IOM head ‘William L. Swing’ thanks Turkey for hosting 3.1 million refugees

Turkey deserves greater acknowledgement for the work it has done to help refugees, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said.

There are 3.1 million refugees currently living in Turkey, according to the Directorate General for Migration Management. Most — 2.8 million — are Syrians who have fled their country’s six-year conflict. Turkey has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees during that period.

In the U.S., less than 12,000 Syrians have been resettled since the war began, according to the State Department, and in Russia just 7,000 have been given homes, the Federal Migration Service has said.

“Much more public acknowledgement and attention has to be made for the very generous work that Turkey — both the Turkish government and the Turkish people — has done to hold the largest refugee hosting in the world,” IOM Director General William Lacy Swing told Anadolu Agency.

According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Turkey has allocated at least $12 billion to humanitarian relief for Syria since 2011 — compared to $512 million from the international community.

Refugees in Turkey have been provided with free healthcare and education, according to AFAD, and also have access to the job market. Nearly 260,000 Syrians are housed in 26 temporary camps where they also have access to schools, hospitals, job training and sports facilities.

Around 80,000 Syrian children have been schooled in AFAD centers since the war broke out, with many taught in Arabic to overcome language barriers. According to AFAD, 510,000 refugee children have been given the chance to continue their education in Turkey.

IOM, which began its operations in Turkey in the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, has provided psychological counseling for 23,000 traumatized refugee children but is limited by a lack of resources, Swing said.

The former U.S. diplomat calls for a “new understanding”

“I’m here in part to say thank you to the Turkish government for hosting these refugees and giving them protective status, until such time as they can either return home or find resettlement somewhere or a place in Turkey,” he added during a visit to Turkey last week to attend a conference of ambassadors.

The former U.S. diplomat called for a “new understanding” to tackle the world’s “insufficient shared sense of responsibility” for migrants.

“We have to do very much more to change the current toxic migration narrative,” he said, referring to increased hostility towards migrants.

Established in 1951, the IOM works closely with governments and non-governmental organizations, particularly the UN’s refugee agency. It has offices in more than 100 countries providing services and advice to governments and migrants.

Swing said the world needed to reach a “historically more accurate and balanced narrative” towards refugees. “[Migration] has to be managed in a responsible manner which is not always being done right now,” he said. “We all have a responsibility toward people on the move.”

Death among migrants as they try to reach safety is a focus for the IOM, Swing said. Last year, 5,079 died or went missing as they attempted to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

“This is far too many people to be dying,” he added. “Clearly the policies are not working as people are dying. We need to do more make people stay alive.”