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Correcting Misconceptions: Clearing the Air on Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Syrian refugees in Turkey: time to dispel some myths

Six years after the onset of the Syrian conflict, Turkey has emerged as the primary host for refugees, striving to secure opportunities for education, employment, and survival. This article examines the latest migration report released in April 2017 by the Turkish Presidency of Migration Management, focusing specifically on Syrian migration statistics.

Historically, Turkey was a source of migrants rather than a host country until the late 1980s. The dynamics shifted due to conflicts in neighboring regions, transforming Turkey into both a destination and transit country. The Syria crisis led to an unprecedented influx of immigrants, surpassing 3 million in 2016.

Turkey employs the geographical limitation principle, offering permanent protection to asylum seekers from events in Europe and temporary protection to those from other regions. Despite adherence to the Geneva Convention, Turkey uniquely implements distinct policies for European and non-European refugees, resulting in stricter measures for the latter.

Correcting Misconceptions: Clearing the Air on Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Correcting Misconceptions: Clearing the Air on Syrian Refugees in Turkey (Credits: Reuters)

As the hospitality process faces challenges from unemployment and limited education opportunities, Turkish society increasingly views the substantial Syrian population with suspicion and hostility.

The government’s stance oscillates between humanitarian concerns and national security considerations, as reflected in the 2016 migration report emphasizing the establishment of a robust migration management system aligned with national interests.

Initially adopting an open border policy during the early stages of the Syrian conflict, Turkey shifted to increased border controls, limited social benefits, and denials of refugee status since 2014. Only 48,738 Syrians hold a residence permit, while the majority are under temporary protection, a measure activated during mass migration for effective evaluation of individual asylum applications.

Various myths circulate within Turkish media and public perception, such as the notion that Syrians should have remained in their country to defend it. However, over 46% of Syrian refugees are under 18 years old.

Another misconception suggests that the Turkish government extensively supports Syrians, yet most reside outside camps, relying on activities like begging garbage collection, or informal employment for survival.

With Istanbul hosting the highest number of Syrians, certain cities exhibit significantly higher ratios of Syrians to the total population. While the government prefers locating asylum-seekers in less populous areas, many choose major cities for social networks and relative inconspicuousness.

The migration report lacks information on social benefits, but a study of 604 Syrian workers in Istanbul reveals that only 3% receive assistance. Limited work permits (fewer than 20,000 issued) and wage disparities between Turkish and Syrian workers contribute to employment challenges.

Education emerges as a critical issue due to the high percentage of young Syrian asylum-seekers. However, Turkish public opinion often opposes investments in integration, fearing it may encourage Syrians to stay. Only 24% of Syrian children outside camps have access to education, necessitating increased school capacity.

Efforts to address long-term needs remain insufficient, potentially leading to elevated crime rates and socioeconomic disparities. Public discussions often lack a focus on human rights and dignity, highlighting the importance of integrating local populations into integration efforts and educating the Turkish public about asylum seekers’ conditions and cultural differences.

Enhanced coordination between Turkey and the EU, despite challenges amid suspended EU admission talks, is crucial for addressing the complex issues surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis. Dialogue and cooperation become paramount in times of uncertainty and tension.

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