Turkey and Mexico Should Coordinate Efforts in Managing the Global Refugee Crisis

The global surge in refugees has left most of the financial burden to developing countries in volatile regions. According to the UNHCR low and middle-income countries play the greatest role in sheltering the world’s displaced (UNHCR, 2016). Developing countries in the global south have been looking into cooperating and learning from the best practices as a result of the abandonment by the developed countries. The global neglect has also left developing countries with the pressing need to create more awareness and generate attention to the situation at hand. 

From Transit Point to Home Country

The existing global refugee crises affecting several countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America have resulted in mass exodus within and beyond these regions. Millions of refugees from war-torn or violence stricken countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala seek refuge in neighboring countries with hopes of going to North America and Europe. However as a result of global immigration policies, bordering countries in these volatile regions such as Turkey, Mexico, Jordan, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Uganda have transitioned from refugee transit points to homes.

Central American migrants walk over the tracks to catch the train north, Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico, 28 June 2009.

Central American migrants walk over the tracks to catch the train north, Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico, 28 June 2009.

Turkey and Mexico, two of the emerging MINTs, are cases in point with regards to their unique positions. 1. They are surrounded by fragile or failed states in their regions. This results in refugees fleeing violence. Central Americans escaping cartels, gang violence, gender-based violence, and poverty find safety in Mexico. On the other hand, Middle Eastern and African refugees escaping civil wars, violence, and poverty find safety in Turkey. 2. Turkey and Mexico implement innovative refugee policies. This is partly due to the inevitable influx of refugees given the volatile regions they are situated in. 3. Northern neighboring nations (U.S., Canada; Europe) impose strict immigration policies. Turkey and Mexico are faced with neighbors that are rather unwelcoming and do not have an open door policy. In fact, the U.S and Europe have outsourced the refugee problem to Mexico and Turkey by offering to compensate. As a result asylum seekers are held up in bordering cities and in some cases children find themselves as orphans.

As refugee safe havens, Turkey and Mexico are facing a multitude of financial and social burdens. Hosting over 3 million Syrian refugees Turkey has provided the largest volume of humanitarian aid with $6 billion in 2016, which largely goes towards Syrian refugees (GHA Report, 2017). On the other hand, approximately 400,000 Central American refugees are crossing the border into Mexico each year. Both countries are struggling with the integration of refugees into their respective societies. There are limited resources for a growing number of refugees and an ever-increasing domestic demand for employment. Most importantly, children, particularly those who are unaccompanied, pose the biggest challenge of becoming a lost generation.

Both Turkey and Mexico, both at geographic crossroads, have implemented policies alleviating the refugee and migration crisis. Although the dynamics behind the refugee crisis pose significant challenges to Turkey and Mexico there is potential for partnership and cooperation. U.S. immigration policies under the Obama and Trump administrations and rising xenophobia in Europe elicit the need to draw parallels between crises taking place in different parts of the world. Both Mexico and Turkey are facing increased pressure to enforce their borders. The U.S. has supported Mexico’s Southern Border Program and employed further migrant deterrent strategies to cut back the number of refugees from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador). On the other hand, increased demands from the EU and pressing security concerns led Turkey to take additional measures. For instance, Turkey completed the first phase of a wall across its Syrian border. Erecting more barriers and putting pressure on host countries may seem like a short-term solutions for the U.S. and European countries but these policies will not alleviate the humanitarian crisis. If anything, they create mass prisons out of these warzones. The humanitarian crises will deepen without eliminating the root motivating cause for people seeking refuge in other countries.

Refugee Camp, Kilis, Turkey (Photo Credit: AFAD)

Refugee Camp, Kilis, Turkey (Photo Credit: AFAD)

In the face of such dire humanitarian conditions middle income countries and regional powers, such as Turkey and Mexico, shoulder the weight. These countries run the risk of becoming buffer zones or rather dumping grounds. Europe is sending back refugees to Turkey and the U.S is mimicking the move by sending refugees back to Mexico without offering any satisfactory assistance. Under the MIKTA Initiative Turkey and Mexico aim to develop further cooperation in tackling global issues including the refugee crisis. Yet, a common strategic planning to tackle the global refugee crisis does not exist at the moment. Mexico and Turkey should increase cooperation by facilitating know-how exchange in providing better refugee settlements and finding a set of best practices in their humanitarian work. Both countries can benefit from integrating public-private partnerships in their efforts. In addition, Turkey was the host of the first World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 and Mexico co-hosted numerous humanitarian assistance workshops, but they have not joined efforts in connecting the Central American and Middle Eastern/African refugee crises. Such collaborative efforts can help create platforms to raise awareness and more importantly offer applicable strategies to integrate refugees much efficiently into these countries, which are likely to become their permanent homes. In doing so, Mexico and Turkey can propose a unique model of deploying humanitarian aid, capacity building and refugee integration. Cooperation between these two former transit states can also lead to increased pressure in sharing the responsibility for human life before these former transit nations exhaust their capacity. Caught between their affluent and refugee producing neighbors Turkey and Mexico share more than their generosity; they share a story the rest of the world ought to hear. These stories are the stories of refugees feeling violence and poverty.

Author’s Disclaimer

This opinion piece is based on the author’s field work on Turkey’s development coordination in Mexico which is led by the efforts of Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) and its Mexican counterpart.

Senem B. Çevik

Senem B. Çevik, PhD is a lecturer at University of California Irvine (UCI) Department of Global and International Studies and Tobis Fellow at UCI’s Center on Ethics and Morality. She has taught at Ankara University and Atılım University prior to joining UC Irvine. She is a fellow with the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI) and also serves on the committee of the Turkey-Israel Civil Society Forum (TICSF). She is a blogger for University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy and 2015-2016 Contributing Scholar. She is the co-editor with Philip Seib of Turkey’s Public Diplomacy (Palgrave MacMillan, 2015). Her current research focuses on grassroots diplomacy in peace-building and humanitarian aid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *