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Research Report

Turkey and Syrian Refugees:: The Limits of Hospitality

Osman Bahadır Dinçer
Vittoria Federici
Elizabeth Ferris
Sema Karaca
Kemal Kirişci
Elif Özmenek Çarmıklı
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2013
Pages: 43
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 2-4)

    On April 29, 2011, the first Syrian refugees crossed the border into Turkey. Two years later, the country hosts some 600,000 Syrian refugees—200,000 of them living in 21 refugee camps with an additional 400,000 living outside of the camps (see charts 1 and 2 below). These estimates, reported by both the Turkish government and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are conservative.¹ Indeed, officials working directly with refugees on the ground suggest that the number living outside of the camps may be as high as 800,000.

    These numbers are increasing: according to United Nations (UN)...

  2. (pp. 5-11)

    When Syrians began arriving at the Turkish-Syrian border in the spring of 2011, all were allowed to enter Turkey. Those who came with passports entered Turkey as they had done in normal times and those without documents were admitted to temporary refugee camps. As their numbers grew, the government built an ever-increasing number of camps near the border to house the refugees – or “guests”, as they were known. In October 2011 the government extended “temporary protection” to Syrian refugees, the only country to do so in the region. This was a reflection of Turkey’s open door policy, its policy...

  3. (pp. 12-15)

    The refugee camps established by the Turkish government are impressive. The two camps visited by the team – the first a tent camp near the town of Nizip,19 the second a container camp next to the Öncüpınar20 border crossing – were carefully planned, and the level of assistance was remarkable (see chart below for tent and containers in refugee camps). The camps resembled well-established towns with primary and secondary schools, health clinics, community centers, supermarkets, playgrounds and even laundry rooms. Refugees were given refrigerators and stoves; accommodations had hot water and, in some cases, televisions and air conditioning. Upon registration,...

  4. (pp. 16-19)

    While the Syrian refugees living in camps are by and large well-assisted, it is a different situation for those refugees living outside the camps, whose numbers are estimated to be at least 400,000 or twice the number of those accommodated in camps. There are no publicly-available comprehensive reports on the living situations of non-camp refugees, with the exception of a report prepared by Mazlum-Der on the non-camp refugee population in Istanbul.23 Many non-camp refugees are renting accommodations and there are concerns about how they will manage when their savings run-out.

    There are also concerns about the rising rental costs and...

  5. (pp. 20-23)

    The presence of refugees in Turkey is symptomatic of a much broader displacement crisis. In addition to the two million Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, in addition to those in Egypt, there are at least 6.5 million29 internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Syria. Much less is known about IDPs than refugees; even estimates of their number are uncertain. Reports are, however, that displacement is widespread and dynamic, with people moving multiple times in search of safety and assistance.30

    As noted above, displacement in northern Syria – the region closest to Turkey – is widespread, and...

  6. (pp. 24-25)

    The Turkish government initially referred to Syrian arrivals as “guests”, but as their numbers increased, it turned to the 2001 European directive on temporary protection34 and since October 2011 has awarded them temporary protected status. However, in practice, the research team found considerable confusion and varying practices among Turkish officials with respect to whether Syrian refugees are to be called “refugees,” “individuals under temporary protection” or “guests.” The team also observed confusion over the legal meaning of these terms and their implied obligations for the Turkish government. For example, the team talked with one government official who claimed that “according...

  7. (pp. 26-28)

    For the first year or so of the crisis, the main impact of Syrian refugees was concentrated in the border regions Turkey, and these are the areas which continue to be the most heavily impacted.37 The town of Kilis, for example, had a pre-crisis population of 80,000 and presently hosts some 60-80,000 Syrian refugees. As refugees have spread throughout the country (with a reported 100,000 living in Istanbul alone)38 awareness has grown that this is an issue of national – not local – concern for the Turkish government and the Turkish people.

    Economically, the Turkish government reports that it has...

  8. (pp. 29-31)

    While the international community has recognized the enormous contributions of the Turkish government, this has not been accompanied by sufficient financial assistance. For example, while Turkey is included in the UN's Regional Response Plan, with an appeal for $372 million, it has only been funded at the 32 percent level.45 In comparison, the overall appeal has been funded at a rate of 53 percent. Turkish officials feel that their capacity has been reached and expect the international community to provide additional funds as an expression of solidarity and burden-sharing.46

    In the discussion at the seminar, there was affirmation on the...

  9. (pp. 32-35)

    Syria's humanitarian crisis and the outflow of refugees are having a profound impact on Turkey in ways that were not anticipated by either the government or the international community. When the Turkish government opened its borders to Syrian refugees in April 2011, immediately extending generous assistance to them and temporary protection a few months later, the expectation was that the crisis in Syria would be resolved fairly quickly and that the refugees would soon return home. Instead the crisis in Syria has not only lasted far longer than anticipated, but has escalated, bringing with it widespread destruction and displacement. In...