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Première partie. La Turquie face à la « crise européenne » de l'accueil des réfugiés

Syrians in Turkey: A Framework for Achieving Social Cohesion with Syrians in Turkey

M. Murat Erdoğan
p. 13-30

Texte intégral

1The upheaval and civil uprisings in Syria which started in 2011, escalated into a civil war involving numerous actors in short time, thereby leading to one of the severest humanitarian crises the history has ever witnessed. In 2018, the crisis continues, and is unlikely to come to an end in short and medium terms; even after the end of the war, its impact will be felt deeply across the country. Everything has changed for the Syrians, who lost their lives, homeland. and future. The neighboring countries, particularly Turkey which has 911 kilometers long border with Syria, (as well as Lebanon) are affected from the conflict situation. The first mass movement from Syria to Turkey, involving a group of 252 people, took place on 29 April 2011, subsequently followed by growing number refugees fleeing Syria over the course.

  • 1  In this study, we have deliberately used “Syrians”, “asylum-seekers” and “Syrian refugees” interch (...)
  • 2  See: Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) web page (Acess: 08.04.2018) http://www.go (...)
  • 3  See: Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) web page (Acess: 08.04.2018) http://www.go (...)

2In line with the norms enshrined in the international law and the universal principles of human rights, Turkey’s approach to the crisis, which envisaged that its borders would be kept open for those who escape the war and persecution, that their basic needs would be met, and that no person would be forcefully returned back to their home country, was maintained and applied until 2016, albeit some exceptional restrictions. This asylum-friendly policy dramatically increased the number of asylum-seekers1 in Turkey. By the end of 2011 (or in 2012), number of Syrians in Turkey reached 14,237; by 2013 to 224,665; by 2014 up to 1,519,286; by 2015 to 2,503,549; by 2016 to 2,834,441, and by 2017 to 3,426,7862. Despite some decrease in these numbers due to secondary refugee movements, as of 29 March 2018 the Syrians who are registered under the temporary protection of the Turkish government has reached 3,567,130. Only in 2017, 589,796 Syrians entered Turkey for asylum purposes. The registration and temporary protection processes continue with intensity. Recently registrations are carried for newborn babies and those have been previously not registered due to various reasons, and around 1250‑1500 new registrations take place on daily basis. Meanwhile, verification of the previous registrations are being conducted through the collaboration of the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR3). After the verification and new registrations are completed, number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be between 3.5 and 3.8 million.

  • 4  Press release following the Migration Policy Board’s convention on 18 November 2017 (DGMM: http:// (...)

3In addition to the Syrians, nationals of other countries, mainly Iraqis and Afghans, entered Turkey for asylum purposes in serious numbers. As of March 2018 number of non-Syrian refugees4 in Turkey has reached 500,000. This number is increasing day by day. According to recent data, number of the asylum seekers in Turkey from Afghanistan reached 215 thousand, from Iraq reached 205 thousand. There is a serious increase in the number of people coming from Afghanistan especially since 2016. In just the last three months of 2018, the number of people coming from Afghanistan has exceeded 16,000. This will make process management even more difficult in the future. However, it still accounted for more than 90 % of the refugees coming from Syria in Turkey. In March 2018 only the Syrians comprise the 4.41% of the total population of Turkey 80 millions), whereas when non-Syrians are added, the value increases 4.2 million refugees by 5.1%. This reflects the most serious humanitarian crisis and population movement Turkey has ever encountered.

  • 5  Ministry of Health in Turkey: PPP Presantation in September 2017.

4The number and period of stay of the Syrian refugees has exceeded all the initial estimates in Turkey. Moreover, it long transcended being a matter concerning merely the border provinces, but rather has become a matter of Turkey in general. Particularly after 2014, Syrians commence to settle all across the country totally of their own accord, in spite of the fact that they were under obligation to reside in their provinces of registration. The number of Syrians in Turkey has reached the population size of a medium size European country and continues to increase by natural means. As of March 2018, number of Syrian births has exceeded 325,000, with 306 new births per day5. Thus, the permanence of Syrians in Turkey and inevitability of social coherence are growingly becoming matters and require urgent attention.

