Murat Mustafa Onart
Murat Mustafa Onart

KARACHI: In its struggle to accommodate refugees fleeing from Syria, Turkey will soon need financial assistance from the international community, said Consul General Murat Mustafa Onart at a roundtable discussion on Tuesday.

Organised by the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), the discussion also had a member from the diplomatic security division from the consulate of Germany, Carsten Müller. Moderated by Masooma Hasan, director PIIA, the discussion was based on the current refugee crisis in Europe. The session which started with introductory speeches by both speakers, soon opened to the audience for an interactive debate.

Thousands of people are already displaced in their search and pursuit for a safe place within Syria while over three million have already fled the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Though the main destination of the refugees is Europe, many have fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Libya.

Although a major part of the influx looks towards Germany, some countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and eastern European country, Croatia are not as welcoming.

Speaking about the recent criticism levelled against Arab countries for not hosting the refugees, Mr Murat said the choice predominantly rests with the refugees themselves. “I would also like to add that Syrians started fleeing their country around four years back. But it is only recently that the issue came to the fore because the numbers increased drastically. We can’t force them to choose a particular country because so far they are opting to go to Germany,” he added.

Mr Müller, when asked whether the current superpowers would go after the root cause behind the refugee crisis, responded that at present, “we are not looking at the question of why people are leaving their homes. Our first and foremost focus is to accommodate the refugees and take them in. We have to focus on how to manage the crisis as a large exodus of Syrian refugees is headed towards the UK and Germany. This is a European task and we have to deal with it.”

He also pointed out the role of the neighbouring countries around Syria that are financially reeling since Iraq and Libya are already embroiled in conflicts of their own.

“According to the figures of this year, 800,000 to 1.5 million people have already entered Germany. And many others are on the way. The bigger question is how to deal with them and that is by accommodating them,” he added.

With the refugee crisis deepening, some officials are pinning hopes on the upcoming peace talks in Vienna where Iran will also be in attendance to discuss the future of Syria. But the future of the country will largely be dependent on Iran and Saudi Arabia, as the government of Syria has not been invited to be part of the peace talks.

“And without the protagonist, the peace talks won’t be able to come to a broader solution for the Syrian people,” added Masooma Hasan.

Mr Müller added that, “Politicians will have to adjust to different needs of the times. The whole process of the current crisis is not static. What’s wrong today might not be considered wrong tomorrow.”

According to him, there are two aspects of the refugee crisis that should not be overlooked – adjustment to a new culture, and the skills refugees bring to a new country.

“Men and women are equal are in Germany and whoever comes to the country will have to adapt themselves to this fact. At the same time, some of the best inventions in the world would not have been possible without refugees. I’m half refugee myself and understand the fears people inherently keep within themselves,” he added.

Exacerbating the refugee crisis is the role of human smugglers around the Syrian border, as the increasing death toll indicates. Though these people cannot be easily nabbed, such dealers are criminals and nothing more, Mr Müller added.

Speaking about citizenship, Mr Murat said the legislative procedures regarding citizenship will have to be dealt with as the laws are not as flexible as they would want them to be.

During the course of the session, there were quite a lot of questions about the resurgence of the Ottoman Empire that Mr Murat had to deal with.

“I understand the nostalgia attached with the Ottoman times, but that era is over. Nostalgia with the empires is resulting in more human tragedies than averting them. We want homogeneity above everything else in Turkey and our religion looks towards the future than the past.”

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2015

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