Number of Syrian refugees reaches 50,000, cost remains unclear

August 05, 2012, Sunday/ 16:24:00/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK

The number of Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey after fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria has reached 50,000, Deputy prime minister Beşir Atalay announced on Sunday, but the amount of money Turkey has spent on the refugee camps remains ambiguous.

Responding to a parliamentary question submitted by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Lütfü Türkkan, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek said in a written response on July 16 that Turkey had spent a total of TL 175 million between April 2011 and June 11 of this year on accommodating Syrian refugees. But during his visit to China, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on April 10 -- exactly two months before Şimşek's announcement -- that “the figure that Turkey has spent [on Syrians who have sought refuge] amounted to $150 million.”

The figure given by Şimşek is naturally expected to be greater than that announced by the prime minister, but that isn't the case. The exchange rate of the dollar against the lira being approximately 1.8, the figure which Erdoğan claimed is equivalent to TL 270 million, which is well over the figure given by the finance minister, even though the minister's announcement came two months after Erdoğan's.

In addition, on April 10, Erdoğan had stated that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey was 25,000, but on June 11, when Şimşek gave his written response, the number of Syrians living in refugee camps in Turkey had reached almost 28,000.

According to Metin Lütfi Baydar, a deputy from Republican People's Party (CHP) who had earlier submitted a written question to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu about pocket money which the government intended to distribute to Syrians living in refugee camps in Turkey, the figure announced by the finance minister may be based solely on the money spent by the Turkish Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), and not by other sources such as the discretionary fund available to the prime minister. “The government needs to clarify how much it has spent on Syrians and from what sources,” Baydar added, speaking to Today's Zaman.

The MHP's Türkkan, also noting that he did not know if the only source of all the money spent on the camps was from the official budget, has criticized the government, saying: “Nobody knows who is spending what. The issue is totally uncoordinated.” Maintaining that the government has a secret agenda in the Syrian crisis, he added in comments he made to Today's Zaman: “Should they be faced with any difficulty, they should share it with the people. Neo-Ottomanism may lead the country to disaster.”

Turkey currently not only accommodates 50,000 Syrians but also gives the Syrian families a card with a stored value of a certain amount of money, depending on the size of the family, that is no more than the official minimum wage in Turkey, so that the camp dwellers can shop at a store in the refugee camp and prepare their meals as they please. “The practice is now in use in the camp in Kilis where Syrians are accommodated in container-houses. But the same practice will be extended to other camps as well,” a Turkish official, who requested not to be named, told Today's Zaman.

The practice is being carried out in a container-city because in such areas refrigerators and stoves are available. The practice, the official said, was started upon the advice of local governors and psychologists to keep people in such camps, who are usually idle the whole day, busy. Bülent Gedikli, a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy chairman, recently said the government is planning to give pocket money to Syrians living in camps and that this may signal that the practice will be extended to other camp sites as well.

In Turkey, Syrians are being accommodated in eight tent-cities -- five in the province of Hatay, two in Şanlıurfa and one in Gaziantep -- and in one container-city in the province of Kilis, with a capacity of 12,000 people. The camps, where meals are offered three times a day, and where Syrians can receive medical help, are equipped with facilities for education, worship, communication, translation and banking. Camps are also provided with electricity, water and refrigerators.

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