General Situation about Syrian Refugees in Turkey

5In spite of the fact that Turkey had a Syria policy for seven years, it can barely be said that it developed a comprehensive policy for the Syrians or other refugees and asylum-seekers. Nevertheless, extraordinary efforts devoted by the Turkish society, public institutions and NGOs, since 29 April 2011 are beyond commendable. Having said that, we are in a phase in which policies are based on the idea of temporariness and of short-term. Such policies might have proved useful for the first couple of years; however their limits have long been exceeded. Even though integration policies entail the risk of promoting permanence, more risks are to be taken by running a process which is led by short term emergency management. Due to the perception of temporariness time, resources, labor and generations are being lost. Unless realistic, comprehensive, medium and long-term strategies are developed in a short while, it is not hard to envisage that the social peace will be shattered. Thus, the risk of neglecting integration policies is higher than that of integration policies.

6The Turkish government takes the risk of not developing a comprehensive migration strategy, but this does not undermine the successful performance and efforts for refugees. The efforts of the public institutions and bureaucrats played an important role to keep the problems at a minimum up to this point. As we can see clearly, in the last 5‑6 years, most of the developed countries dodged the burden and implemened policies which externalize the problem. In line with the imbalanced rate of 15%-85% in accepting refugees, only 15% of the Syrian refugees had their way to developed countries. Even such result was prone to great tragedies such as that of little boy Aylan, whose dead body was found on the Aegean shores of Turkey. As opposed to that, Turkey has displayed a commendable courage and sacrifice to accept refugees and managed the crisis successfully up to the day, despite limited resources and rather limited foreign aid. No wonder, the hesitation of Turkish state about whether to move forward with temporary policies, stems from the acute uncertainty pertaining to the crisis in Syria. However, the next phases should not be built upon the level of certainty in Syria, but rather by taking into the account the almost certain tendency of the permanent stay of Syrians in Turkey.

7Syrians in Turkey are spread across all of the country and commenced their new lives. In this respect, the Turkish society did something very exceptional, managing to host millions of refugees and asylum-seekers, since 2011. As demonstrated below, Syrians feel safe and even happy in Turkey, which is responded by the Turkish society with a high-level of social acceptance, albeit with serious concerns about future. Drawing a reliable picture of the situation and reaching correct conclusions are prerequisites to maintain this social acceptance, which is already accompanied with a certain reluctance and fragility.

New Born Babies

8In 2017, every new day witnessed the birth of 306 Syrian babies in Turkey. In 7 years from April 2011-April 2018 it is known to have at least 325 thousand Syrians babies born in Turkey.

More than 94% of Syrian Refugees
live out of refugee camps as urban refugees

9According to March 2018 data in Turkey, only 225,000 Syrians are living in camps. Syrian refugees are living in all cities. In ten cities the number of Syrians living in Turkey exceeds 100,000. Istanbul is number one, with 554,000 Then comes Şanlıurfa with 477,000, followed by Hatay (445,000), Gaziantep (377,000) and Mersin (205,000). But more important is the ratio of the Syrians to the local population. 4.41% is the average of Turkey; Kilis is in the first place with 95%, followed by Hatay with 28% and Şanlıurfa with 24%.

10In 2011, there were only 58,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey; this has increased 72 times. Syrians in Europe are about 1 million; most of them are in Germany. But there are more Syrian refugees in Istanbul, than in Germany.

Status and Citizenship

11In terms of the “geographical limitation” declared by Turkey while ratifying the 1951 Geneva Convention, and the provisions of the Law No. 6548 on Foreigners and International Protection of April 11th, 2013 which was prepared based on this geographical limitation, Syrians are not recognized as “refugees” in Turkey. According to the Provisional Article 1 of the “Temporary Protection Regulation” published on October 13th, 2014, Syrians are defined as “The citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic Under Temporary Protection”. In this regard, the terms “asylum-seeker” or “refugee” used for the Syrians in Turkey do not have any legal meaning. The concepts of “Asylum-seeker” or “Refugee” have been preferred from time to time due to their common use in the daily life. The geographical limitation to the Geneva Conventions is a long-debated subject in Turkey. However, the increase in the number of Syrians has changed the orientation of these discussions. Especially, with the statement made by President R.T.Erdogan in July 2016, the issue of citizenship for the Syrians came into the agenda.

