BERIL – First comers, new comers

First comers, new comersTurkey is neighbor to most of the conflict zones in the Middle East. These areas are populated by people who have close ties — like religion, ethnic origin or mother tongue — with Turkeyand#39s peoples.

There are of course many other links, like centuries-old commercial relations, as well.Many people from Syria and Iraq have left their homes fleeing armed conflict and became refugees in Turkey.

The Turkish press often talks about Syrian refugees, but they are not all Syrians. There are thousands of Kurdish, Yazidi and Christian people who have also crossed the borderIt is impossible to know for sure how many people from Syria and Iraq now live in Turkey.

We of course have official figures about people who have entered through legal routes, using their passports, and we also have quite exact numbers about those who live in refugee camps. However, there are many others who came without passports and who have crossed the border anywhere they could.

One shouldnand#39t expect people who have left everything behind in panic to do otherwise.Turkey had to face waves of refugees many times in the past, as, for example when we took in many Iranians in the wake of the Islamic revolution and Kurds in the late 1980s and 1991 fleeing the armies of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The difference now, is that the figures are very high and the people who have come donand#39t seem to be able to return to their homes in short-term future.It is possible to see these refugees in every Turkish town, especially in the border regions.

Some of them try to survive in very harsh conditions they sleep in the parks, try to find small jobs, their children are panhandling.At first, many people in Turkey believed it was the countryand#39s duty to help these people in distress and they applauded the governmentand#39s humanitarian approach.

Nowadays, however, the wind seems to have changed. Especially in the border towns, the local residents want these newcomers to leave as quickly as possible.

Turkey has not resolved its problems with its own andquotothers,andquot and now there are new andquotothersandquot with whom local people donand#39t want to cohabit. We are seeing small skirmishes between locals and refugees in the news.

This is a difficult situation. One cannot simply close the borders, as these people are risking their lives to reach them But when you let everyone in, local people grow restless.

Turkey once proposed establishing secure zones on the other side of the border, but it didnand#39t work. Anyway, these refugees fear for their lives and they are determined to cross the border one way or anotherThese people will not return home unless Syria and Iraq see pluralist regimes.

It is obvious, however, that it will take time for these countries to stabilize. We also have to admit that our allies donand#39t do much to help Turkey deal with this refugee crisis, perhaps because they forget that those people may one day want to cross Turkeyand#39s western borders as well, seeking better lives in Europe.

The United States, at least, is doing what it can and has started a military operation in Iraq. This can change the equation on the ground, even though success is never guaranteed.

Nonetheless, the eviction from power in Bagdad of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may open a political process that can drive the Islamic State militants back. Maybe then, Iraqi refugees may decide to return home.

As for the Syrian refugees, the situation is more complex. They, too, are aware that they are not going back in the foreseeable future, so they look for jobs and houses here.

Maybe it is already time to call them andquotimmigrantsandquot and not andquotrefugees.andquotThe problem with the locals remains, though, as first comers often donand#39t like those that follow.

Perhaps they will one day ask themselves whether or not they are andquotfirstandquot comers, or if other people had once lived in the neighborhoods where they live now.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman