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Situation of Syrian Refugees in Turkey | Türkiye |

Situation of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Doğus Şimşek

/ 7 Minuten zu lesen

More than four million Syrians fled the Syrian Civil War and have sought refuge in one of Syria's neighboring countries. Turkey is hosting the lion share. However, since their arrival in Turkey, living conditions have worsened. Especially Syrians who are living in urban areas hardly have access to public services.

Syrian family living in a salesroom in Gaziantep. Syrian refugees outside of the official camps in Turkey suffer amongst others from high rental housing prices, being socially marginalized and excluded from key areas of society, limited access to education and limited access to health care. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Since 2011, the on-going Syrian civil war has caused more than four million Syrian nationals to flee to the neighboring countries Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Turkey hosts the largest number: about 2,7 million according to the Interner Link: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of March 2016. Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, Turkey, like other neighboring countries, has adopted an "open door" policy for Syrians fleeing their country and has opened 25 refugee camps in the provinces of southeast Turkey alone. However, only 272,812 Syrian refugees actually live in official refugee camps. The others reside in urban areas across the country. About 150,000 Syrians have returned to their country of origin according to statistics of the Directorate General for Migration Management.

Development of Syrian Refugee Inflow

The influx of Syrian refugees entering Turkey started in April 2011. In that month, the first group of Syrian refugees crossed into the Hatay region of Turkey. By the end of 2011, there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. In April 2012, Syrian refugee flows to Turkey had reached about 25,000. By the end of 2012, there were over 170,912 registered refugees in Turkey. In 2013, the influx of refugees from Syria accelerated. Turkish authorities registered on average about 40,000 arrivals per month. By the end of 2013, 560,129 registered Syrian refugees had settled in Turkey. As a result of the ISIS occupation in northern Syria, the number of Syrian refugees increased dramatically in the second half of 2014; Turkey received 70,000 new arrivals on average per month. By the end of 2014, the total number of registered Syrian refugees had reached 1,552.839. By the end of 2015 their number stood at about 2,7 million.

Legal Framework

Since 2011, Turkey has followed an open door policy for Syrian refugees. The government initially referred to them as "guests", then applied the temporary protection policy in October 2011 to deal with the large influx. Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Additional Protocol on the status of refugees. However, Turkey applies a geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention which limits the right to be recognized as refugees to asylum seekers originating from Europe. Syrian refugees are thus excluded from this form of protection and are instead only granted "temporary protection" (for details on Turkey's refugee policy see Interner Link: Nuray Ekşi's article on the Turkish asylum system). According to the Temporary Protection Directive, identity cards are provided to refugees upon their arrival. With these identity cards the refugees may access basic public services.

Syrian Refugees in Urban Areas

Due to the increased number of Syrian refugees scattered across Turkey's urban areas, there are concerns about the large numbers and the permanent presence of Syrian refugees as well as their visibility in the public sphere among Turkish citizens. The native population is concerned about the economic situation of the country. Since the spring of 2014, anti-Syrian sentiments have increased in nearly all cities of Turkey. Local people forcibly restrict Syrian refugees from public spaces in many cities through racial discrimination and physical attacks. Many Turkish citizens, especially those among Turkey's poor, believe that Syrian refugees have been looked after better by the government than Turkish citizens, that they steal their jobs, that they are burglars, beggars, criminals, and that they are culturally different which is said to create social tension. Xenophobic and racist discourse has become legitimized through such phrases. As in many European countries, forms of racism and xenophobia are closely interlinked with the economic situation. The content of racism is equated with that of difference. Public concern about Syrian refugees relates to issues such as culture, values and the permanent impact of migration. According to HUGO's (Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre) report in 2014, 52.3 percent of the Turkish population stated that they would not be pleased to have a Syrian neighbor due to the "concern that Syrians may do harm to their family or their person."

Since their arrival in Turkey living conditions of Syrian refugees have worsened. Especially urban Syrian refugees face more difficult challenges compared to those staying in the camps. Housing, access to food, education, health services and employment become more difficult as there is no state support for urban refugees in Turkey. Urban Syrian refugees have to pay for their accommodation themselves. However, the regulation on Temporary Protection determines that every Syrian refugee has free and universal access to basic public healthcare and the state pays a fraction of the price for medications.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, more than 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Turkey are not attending school. The report states that even though the government adopted an important policy in September 2014 that grants Syrian children access to public schools – lifting restrictions requiring Syrians to present a residence permit in order to enrol in public schools and accrediting temporary education centers that offer a Syrian curriculum approved by the education ministry of the Syrian Interim Government –, language barriers, social integration issues, economic hardship, and lack of information about the policy are key obstacles to access to education.

In January 2016, Turkey granted Syrian refugees the right to work legally if they apply for and receive a work permit. Refugees who are employed as seasonal workers in agriculture and stockbreeding are exempted from the obligation to present a work permit. Applications regarding occupations and professions confined exclusively to Turkish citizens will not be considered. In order to get a work permit, medical personnel will need a "prior authorization" granted by the Ministry of Health, and academic personnel will need a "prior authorization" of the Higher Education Council (YÖK). However, Syrian refugees are only allowed to work in the provinces where they are registered as residents, and the number of Syrians in a given company will be limited to ten percent of the total employees.

Many Syrian refugees are fleeing to Europe due to their lacking legal status and access to legal rights as well as the loss of hope to be able to return to Syria. Interviews in the context of the author's research project on the living conditions and experiences of Syrian refugees outside of the official camps in Turkey, conducted in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Gaziantep, Kilis, Antakya, Sanliurfa and Mardin between January and September 2015, show the major challenges Syrian refugees face in Turkey. Among these are: a lack of legal status, being forced to work in the informal economy, experiences of exploitation and discrimination in the work place, high rental housing prices, being socially marginalized and excluded from key areas of society, limited access to education and limited access to health care. In short, Syrian refugees do not see any future for themselves in Turkey and do not regard Turkey as their final destination because in their eyes nothing has improved since the arrival of the first Syrian refugees in Turkey. Migrating on to Europe thus seems desirable for practical reasons such as access to employment, housing, education and welfare.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 1,011,700 (forced) migrants arrived by sea in Europe in 2015; almost 3,000 migrants and refugees lost their lives during the dangerous journey. To prevent loss of life and to avoid social, economic and political problems, the EU Member States and Turkey should focus on the following aspects: human-centered migration policies; the status of Syrian refugees provided to them in Turkey should reflect "permanency"; the education of Syrian refugee children needs to be prioritized; the natives need to be prepared that Syrian refugees are likely to be in Turkey for a long time.

The latest influx of Syrian refugees into Turkey highlights that Turkey cannot stem the refugee inflow alone but that a number of Syrian refugees needs to be resettled to EU Member States and other countries. On 4 April 2016, in accordance with the EU-Turkey refugee deal, the first two boats carrying migrants who entered Greece illegally were sent back to Turkey. Non-Syrian refugees deported to Turkey will be sent to a detention centre in Kirklareli in Eastern Thrace, and Syrian refugees will be sent to a detention camp in the southern city of Adana.

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Dr. Doğus Şimşek currently works as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Migration Research Centre (MireKoc) at Koç University. She is carrying out her own research project called ‘the experiences of urban Syrian refugees in Turkey and Turkey’s migration policy’, funded by TUBITAK-BIDEB. She received her PhD in Sociology from City University London in 2012. Before joining Koç University, she lectured in International Relations at Regent’s University London and in Sociology at City University London and also carried out research on Turkish and Kurdish migrants in London. She has publications on transnational identity, integration processes of refugees, conflict resolution policies and racism.