Europe's Refugee Capital

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Syrian refugees in front of their tents at a refugee camp in the Suruc district near Sanliurfa in Turkey.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Under political pressure over rising refugee numbers at home, European leaders are looking to Turkey for help – despite signs that Ankara, too, has serious troubles coping with the influx.

  • Facts


    • Leaders from Turkey and the European Union are due to meet in Brussels on Sunday to discuss solutions to the refugee crisis.
    • Brussels has offered €3 billion in aid to Turkey to help the government shoulder the needs of some 2.5 million refugees in the country, many of them from Syria.
    • The European Union has also pledged to review Turkey’s bid for E.U. accession, in light of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cooperation on the refugee issue.
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On a street in Istanbul, two-year-old Banu started to cry again. Her mother Rania held the child, wrapped in a blanket on her lap, but seemed not to hear the high-pitched cries over the wail of passing cars and honking taxis, passersby and the sound of checkout scanners at a supermarket next door.

Rania looked at the street with an empty gaze. In front of her was a cardboard container with three coins inside. Beside her, husband Ali turned to their small daughter. He reached out his left hand to anyone who passed by – but came up empty most of the time.

Ali, Rania and Banu are among hundreds of refugee families living on the street in Beyoglu, one of the city’s high-rent districts. Many spend their days begging for change or selling tissues for about 20 cents a pack, or camping out on cardboard boxes on the ground.

Istanbul’s refugees also gather near the mosques of the Old City, or head to the square in Aksaray to meet smugglers who arrange the costly and dangerous passage to Greece. All around the city, it’s difficult to overlook the suffering of these people.

Altogether, about 2.5 million people have sought shelter in Turkey – fleeing war in Syria, dictatorships in Africa, and political persecution in Asia. Now, the European Union wants Turkey to take in even more refugees. To make that happen, Brussels has promised €3 billion, or $3.2 billion, to Ankara, and E.U. member states are already gathering up the money.

The European Union has also pledged to take another look at Turkey’s bid for E.U. membership. In light of the refugee crisis, the bloc’s concerns over Mr. Erdogan’s record on human rights could prove to be less of a sticking point this time around.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among those E.U. leaders who see a pivotal role for Turkey in efforts to cope with the influx of refugees, a point she stressed in a recent debate in the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament.

“This requires us to support Turkey, also financially,” Ms. Merkel said. “That will be part of the discussions at the E.U.-Turkey summit.”

Ahead of that meeting on Sunday in Brussels, the chancellor has come under pressure from both the left and right over her government’s approach to Germany’s growing refugee population. Ms. Merkel recently rejected calls from her conservatives’ Bavarian sister party to set an upper limit on refugee numbers.

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