12Since 2017, there is a new policy concerning the naturalization of Syrians with “high qualifications” and with contributions to Turkey. However, three major problems emerged in this regard.

  1. The difficulties in finding “high quality” persons among the Syrians; therefore, only some 12,000 individuals were identified, amounting to 50,000, including their close family members.

  2. The rather uncommitted attitute of the Syrians, as they either do not want to lose their current advantages in Turkey, or plan to migrate to a third country, thus making less interesting a Turkish naturalisation.

  3. Huge objections from within the Turkish society.

13For all these reasons, as of November 2017, there are only 38,000 Syrians who have been naturalized as Turkish citizens. It seems likely that there would be further moves to this direction. Nevertheless, our assumption is that, mostly due to high social reactions and objections, this will not be a policy of mass naturalization, but rather exceptional measures.


14Educational status of Syrian refugees in Turkey needs to be addressed from two angles:

15The educational level of Syrians in Turkey, and the access to education of school age Syrians children. There are considerable problems on both issues. More than 30% of Syrians in Turkey are illiterate. This will affect social life, cohesion, work performance, economic activity and children’s education. Capacity problems are attracting attention in the education of children at school age. Among more than 1,070,000 Syrian children in school age in Turkey, 605,000 were enrolled in schools, in 2017‑2018. This is an extraordinary success. However, there are serious problems. Despite these extraordinary numbers, the education aspect remains to be problematic, both for those who have and not have access to education. In Temporary Education Centers (TECs), there are a multitude of problems, including the quality of training and trainers, and also the attendance of enrolled children. In addition, for those who are enrolled in public schools receiving Turkish-medium education, the children face problems in adaptation and performance. Another problem is the dropouts after the first and second grades, leading to a sharp decrease in participation to education in the long term. Dropouts are also common among the children who are transferred from TECs to public schools. Apart from these widespread problems in education, there are many children whose education is permanently disrupted after their arrival to Turkey. As of the end of 2017, more than 400,000 Syrian children in school age are not enrolled in schools. If the children who did not continue their education in the previous years, yet could not be shown in the statistics anymore, since they are no longer minors are added to this figure, an estimated number of 700‑800,000 children have joined “the lost generations”. There is a widespread consensus on the solution that Syrian children should be integrated into Turkish educational system, as Turkish Ministry of Education plans to close TECs altogether. However, realistically the numbers cannot be reduced easily, and there is a risk of damaging the balance of education system in Turkey. The main requirement is not only the enrollment of children in schools but also ensuring their attendance, whereas this is already known to be a problematic issue. If we calculate on the basis of 20 students per teacher, at least 50,000 new teachers are needed. Only 50,000 teachers’ annual salary amounts to more than 600 million €. These teachers should also receive special formation to teach for Syrian children. If the annual average cost of per children to Turkish economy is estimated to be 1,000 €, an additonal 1 billion € public funding is r equired to that end. For the Syrian children, 1,189 new schools, with at least 24 size classrooms will be necessary. Despite all these needs, planned number of schools, which is largely funded by the EU and foreign aid, meets only 10% of the total requirement. This outcome raises concerns about future, and will have potantially negative impact on the prospects of integration.

Syrian University Students

  • 6  See M.M. Erdoğan, B. Yavcan, A. Erdoğan (2017) “Élite Dialogue”: Türkiye’deki Suriyeli Mülteci Aka (...)

16In 2016‑2017 semesters, there were 14,740 Syrian students enrolled in universties in Turkey, half of which were transferred from Syrian universities and the other half completed high schools in Turkey and took university examinations. In 2017‑2018 semesters this number increased to 20,650 in 140 different public and private universities across the country. Particularly during a phase in which qualified Syrians are leaving Turkey, these figures are still of importance. However the Syrians receiving higer education has become quite controversial wihin the Turkish society, mainly because of shortfalls in communication strategies. Respective institutions should address this problem by informing the public to eliminate misunderstandings, and at the same time they should create employment opportunities, to keep the educated people in Turkey by their own decision. The picture is extraordinarily negative in terms of the level of education and qualifications of the Syrians, with whom the Turkish society will share a mutual future. The most optimisitic figures indicate that around 30% of the Syrians did not receive any eduction at all. Therefore, as main element to the intergration policies, the means should be devised to attract qualified Syrian youth and keep them in Turkey6.

