After four elections in 20 months, Turkey’s seemingly interminable campaign season has finally ended, with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) claiming a surprise victory and regaining single-party rule after losing it this past June. Many fear the AKP’s new mandate will enable further attacks on free speech and democratic rights, but others see a silver lining. “One of the positive consequences of this very broad mandate,” says Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “will be that the government will now have a margin to maneuver and tackle important policy issues, like the refugee issue.”
In recent years, the collapse of several states across the Middle East and beyond has resulted in the greatest displacement of humanity in recorded history. Some 60 million people have left their homes, and millions more may be on the way out. Thus far, no country has welcomed more of the displaced than Turkey, which first opened its door years ago.
In 2000, Turkey hosted just 234,000 immigrants, or registered foreign-born residents (0.37 percent of the population), according to the country’s statistical agency. By 2011, that number had leapt to 776,000. Then two million desperate Syrians surged across the border, along with waves of asylum seekers from elsewhere in the region.
Today Turkey is home to as many as four million foreign-born people, or about five percent of the population. This figure still falls far short of those of immigrant-friendly Australia (approximately 25 percent) or the United States (15 percent), but it’s akin to those of Finland (5.4 percent) and Argentina (4.6 percent). And like those states, Turkey has everything it needs to integrate waves of new arrivals.
Under the AKP, Turkey might have backtracked on the rule of law, human rights, and free speech, according to a forthcoming European Commission report. But the region has no better haven. “As an island of stability, Turkey has become a sanctuary for people escaping from terrorism and violence in the region,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in August.
Even with uptick in violence, Turkey remains more peaceful than most of its neighbors. It’s hosting the G–20 this month; its economy is the world’s 17th largest, and still growing. It has a liberal visa regime, offering citizens from 55 countries visa-free or e-visa entry. And it shares a religion with the majority of the region’s displaced.
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