According to information provided by UNHCR, since the beginning of the recent Middle East crises, Turkey hosted over 2 million refugees from different conflict-affected countries. The majority of refugees and asylum seekers are Syrians who fled the war and arrived at the bordering provinces of Turkey. The majority of non-Syrian refugees are from Iraq. Half of the Syrian refugees are children. With the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Iraq, the estimated number of Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey is expected to exceed 100,000 by the end of 2015. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are in camps established along the border with Syria. However, the majority (85%) are scattered through Turkish provinces far from border provinces trying to survive in urban communities around Istanbul, Izmir and Canakkale and other cities. Many of them risk their lives in the attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece hoping to find safe harbour and better future in Europe.
According to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, Turkey maintains the geographical limitation. This implies that the country grants refugees of European origin the right to seek asylum while non-European refugees are eligible only for temporary asylum seeker status under the 1994 Asylum Regulation. Hence, Turkey is considered a transit and temporary asylum area for migrants arriving from countries outside of Europe. Still, the law provides protection and assistance for asylum-seekers and refugees, regardless of their country of origin.
The recent Law on Foreigners and International Protection (April 2013) brings the Turkish legislation closer to European standards. It is not limited to “Turkish descents and culture” and emphasises the importance of treating irregular migrants and asylum seekers in line with international norms.
The Law of Work Permits of foreigners (Law No.4817), though reflects the governments welcoming attitude towards migrant workers, it does not contain any provision for asylum seekers, temporary protection beneficiaries and recognised refugees. As a consequence the refugees can only access work illegally.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority and the newly-established Directorate General of Migration Management are the state bodies dealing with the emergency response to Syrian refugees. The government officially continues its open-door policy. It has spent nearly €5 billion since the beginning of the crisis and is providing assistance in 25 camps at a monthly cost of €2 million. However, as the number of refugees is growing, the authorities started to apply alternative approaches. For example, the state supports the NGOs that provide assistance to the IDP camps on the Syrian territory. Also, border-controlling authorities started to introduce stricter control procedures to restrict the flows.
The impact of the crisis
The presence of refugees in five provinces (Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Mardin) potentially alters the ethnic balance in the region. For example, in Kilis where before the inflow of refugees Arab population was less than 1 percent, it is currently the majority. The inflow of Syrians also changes the sectarian (Sunni-Alawite) composition in the provinces. So, Alawites used to dominate the Arab population of Hatay and the inflow of Sunni Arab refugees is shifting the balance creating tensions.
The war in Syria and the inflow of refugees also has economic consequences. The countries had developed deep trade ties before the crisis started. Initially, the war in Syria led to the collapse of relations in 2012 and the sharp decrease of Turkish export to Syria. However, later Turkey seems to have recovered and even increased its export trade with Syria as the destruction of production facilities in Syria increased the demand for Turkish products. Still, the increased refugee flows might potentially push up the cost of living and unemployment in southern Turkey.
Refugees in host communities
The Government continues to maintain Ankara’s open-door policy for Syrian refugees and to allocate state resources to support refugees. Although the refugees are provided with food and shelter in official camps mostly allocated near the border with Syria, the majority of Syrians are spread through the country, moving from a city to another, searching for work or simply begging on the streets. This creates popular discontent among ordinary Turks who believe that state resources should be rather spent to resolve the poverty issues of Turkish people. There are more and more demonstrations against the refugees as well as attacks on them across the country. People believe that the officially reported number of Syrians in Turkey is much lower than the real figures as the majority of them are not registered. The refugees are blamed for lowering wages and causing an increase in rents in poor neighbourhoods through increased demand for housing.
The UNHCR is the leading organisation that works in close cooperation with the Turkish government (the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority and the Directorate-General of Migration Management) and NGOs in organizing the support for refugees.
Due to the influx of refugees from neighbouring countries, the operational budget of the UNHCR in Turkey has increased from $17.7 million in 2010 to $320.16 million in 2015. The UNHCR has supported Turkey through the provision of core relief items, field monitoring and technical advice. The Government of Turkey provides assistance in 25 camps at a monthly cost of €2 million and has spent nearly €5 billion for other cost (health, education, food security and social and other technical services offered) since the beginning of the crisis.
UNHCR works in collaboration with:
Implementing partners (NGOs such as Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants, Human Resource Development Foundation, International Medical Corps, International Blue Crescent, Support to Life),
Operating partners (Government agencies: Coast Guard Command, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey, Gendarmerie General Command, Ministry of Family and Social Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of National Education, Ministry of the Interior (Directorate-General of Migration Management and for Security), National Human Rights Institution, Ombudsman’s Office, Presidency of Religious Affairs, Secretariat General For EU Affairs, Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency; and NGOs: Amnesty International, Ankara Refugee Lunch Support Group, Association for Solidarity with Refugees (Multeci-Der), Bar Associations, Caritas, Danish Refugee Council, Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, Human Rights Association, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, International Catholic Migration Commission, International Medical Corps, Peace Research Institute in the Middle East, International Rescue Committee, JRS / KADER, KAMER, KAOS Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association, Kimse Yok Mu, Relief International, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People (Mazlum-der), Education Volunteers Foundation of Turkey, Welthungerhilfe)
Others: IOM, UN Country Team, Universities