Labor/Employment/Informal Workers

  • 7  See: M.M. Erdoğan (2018) Suriyeliler Barometresi, p. 160.
  • 8  See: Turkish Statistical Institute-TUIK:, acses (...)
  • 9  See: M.M. Erdoğan-C. Unver (2015) Perspectives, Expectations And Suggestions Of The Turkish Busine (...)

17The right to work of Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey has been regulated in January 2016. However, there has not been sufficient progress in the two years following this regulation with regard to the use of these rights. There are only around 10,000 Syrians (with the status of temporary protection) who have joined the work force, by obtaining their work permits. This is so, notwithstanding the fact that especially Syrians living in urban areas have not many other options, except working in order to sustain their lives. The calculations point to a figure of 800,000 to 1 million Syrians who are in fact part of the work force7. The biggest problem in this regard is their working as unregistered persons. Among the reasons of the high unemployment figures is the fact that around 35% of Turkish work force are unregistered8. Syrians have not generated a substantial competition for local population until now, not causing thereby high job losses for Turks. This is so due to their very low wages, coupled with the very difficult working conditions and lack of prestige in the areas of their work. It has become a rather accepted fact that Syrians participate in the Turkish economy, even if informally, with governmental officials declaring this as a major source for the economy9. However, it is clear that such a broad informal and unregistered work force and the concomitant exploitation of their labor is unsustainable. Interestingly enough, the real tensions within the Turkish society pertain not to the Syrian workers, but rather to the establishment of new businesses by Syrians.

Political Effect

  • 10  For 3RP see:

18The subject of Syrians in Turkey is first and formost a matter of humanitarian nature, whereas Turkey’s Syria policy preferences adds a political dimension to the matter. This leads to differences in approach between the supporters of the government and those of the opposition parties. In contrast to highly-politicized nature of this issue even in countries where there are only 10,000 Syrian refugees, the topics relating to the Syrians in Turkey have not been regarded by Turkish political parties as a matter of internal politics or an instrument for daily political debates in past three elections, except for some marginal and situational cases. This can be attributed to the remarkable resilience of Turkish society on the topic. The disinterest of Turkish media can actually be “fortunate” for Syrians. However, now this is changing as well, and the question is gradually becoming a matter of debate. The situation in the foreign policy, however, is completely different as the Syrians in Turkey have become an instrument which is often used in Turkey’s bilateral relations with the EU, and has been among the top priority matters. Having been entitled to the role of hosting refugees who have been suffering from a lack of international solidarity, Turkey is by every means right on the issue. The typical scene of global burden-sharing was repeated in the Syrian crisis, as only the neighboring countries shouldered the most of the burden, that is, not only financial, but also political, social, and security-wise. “3RP” (Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan) of the United Nations, which was designed as a comprehensive program to assist and increase the resilience of the countries of asylum, has not been sufficiently effective, mainly because of the lack of contribution from the donor countries and institutions10.

Cost Discussion

  • 11  Deutsche Welle (1.2.2016): “Tax money to the tune of 50 billion euros is needed to shelter, feed a (...)

