The Syrian “civil” war has officially now entered its tenth year. During this time span we have witnessed the mass destruction of human lives, countries, and economies. The futures of those countries who have directly or indirectly been involved, supported or even tried to stay neutral will also be affected.
What we are really witnessing is the birth of a very new generation that has yet to be described or even recognised by any letter of the alphabet. The devastation is so large and uncontrollable that when looking at the borders of Syria we can see dramatic change.
Amongst the three major hosting countries Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, Turkey is the major country who has made outstanding sacrifices to host Syrian refugees who have a birth rate of over 460 babies per day, with a population of over 4 million people living with a temporary identity status.
Ten years on, Turkey is faced with major economic, cultural clashes, demographic and security problems that need to be urgently attended to.
What we are seeing is actually two very different traumatised societies; with such a high birth rate amongst the refugee population, a new generation is evolving. The first society comprises of the Syrians who have been torn apart, separated from their national identity and culture, and pulled from many directions for political gains, consequently leaving them extremely traumatised and alone with no foreseeable solution of their future. The second traumatised society is naturally of the hosting country.
According to the Refugee Association who works very closely with the European Union and the Turkish Immigration Department the number of Syrian children under the age of 18 in Turkey is 1,737,502. Women and children make up 70.8% of the total population of refugees and the number of children under the age of 10 is 1,061,689. The average age of a Syrian refugee is 22.2 years old and is with little or no formal education.
In a report issued by the European Union 60.6% of the Syrian refugees have no skills whatsoever and rely on social benefits for their livelihood. Of the extremely high number of children under the age of 18 only 545,000 have access to education. The average person per family is 5.1 with 77.2% still having very little or virtually no knowledge of the Turkish language. As the general profile of the Syrian refugees who have come to Turkey are from the rural area of Syria, illiteracy is very high. Only around 7% of women can actually earn a living and despite being against Turkish laws high numbers of child marriages and child pregnancies are being reported.
The Free Syrian Lawyers Association issued a report in May 2019 claiming that since the “civil” war began in 2011 due to the closing of all Syrian state government offices in rebel held areas, no Syrian child born after this date was able to be registered as a Syrian citizen despite being born in Syria. Marriages, divorces and deaths have not been able to be officially registered in this time span as well. As a result women have virtually lost all their legal rights over their children who have no form of identity or proof of family ties and hence being denied even their basic education and health care opportunities. The purchasing and claiming rights to family properties through inheritance has not been possible. It has been reported that there have been many cases of children disappearing, being sold to human traffickers and organ cartels. In every two families there is at least one unregistered marriage; in every three families there is at least one unofficial divorce; and in every three families there is at least two deaths that have not been reported in any way. The Free Syrian Lawyers Association has also highlighted that due to the poor access to basic needs, a very serious black market has flourished surrounding the issuance of false identification.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that the Syrian Embassy is not currently open and is operating only on a consulate level in Istanbul, registration of over 650,000 Syrian children born in Turkey as well as Syrian citizens, marriages, divorces and deaths have not been able to be registered on behalf of the Syrian state. Another very serious problem is the verification of original education documents; as a result identifications and official diplomas etc. have been issued on a “declaration by trust” system.
Currently 98.5% of the refugees live in all 81 provinces around Turkey with a higher concentration in 30 main cities including Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Adana, Sanliurfa and Mersin.
Despite the fact that the European Union has been very generous in its praise of Turkey’s handling and hosting of Syrian refugees, the reality is actually very different.
While analysing the above statistics, it is very clear to see that with such a high number of young, uneducated, culturally different and war traumatised groups of people, social integration in Turkey is literally impossible. There has been a rise in the formation of ghettos, isolated societies with very little intermixing and a literal parallel society flourishing with its own unofficial trade, workers, cultural values, child trafficking, and gangs with serious question marks regarding the authenticity of identification documents.
All things considered, the time has come that we deal with the Syrian crisis with a more realistic approach. When looking back in history the grounds for radical terror groups flourish in areas where there is a high population of uneducated, economically disadvantaged, isolated and rejected portion of society. This causes extreme anger and an urge for revenge and a motive to become affiliated with such groups. This results in the opportunity of quick manipulation and very easy radicalisation. We have to accept that the Syrian refugees in Turkey where there is such a high number of young people with no future expectations is a formula for chaos. With the rising prevalence of the internet across the globe, it would be naïve to believe that chaos can be limited to isolated areas.
Today, millions of Syrian children have no education, no opportunities for work, no trade, no skills, have an unstable economic position, no security, no citizenship or identity and as a result no escape from the situation that they are in. These are the specific “refugee generation” that we must concentrate on and find immediate solutions for their future in order to avoid paying any further negative consequences. Already we can see this in the rise of Islamophobia and the far right parties in almost all European countries that have accepted refugees. In time, societies will become more segregated and bitter towards each other.
There is only one real solution.
The Syrian “civil” war as accepted by many countries now has ended. The Syrian state has regained control of nearly 80% of their country. It is in the utmost interest of all countries to aid the rebuilding of Syria and to enable refugees to return to their homeland. Diplomatic ties must be re-established, Embassies must be reopened, economic support must be given directly, The Caesars Act lifted, and trade opportunities created. This provides an opportunity for Syrians to be protected by their own state, ultimately re-establishing their lives back home.
We are currently at a turning point in history.
The major population of the Syrian refugees currently still have ties with their home country and are under 18 years old. This means that integration to new societies has not been completed and is at the very early stage where the “Refugee generation” can be saved. This is an incredibly important opportunity to find a solution. By helping the Syrians rebuild their country, they will be able to live in a place that reflects their own culture, language, education system and values. We can help provide the foundations to create security and avoid new terror groups surfacing if we take action immediately.
It is imperative that all countries come together in order to foster a sustainable solution for Syria such that there are no unintended consequences of terror and insecurity going into the future.