Number 254 | February 18, 2014
The following are excerpts from an article titled “How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp” by Mac McCleeland, who visited Syrian refugees camps operated by the Turkish government, published on February 13 in the New York Times.
“On April 29, 2011, 263 Syrians crossed into Turkey, fleeing civil war at home. Within 24 hours, the Turkish government set up an emergency tent camp for them in southern Hatay Province. In less than three years, it was operating 22 camps serving 210,000 refugees, mostly in provinces along its roughly 500-mile-long border with Syria. Kilis, opened in 2012, was one of six container camps meant to offer a better standard of shelter to incoming refugees.
“It’s the nicest refugee camp in the world!” said a Polish diplomat when I mentioned the place to him the next day. Standing with him was an Italian official; he nodded vehemently in agreement. No one I spoke to - not the Office of the U.N.H.C.R., not academics, not even the refugees - denies that the standard of living here is exceptionally high. When I later listed the amenities to a refugee expert, she replied, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Unlike almost all other refugee camps in the world, Kilis is not run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Rather, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD, asked the U.N.H.C.R. for its camp guidelines and then designed its own. It staffed the camps with Turkish government employees, allowing in few NGOs and giving those only supporting roles. Except for some relatively minor international donations, the financial responsibility, and all the administrative responsibility, has been Turkey’s alone.
“In the Turkish camps, says Carol Batchelor, the U.N.H.C.R.'s representative in Turkey, “Turkey has taken the primary role, and they’re very consistent.” “But operating camps this way is expensive. “This has cost them,” Batchelor says. Expenditures at the Kilis camp run to at least $2 million a month. By the end of 2013, the Turkish government had spent $2.5 billion on its Syrian guests, primarily in camps.
“When I asked the administrator why the camp took the amenities this far, he said: “We just put ourselves in the Syrians’ shoes. We need Internet. We need barbershops. We need workshops. We need art. What we need as Turks, we give them.” He shrugged as though this were totally obvious. “We’re humans.”