19Economically developed countries not only externalized the problem by concentrating on fortifying their borders, but also have been very reluctant to financially assist the neighbors of Syria which became victims of their open-doors policy. This is very well-indicated by the fact that among the 28 EU countries which are in one of the most prosperous zones of the globe, only two have more than 100,000 Syrians, followed by seven countries which have between 10,000 and 70,000, and the rest 19 countries have 43,795 Syrians in total; while 10 cities in Turkey have each more than 100,000 Syrians. If the number of Syrians in the EU were to be distributed among the member states, there would be 2,305 Syrians per country. This is utterly an unjust and unsustainable situation. The refugee deal between the EU and Turkey is a product of the same mindset which effectively externalized the problem in exchange of providing financial aid. The “success” here is more on the EU part, and obviously not so much for Turkey and other neighbors of Syria. More significantly, the Syrian issue led to an axis shift in the EU-Turkey relations from strategic and psychological aspects, and consolidated the anti-EU and anti-Western sentiments in Turkey. There are many problems in the deal between Turkey and the EU. The first is about the logic and scope of the agreement between the 3 losers (Turkey, the EU, and Refugees). The EU expects Turkey to impose stricter border controls and end the flow of refugees with an aim to clearly externalize the problem. In essence the deal is devised as a readmission agreement to prevent the non-Syrians from seeking asylum in the EU territories, whereas it has developed a very unique and controversial system for Syrians. According to that, any Syrian who enters EU from Turkey through irregular means is to be returned to Turkey, and instead another Syrian is to be resettled to EU through regular channels (1‑1 deal); and Turkey will accept non-Syrian returnees without objection. In exchange, the EU will provide Turkey with financial assistance of 3 billion € for the next two years and another 3 billion for the following two years which makes 6 billion € in total. Moreover, consensus was reached on lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens and opening new chapters for Turkish accession negotiations to the EU. After 1.5 years passed, only 60% of this financial assistance were utilized in Turkey, whereas the rest is pending in planning and application phase. A study in Germany indicated that even if the technical difficulties would have been overcome, and 6 billion € would have been provided to Turkey right away, this would be a small contribution. The findings of the study which was conducted in the University of Cologne reveals that the annual cost of per refugee in Germany is 15,000 €, that is, 1,250 € per month, and 41 € per day11. In that case 507,000 Syrian refugees in Germany cost 7.6 billion € to the German economy. Hypothetically drawing on these figures, if 3.2 million Syrians were in Germany, the annual cost would increase to 48.7 billion €. If the refugees have been in Germany instead of Turkey between 2011‑2017, the cost for 6.5 years would be 152 billion €. In light of these figures, the deal between Turkey and the EU envisaging only 3+3 billion € is striking. Unfortunately, the cost accounts declared by Turkey are only mass figures without detail, which does not help determining the content of costs, and thus not entirely credible. Drawing on the estimation that a refugee costs Germany 41 € per day would only cost Turkey 10 € per day, Turkey has spent approximately 45 billion € for Syrian refugees over 7 years.

Burden/Responsibility Sharing

20No wonder, the imbalance in financial burden-sharing is disturbing, yet even if the costs incurred could have been met by some means, the other risks which Turkey runs are rather more important. For instance, social, economic and particularly the security risks often cause more unease. In that regard, the EU-Turkey deal should be revised, since its priority is not to support the neighboring countries which suffer more from the crisis, but to protect the EU from the refugees. It should be emhasised that widely held perception in the EU side concerning the success of the deal by itself is not realistic. The refugee movement from Syria had been already slowed down due to other factors such as the shifting power balance in Syria after the Russian intervention in support of the Syrian regime, Turkey’s closure of its Syrian borders due to threats to its security and new population policies in the region as well as the closure of the Balkan route in a manner reminding the “push back” phenomenon. Thus, the slowing down of the refugee influx is not a surprising consequence.

21There arise debates from time to time about the money spent by Turkey for Syrians and other refugees since 2011. The basic problem concerns the insufficent distinction made between direct expenditure and indirect costs. Another very significant issue is the lack of transparency. This creates the further problem of making the credibility of Turkey’s costs claims questionable. Although the Turkish state does not provide direct financial support for refugees, the total sum of costs is assumed indeed to be even higher than stated. For example, considering that a single refugee costs 41 Euro per day in Germany and only 10 Euro per day in Turkey, it can be assumed that Turkey has spent at least 50 billion Euros since 2011. The latest statement by Turkey, on the other hand, mentions that “Turkey has spent 2.3 billion US dollars in the form of AFAD money, 6 billion US dollars in the form of local-city authorities and 1.2 billion US dollars through NGOs.” The remaining costs are not direct, but concern indirect costs. Turkey needs to clearly emphasize this point, and to simultaneously declare that certain costs, as in the case of SUY, are met by other fonds. This would make its case more credible and reasonable.

