Thursday, April 30, 2015
Turkey is currently host to the largest community of displaced Syrians in the region. Adding to the challenge, the rising refugee inflows have occurred even as Turkey was in the midst of overhauling its asylum and reception system to meet international, and particularly European Union, standards.
The country, which according to United Nations estimates had more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees as of March, has largely shouldered the burden on its own—spending $5 billion as of early 2015, with just 3 percent coming from international community contributions.
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, Syrian Refugees in Turkey: The Long Road Ahead, by Ahmet İçduygu, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Koç University in Istanbul, examines the policies and conditions of Syrian refugees, as well as the implementation of reforms to Turkey’s migration law. With growing dispersion and movement of Syrian refugees through Turkey to other countries, mainly in Europe, Turkey’s experience and policies towards the arrivals have implications for the broader region.
As the numbers of Syrians overwhelmed the capacity of camps funded and managed by the Turkish state and NGOs, refugees started taking shelter in towns and cities throughout the country. Many struggle to access adequate housing and services, and are forced to find work in the informal economy, often for extremely low wages. The Turkish public, meanwhile, is expressing increased concern about the high numbers of Syrians and there is a growing sense that the newcomers are driving up housing costs and competing with Turks for jobs.
Turkish reception policies were predicated on the assumption that the Syrian conflict would come to a swift conclusion, allowing the displaced Syrians to return home. And indeed, under Turkish law, asylum rights are extended only to Europeans, making Syrians temporary guests, not refugees. As the conflict stretches into its fifth year, however, it has become clear that a shift in policy to encompass longer-term solutions is needed.
While noting the reforms under Turkey’s recent immigration law, the report argues that a number of steps are still necessary to improve the country’s asylum and reception systems and promote the integration of Syrian refugees into Turkish communities. Among them: lifting the policy that limits asylum rights to Europeans and ending the legal immigration preference for individuals of “Turkish descent and culture.”
The report is the third in a seven-part series that draws from a recent Council meeting, “Refitting the Global Protection System to Meet the Challenges of Modern Crises.” Next week, MPI will publish two reports examining innovative approaches that have the potential to reinvigorate the protection regime and help refugees transition from dependence to self-sufficiency. Earlier reports can be read here.
On May 4, MPI will host an event to discuss the worsening Syrian crisis, featuring experts from Refugee Council USA, which had a delegation in the region recently, as well as a top official from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Details on the event and livestream are available here.