Turkey’s open door and integration policy for Syrian refugees has set an example for Latin America, a coordinator for the country’s state-run International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) said.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), TİKA’s Colombia director Associate Professor Mehmet Özkan said they were contacted by Latin American countries for help amid a refugee crisis from Venezuela. Some 4 million people from Venezuela, which struggles with an economic crisis, sought shelter in neighboring countries. Colombia is among them. The head of the Colombian border authority recently said in an interview that they would tap Turkey’s experience with Syrian refugees amid a flow of refugees from Venezuela. Özkan said Colombia witnessed such a large-scale refugee flow for the first time and they seek sharing of knowledge and experience from Turkey on how to register incoming refugees, how to set up and run camps for them. He added that his office was also visited by officials from Brazil and Argentina seeking insight into Turkey’s refugee policies.
“For instance, Colombia issued temporary residence permits for refugees from Venezuela inspired by the legal status Turkey granted for Syrian refugees,” Özkan said. He went on to explain that although the causes of refugee flow to Turkey and Colombia differ, the number of refugees were high in both countries. “It is estimated that some 800,000 out of about 4 million Venezuelan refugees are in Colombia,” he noted.
Özkan said TİKA arranged a visit for officials from Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), which runs refugee camps for Syrians in Turkey, and the Migration Authority to Colombia, to present proposals to Colombian officials on how to tackle the issue. “In other words, Turkey exports its refugee policy,” he emphasized.
Since a 2011 uprising evolved into an all-out civil war in Syria, its northern neighbor Turkey has seen an influx of thousands of displaced people taking shelter in its border towns. Today, the country has more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, the largest Syrian refugee community in the world. Colombia, meanwhile, saw a 62 percent increase in the number of Venezuelans living in the country, rising to more than 550,000 in the second half of last year. Venezuela is in the throes of a protracted, severe recession that has cast many people into abject poverty. That, combined with hyperinflation in the oil-rich country, has led to the mass exodus.
Turkey has so far spent more than $30.2 billion on the well-being of Syrian refugees and is praised by the international community for its one-of-a-kind treatment of refugees. AFAD leads the efforts to shelter refugees. At some 21 accommodation centers, including tent camps and modern prefabricated housing units, AFAD hosts 227,894 Syrian refugees. The rest either live in houses they rented or bought or at homes provided by charities around all of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Modern camps provide the refugees access to all basic services, from education to vocational training courses. Education is the main concern for refugees as youth and children make up the majority of Syrians taking shelter in Turkey. Turkey has so far reached out to 612,603 Syrian children in its bid to provide them with an education. They attend public schools, schools run by charities and schools set up at some refugee camps.