by Fulya Memişoğlu
The Syrian crisis in Turkey
The ongoing Syria conflict has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century, forcefully displacing nearly 12 million Syrians from their homes. As of July 2018, the number of those fleeing the conflict and seeking asylum in neighbouring countries had surpassed 5.6 million (UNHCR, 2018). With the highest concentrations of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, both displaced Syrians and their host communities face increasing and protracted challenges. Turkey, which shares its longest land border with Syria, is one of the countries most affected by the conflict and the subsequent refugee influx. In 2015, Turkey became the world’s largest refugee-hosting country in absolute numbers. More than 3.5 million Syrians were registered under temporary protection in Turkey as of July 2018 (DGMM, 2018b). Among the major refugee-hosting countries in the region, Turkey currently has the largest population of Syrian refugees (table 1).
Turkey has a two-tiered refugee and asylum regime due to the geographical limitation it imposed on its ratification of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Status of Refugees (the Geneva Convention) and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Accordingly, it grants refugee status only to ‘persons who have become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe’. Since the mid2000s, Turkey has initiated a comprehensive reform of its legal framework on migration and asylum to meet new emigration, immigration and transit migration challenges. Turkey’s process of accession to the European Union (EU) has provided further impetus for reforms in the field of migration and asylum, towards closer alignment of the Turkish legislative framework to the EU acquis.
Two key outcomes of the reform process have been Turkey’s adoption in 2013 of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP) (Republic of Turkey, 2014), and its establishment in 2014 of a new civil migration authority, the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) under the Ministry of Interior. In May 2015, the DGMM’s provincial organisation became fully operational in all 81 provinces of the country, taking over the majority of foreigner-related responsibilities from the provincial police departments. These major reforms in the field of migration and asylum have coincided with the largest refugee influx Turkey has ever experienced. In line with its newly devised legislative framework, which retains the geographical limitation, Turkey has offered Syrians what it terms “temporary protection status”. This is a group-based protection scheme implemented in times of mass influxes of displaced persons.
The Turkish government long regarded the Syrian refugee situation as temporary and provided extensive humanitarian assistance to displaced Syrians seeking refuge within its territory (Memişoğlu, 2018). Turkey’s main emergency management body, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), set up camps and provided social assistance to the new arrivals. As the refugee situation became protracted, and normalisation in Syria grew into an ever more distant prospect, the government began devising policies considering Syrians’ long-term prospects in the country. The scale and duration of the refugee influx also shifted Turkish policymakers away from their initial encampment policy, towards longer term planning for urban refugees, as more than 94% the Syrian refugee population in Turkey now live in cities.
The scope of temporary protection has been expanded over the years. Regulations have been introduced facilitating refugees’ access to education, health services and the job market. At the same time, new restrictive measures concerning mobility have been enacted, due to the government’s mounting concerns regarding national and regional security. EU concerns, too, have driven some of these restrictions, as the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement requires Turkey to take ‘any necessary measures to prevent new sea and land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU’ (European Parliament, 2018).
This report provides contextual background on Turkey’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, focusing on the formulation and structure of refugee protection and development policies within the temporary legal framework governing the more than 3.5 million Syrians residing in Turkey. Following this introduction, the rest of the report is organised as follows: Section two provides a brief country overview and information on the refugee population in Turkey with a specific focus on Syrian refugees. The characteristics of the Syrian refugee population are examined, alongside the legal issues they face. Section three looks at the impact of the refugee arrivals, discussing particularly impacts on the Turkish economy and labour market and on various sectors: education, property and housing, healthcare, and environment and waste management. It then elaborates on local perceptions of the refugee population, as well as on Turkey’s diplomatic engagement on the issue with the international community. Section four unpacks Turkey’s approach in the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly refugee protection-focused and development-focused policies, after briefly discussing the evolution of the policy framework. The conclusion, section five, summarises the main findings.