Mayor Hasan Kara of Kilis is determined to keep the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees living in his city, recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Kara spoke with DW about the situation and the EU-Turkey deal.
DW: What's the situation like for the refugees continuing to wait on the Syrian side of the Kilis border?
Hasan Kara: At the moment there are around 10 camps, the refugees are living in these camps. There are no security problems. As long as they are safe we don't think they will come [to Kilis], but the moment a security issue arises they will flood in.
It is said that there is room for 10,000 people at the camps in Kilis. Was this configurated after the agreement, or was it already there?
That space was reserved in the event of any sort of serious problem.
Most refugees do not live in camps. In your opinion, what is the reason for this?
The foremost quality of humankind is freedom. Regardless of what is happening, since camps are closed areas, people do not want to live in them. Despite the conditions being worse, they want to live in more open areas, in the city center. I think this is intrinsically linked to the nature of humankind.
Going back to the agreement: the refugees who have illegally crossed over to Greece will be returned. However ,Turkey's ability to support them has ended. How would you evaluate this possibility?
But in return for this, we will send some of the Syrians living in Turkey [to Europe]. The population circulation will be the same.
Ok, but how will these people be chosen?
At the moment I do not know the details.
If we look at life in Kilis, people overall seem positive but, on the other hand, there is some uneasiness. What needs to be done to prevent this from growing?
Let me say this: Kilis has a population of 90,400. At the moment we have more than 129,000 registered Syrian guests. We refer to them as guests, not immigrants or those seeking asylum. However, though our language, culture and living conditions are different, since we consider them to be guests, we are bearing with this and showing our hospitality. That said, the situation is increasingly becoming unsustainable. If Europe doesn't want to deal with such a situation, it should help the Syrians living here to the extent that Turkey has. I want to give an example. In Kilis there is 1.1 square meters of green space per person. For this reason, if we can't provide people with clean drinking water, clean shelter, and basic human standards of living, it will not be possible to keep these people in Kilis. By the same token, if Turkey cannot provide such standards, it will be impossible to keep these people in Turkey.
Kilis is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, and you have invited German President Angela Merkel. What is it about Kilis that makes it a candidate?
Allow me to express this clearly; Kilis is host to something unprecedented in the world today. Despite hosting a number of Syrians that higher than its own population, social problems are not occurring, there are no issues with public order, self-sacrifice is at its peak. At various times since the beginning of the world, there have been a number of wars and natural disasters resulting in migrations. However, these have also resulted in major public order issues. In the 21st century, our greatest necessity is a culture of living together. Kilis itself is creating such a culture by self-sacrifing, by sharing its air, food, streets, and homes. For this reason, I believe that Kilis should be revealed to the world, and shown as an example. It has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I also am not underestimating Lesbos. They have also exhibited considerable self-sacrifice. But I believe the prize should be awarded to Kilis. We especially wanted to get President Merkel's attention on this matter. For the March 8 Women's Day, we prepared the world's largest invitation , 20 meters in size, and it was signed by 3,000 Syrian and Turkish women. We want President Merkel to come to Kilis. We want her to see Kilis as an example and we want her to relay this back to Europe. Our president and prime minister are talking about this but we want someone from the outside who looks sensitively and more humanistically toward Syria; particularly, a female leader coming and seeing this would be very, very important.
You say that you want to keep the Syrians in Kilis. Where does this desire come from?
This is our problem and it is the world's problem. If you can't carry the weight of your neighbor's problems, you can't expect other people to be responsible for carrying such a weight. If we keep these people here, one day when Syria returns to normal they can return home. But if we can't keep them here, and we send them to Europe via other parts of Turkey, they won't want to return again. At the very least, the second and third generations won't want to return. For this reason I am calling on Europe. Come help us improve our infrastructure, give these people proper living conditions and let's keep these people here. When the problems in Syria are solved, let's ensure that these people can return to their own country.
The question of citizenship for the Syrian refugees has appeared on the agenda. There are those who want to become citizens and who do not want to return. What kind of information do you have on this issue?
They want citizenship but they do not want to give up their own citizenship. As long as these people remain in this region, they will be able to return to their country much easier. But if they move further into Turkey they will stay there and become citizens. We need to keep them in this region. For this, I think we will require much more assistance.
Kilis is a city of about 90,000 people situated in the southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey a few miles from the Syrian border.