in April 2015, you are saying that some Europeans argue ‘we should keep them out because they will take our jobs and our welfare.’ In addition, people refer to these people, migrants, rather than asylum seekers. A kind of rabble-rousing populist rhetoric you get in the elections. First, do you think that the majority of the EU population know or understand the difference between these two concepts? Secondly, with course of the civil war in Syria and Iraq today do you think these refugees will have to stay outside of their home countries for longer than initially expected? Like in Turkey and Georgians’ case.
Yeah, well. The first part of your question I have to admit many people do not understand the difference between the migrant and asylum seeker. I have many talks here even in Oxford, I give a talk in the Town Hall the first questions I have was ‘what’s the difference between a migrant and asylum seeker?’ Asylum seeker is a very special category of person, being persecution and armed conflict; it is a category of person established after the Second World War by the UN in the 1951 Convention on the status of refugees. The aim was to make sure that there would never again be so many displaced people without homes and homelands as there were after the Second World War. However, the press and local understandings confuse the two. I think it is understandable, you know, the whole of Western Europe was very depressed after the Second World War. It took a decade or two before they were able to rebuild their economy and among the ways, they rebuild their economy is by the 1960s, they were welcoming guest workers from Turkey, from the Caribbean, even from Portugal.
Therefore, they were guest workers that revived the car industry in Germany and in Sweden and in other countries as well. Therefore, the migrants were important to go the economy. However, what has happened since the end of the Cold War? It has been of course that the economies of the global south, particularly in Africa. I am not going to say that they have collapsed but they have not done well and so the flow of migrants seeking well paid jobs or skilled work in Europe has continued and maybe now it is even rising along with the very poor governance systems in many of the African countries as well. Therefore, you do have a wave of migrants coming. And most migrants are here to try and find work not here just to have welfare but it is a very kind of mean and easy sort of political speech to say as a politician ‘let’s stop these people from coming and just living off our welfare and not working and so on’ it becomes a populist stand very easily. However, we are in a very critical stage now because we have, we do have very large migrant flows, people looking for work but there is no work in their country massive unemployment or corrupt government. At the same time, you have people who are refugees by the 1951 Convention due to clean prosecution, armed conflict. Therefore, Afghanistan, Syria, Eretria, and Soudan they have fallen into this bracket of people who have the right to seek asylum in a safe country. However, as you have two together and of course, you have very negative response. Nevertheless, people cannot distinguish between somebody just coming for work but has a country to go back to and somebody fleeing the country that they know they cannot go back to…
So then, we can say that the migrations in the 1960s, in the 1970s, the dynamics of this immigration was different was organised by the European States itself?
“We have very large migrant flows: one group is for labour migration due to their home country’s unemployment and at the same time you have people who are refugees by the 1951 Convention”
Sure, they had some integration problems but they managed the framework on their own. Now, in terms of migrants seeking for job here in Europe, Europe did not want anything like that but the demand is now coming from other countries. It is vice versa, right.
Yeah exactly, exactly.
The second part of the question was about the civil war in Syria and Iraq. Do you think these refugees will have to stay outside of their home countries for longer than initially expected?
Definitely. I think initially, even Erdogan, he thought that in one year, he would get rid of Assad, which is, a…
Even in three months…
Yeah even in three months, it was a dream. No understanding of the way that the Ba’ath Party is deeply, deeply rooted into Syria. We know that most civil wars last about 10 years, so maybe we are talking about five or six more years if it is; people if there might be still people left in Syria I do not know. Because this is a civil war, Syrians started as in massive social movements for greater freedom and greater personal respect. Nevertheless, it was hi-jacked. It was hi-jacked by, I am going to say, extremist groups originally and then Assad of course fearing that he would not be able to defeat them, he brought in allies from Lebanon Hezbollah and of course from Iran.
In addition, Russia. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and maybe Turkey backed some extremists. However, they backed off now. Nevertheless, the point is that it is a proxy war and there are many players. There might be a political settlement in transition from our side to someone. Or another group of rulers over a short period of time would be now if Iran, Russia, the US maybe Turkey worked together with the security council to impose some kind of a transition but then there is the problem of Daesh, of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) because do you try to defeat Daesh first? Alternatively, do you get a political agreement from Assad for the transition when he is very weak and then you create a united opposition group to clean the country out of Daesh movement? I do not know. It is very complicated.
