Kilis, Turkey – A Turkish town bordering Syria is under the spotlight after a ruling party official nominated it for the Nobel Peace Prize for accepting more Syrian refugees than there are local residents living there.
During the five-year Syrian civil war, Kilis – a town of 90,000 people located a few miles north of the Syrian border – has welcomed 120,000 Syrians fleeing their war-torn country.
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The Turkish government recently nominated Kilis for the peace prize for its hospitality, describing it as an example the world should recognise.
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In a letter nominating Kilis, Ayhan Sefer Ustun, deputy head of the Justice and Development Party, said “people share their jobs, houses, trades and social spaces” with Syrian refugees.
Syrians refugees have set up businesses and continue to work with their Turkish hosts in Kilis. While there is much resentment towards refugees throughout Turkey, that’s not the case here.
Hasan Kara, the mayor of Kilis, spoke to Al Jazeera about why his town should be regarded as an international model for human rights protection.
“Kilis today hosts more Syrians than its own population. Citizens of Kilis share their city, their streets, and even their air with Syrians,” Kara said.
“We believe that the example of Kilis should be recognised by the European Union and all countries in the United Nations, and this is why we think Kilis should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The town has also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to come and see how they’ve handled the influx of refugees.
Since last summer Germany has opened its arms to more than a million refugees – the vast majority from Syria and Iraq – one of the few European countries to be so welcoming.
Some European commentators have condemned Turkey for its perceived authoritarianism, lack of press freedom, and human rights issues.
Yet some view Turkey’s handling of the worst refugees crisis since World War II in great contrast to the EU’s chaotic response.
Turkey has taken in more than 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees, according to recent data released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Despite that, the country has been pressured by the UN refugee agency to open its borders to more people.
Last week, Turkey offered to take back all refugees and migrants that travelled through the country into Europe in return for billions more dollars, faster EU-membership talks, and visa-free travel for Turks.
More discussions are expected.
Turkey will already been offered $3.3bn until the end of 2018 to cover the costs of dealing with refugees.
The UN has criticised the plan, saying Turkey’s offer would violate European and international human rights laws.
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