“Syrians started as in massive social movements for greater freedom and greater personal respect. It was hi-jacked by extremist groups originally and then Assad of course”
Do you think that right now nobody knows this? The answer to this question…
Well it is not that nobody knows but I think that there is also world, super power politics taking place. Because I think, Obama has really derogated his responsibility. He is not interested in Syria he does not really know what to do except to do nothing. He allowed the government to cross the Redline that he imposed in 2013 and he is embarrassed so much, he does not do anything about it. Now Russia surprisingly is making, trying to pull together a coalition and a transition, which, from the outside, makes a lot a sense. However, the US government seems to be very nervous about it; rather than working with Russia, they are concerned that Russia is trying to take over and that Russia is… The US and Russia are talking but they are talking really cautiously with each other whereas they should be embracing each other and try to work with Iran and other regional powers including Turkey, to bring some kind of transitional transformation to Syria…
“The US and Russia are talking cautiously with each other whereas they should be embracing each other and try to work with Iran and other regional powers including Turkey, to bring some kind of transitional transformation to Syria”
So, can we go back to this education issue? Moreover, I do not need to read I guess as you said there are many children they are not getting education for three, four years and when they grow up it will the biggest problem. There is an urgent question and problem of food and shelter, but in the future in the period of 5 years, 4 years there will be not teenagers anymore, they will be adults without any skills in very harsh psychological backgrounds. Therefore, what do you say about this situation of the children? As far as I know that the half of the Syrian refugees are like children, I think under 18.
Under the age of 18, this is I think the most crucial issue. Moreover, I commissioned last year a study here in my center on education. We wanted to see what education opportunities existed for refugee children from Syria in Turkey, in Northern Iraq, Lebanon and in Jordan. What gaps were there? What opportunities were there and what was their duplication so maybe there could be a transformation. What we found is that education, particularly for young people between the ages of 12 to 25, is very inadequate. Many young people are out of school at 12, 13, and 14 either because it is too dangerous to get school; they cannot afford buying shoes or the books. On the other hand, they are bullied on the way to school. Alternatively, the school is what we call second rotation, afternoon school, which has an inadequate curriculum that it is obvious that they will be unable to pass to secondary school examination. So there are places where first of all children cannot access school; in Lebanon there are more than half million children of school age who are refugees from Syria and there are no schools for them. In Jordan, the Jordanian government is willing to provide secondary, second shift schooling but only after another 50 schools established for Jordanians as students. Because they only just moved out of the second shift system and so the school is very inadequate. In Turkey, I know that Turkish government, the ministry of education was a little bit slow recognising the education element because there is a language problem, which you do not have in Lebanon and in Jordan. Nevertheless, quite honestly, if you start teaching a child Turkish before the age 12 they are going to learn it very fast.
Therefore, it is a matter of teaching Turkish on a large scale in Turkey so that the children can enter the Turkish system if that is what the parents want. Nevertheless, many parents, especially in the southeast of Turkey, want to children to continue in Arab curriculum. So they are supporting private schools but you know, internationally, could help to support the private schools because in these private schools of course you have Arabic teachers, you have Syrian teachers with them. They will gain their curriculum and remain Arabic speaking. However, I think that Syrians are going to have to recognise that the only answer for them is to become bilingual, because you are never going to build universities for Arabic speakers in Turkey. They are going to have to use the opportunities provided by the Turkish government. To enter Turkish universities, they have to be speaking Turkish. Then you have the refugee who I interviewed in Aleppo and in Gaziantep in that region, they spoke Turkish because they are all… there is a traditional tie of Aleppo with the market of Istanbul. Therefore, some Syrians already spoke Turkish and they are the ones taking the best use of entering Turkish school system and good university but the vast majority do not have this opportunity and I would say that what we really need to see is a huge influx of support for educating Syrian young people. In the region but also in Europe and in US and Canada. If you take a young person from the age of 14, 15, and 16 and allow them to finish their high schools and then they go to college abroad in the West. Eventually they will then come back one day with a very good understanding of Western ideas of democracy and they will be able to contribute to their country. However, if we leave them now with limited education opportunities, all they are going to be is lost generation. In addition, they will re-build up Syria with such a lost generation.
“In Turkey, the ministry of education was a little bit slow recognising the education element because there is a language problem which you do not have in Lebanon and in Jordan”
That is a big problem. Do you think any kind of policy response of EU in terms of the claim that ‘migrants will come and take our jobs in Europe and we will be poorer because of them’? Are there any policy responses by EU rather than being political rhetoric each side?
I think there is still political rhetoric the problem I think that the EU is that if you consider the countries that are the most negative about taking refugees from Syria are the central European: Poland, Slovenia these are the countries that send migrant labours to Western Europe. So these are the people, these are the countries who are going to be most affected by job losses if the Syrians are allowed in large numbers. Because the Syrian are an educated and skilled population; there are mechanics, there are carpenters, and there are engineers. In addition, they are hard workers. This is a problem but Europe needs labour. Germany needs labour. Sweden needs labour. Therefore, it is not so much that Germans will lose their jobs or the Swedes will lose their jobs but some of the other migrant labours will not be able to find jobs.
If we go back to ISIS, Daesh issue, there have been rumours and claims regarding ISIS have been using the flux of refugees into Europe as a mean to infiltrate to Western countries. Would you view this plausible? Could this be a reason not to help refugees accordingly?
No, I think that is really if very false logic, you know. Those youth, from Europe from England, from France, from Germany who wanted, who have become extremists have gone to Syria, they do not need to infiltrate. They are becoming extremists here in the country.
Already you know. I do not think there is a concern about sending them anyway, if Daesh is going to send infiltrators, they would not make them walk 200-300 miles, and they would put them on an airplane, with a visa.
Yes, of course. They have that organisation. The other thing is regarding to the Gulf Countries, they have also been regarding the rich gulf countries not helping mostly Muslim refugees why do you think this is the case and more importantly why does not international community including Europe call rich Gulf Countries to action in helping refugees from Iraq and Syria? Is it possible to do it for Europe?
Well. I think that Gulf Countries are helping by providing assistance. In the same way, England. They are throwing money at the problem so you find that they many of the Gulf NGOs and religious organisations are renting or leasing big apartment buildings in Amman and they are giving it for free to Syrians to live in, these kinds of things. Therefore, there is a lot of ‘give the money.’ However, you did not ask it but I think it is inherent in your question because what has to be tackled here is ‘why are the Syrians all coming to Europe? Why do not they just go to Saudi Arabia or to Abu-Dhabi, Dubai?’ My answer back is that we have to look at back to our history, the refugees from Syria, the civilisation of Syria, it was called Bilad al-Sham. The Syrians, they are the inheritors of our ancient Greek Roman civilisation. They carried civilisation to Spain. Then, they had to leave Spain, at the end of 15th beginning of the 16th centuries, along with the Sephardic Jews. They are Mediterranean people; they look to the Mediterranean Sea. So why are we telling them they should go and live in the desert?
“If Daesh is going to send infiltrators, they would not make them walk 200-300 miles; they would put them on an airplane, with a visa”
It does not make sense, you know. We are all looking for other people to help solve the problem. Okay give them money, but try help to educate them and help them live with dignity; if there is enough money and enough support, and local communities do not feel threatened; it is ‘doable.’ However, part of the big problem is sometimes international community is only supporting the refugees because the money is very limited. In addition, the local hosting community really feels discrimination against them. Why should only school children of refugees from Syria get new uniforms, new shoes, new school bags and their transport paid to school but the poor local community get nothing? When you do that, you are creating a social problem. The community hosting Syrians needs to be treated with the same respect as Syrians at all possibility.
It is a good point actually. Do you agree with the statement that Germany and especially Angela Merkel the chancellor has used the refugee crisis in order to alleviate its negative image with respect to Greek debt?
That’s possible but I think it comes out of the very deep guilt that many Germans still feel about the Nazi era of the second world war. That Germans, Germany has completely, has paid massive reparations to Israel and to the Jewish families who lost property. In addition, I think this is also… you have to remember that Angela Merkel herself was a refugee as a 5-year-old, she knows that. She recognises. She has a very deep sense of what it means to be a refugee. It is a surprising position, I think, that she has taken, but many Germans support her.
Yes… In addition, I have the last one. How would you regard the future of the conflict in Middle East and hands the refugees to Syria, Iraq overall? Could West do anything to resolve the issues in the region or will the refugees become migrants in the long term? I know this is by ‘high politics’ issue that you have mentioned but if there is something more you want to say, just please.
As an optimist, I would really like to see the West work together for a political solution with a transitional government even if it means that the Ba’ath party remains in power for few more years in order to establish a coalition that is able to work to destroy the Daesh. I know many of the Syrian people in Syria are more terrified of Daesh than the government even though the government has killed more people of Syria than Daesh in its kind of extremist response. Nevertheless, in transition away from Assad a coalition that is supported by the West and supported by Security Council and peacekeeping troupes…
“I would really like to see the West work together or a political solution with a transitional government even if it means that the Ba’ath party remains in power for few years that there is a coalition that is able to work to destroy Daesh”
I think that we can maybe, see a resolution in the next two, three years. Otherwise, I think we are going to see this crisis spread and bring down more governments.
Thank you very much. It is the end of our interview.
Please cite this publication as follows:
Research Turkey (November, 2015), “Interview with Professor Dawn Chatty: The Situation of Syrian Refugees in the Neighbouring Countries” Vol. IV, Issue 11, pp.64-86 Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/?p=9901)
 Note: She refers to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted by the United Nations General Assembly by the Resolution 2198 (XXI).