Lack of Solidarity/Burden Sharing
and Risks for Future of “Open Door Policy”

22Alongside the Syrian crisis, the international refugee law itself is in crisis, as the numbers went well beyond any imagination, asylum-seeker influx grew exponentially, and some basic principles are neglected. The global public should re-evaluate the essential principles of international refugee law such as open-doors policy and non-refoulement. At the time the crisis broke out in Syria, many European institutions put pressure on the neigboring countries to implement an open-doors policy. At the time of such a humanitarian catastrophe, it is expected that all actors respect the principles enshrined in international law. There is a debate about what course of action should be taken when the threat of war and death continues and incoming asylum-seekers are unable to return after all neighboring countries open their borders, as it has been in the Syrian case. The practices in the refugee situations across the globe indicate that more than 75% of the refugees are present in the countries neighboring their home country. Ideally, if there is no prospect of return, these refugees should be reasonably distributed within the international community. It is indeed quite legitmate to ask why neighboring countries should accept to be the victims of a crisis in which they had no responsibility and if a Syrian national who fled to Turkey or Lebanon has no prospects of return to Syria, what is the real difference between him/her being in Turkey, Lebanon or France, Canada, Switzerland. These questions cannot be elucidated by the obligations arising from the readmission agreements per se. The answers to these questions are plain and simple, whereas the protectionist and security-oriented policies play against fair burden-sharing. The avoidance of burden and responsibility sharing paves the way to more serious humanitarian crises, as in the context of an upcoming humanitarian crisis and ensuing refugee situation, the neighboring countries may strictly close their borders, having known that they would not receive international support, those who come would always stay and pose problems to address.

23We need to recognize the fact that integration policies lead to unease especially in the neighboring countries, since they may help undesired incentives to become permanent. Even language training which is often regarded as the most basic and “innocent” step of an integration policy may promote permanence. Unbalanced burden and responsibility sharing across the globe and the developed/prosperous countries’ efforts to externalize the problem constitute psychological impediments to integration policies and governments of the recipient countries tend to resist them. External financial aid to promote integration may be regarded by the recipient country as being pushed the burden off on it. These concerns may validly be raised in the context of the recent crisis, as the burden of refugees has become a matter of exchange, and in exchange of financial aid if need be, as a strategy to dodge responsibility, and to externalize and push off the problem. However such concerns also delay the integration policies and lead to multiplication of the problems. Yet another issue is that, in the countries where Syrians sought asylum in massive numbers such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the governments deliberately avoid strategically developing their own integration policies, since they fear to promote permanence and the belief that the Syrians will someday return their home is an instrument to appease the society. However, when the countries do not develop their own strategy and projects, any “external” suggestion and even assistance is met with doubt. This has often been the case for Turkey in the recent years. The space for collaboration shrinks when the security aspect of the subject is added to the doubt about the activities of international institutions, including the UN, and INGOs. In this regard, international institutions should dedicate more effort to establish mutual trust with the governmental institutions in Turkey and engage more in collaborative projects. Having been largely derived from the past contexts of humanitarian crises characterized by collapsed systems and dysfunctional governments, the operational patterns of the international institutions and INGOs prove ineffective in their comprehension of Turkey, and impede their ability to cooperate effectively. Another point to highlight is that the resources allotted for Turkey are at a very symbolic level, which, in turn, leads Turkish authorities to distance themselves from the international institutions, and mostly, from the NGOs; while there is a dire need to develop cooperation between Turkish and international institutions based on reasonable premises. Due to the concerns for security, restrictions could be imposed on the activities of unaccredited or underperforming instititutions and organizations, however obviously number of which would have been at minimum. For the rest of them, it is of vital importance to permit their activities and operations with an aim to attract more resources and promote capacity-building in Turkey. We should not miss that not only the financial resources but also the merits of capacity-building will contribute substantially throughout the whole process.

“Syrian Barometer: The Framework
of Social Coherence with Syrians” (SB-2017

  • 12  The Syrian Barometer survey was published in Turkish in April 2018 as a book. See: M. Murat Erdoğa (...)
  • 13  M.M. Erdoğan (2015) Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration, İstanbul Bilgi Universit (...)

24SB-2017 survey is designed as a comprehensive and continuous study which assesses its subject matter from the perspective of both the Turkish society and the Syrians with an aim to academically define the content and framework of social coherence with Syrians, which has been widely recognized as a matter of inevitability in sight of the number of Syrians which reached 3,567,130 under the temporary protection of the Turkish government, and the fact that their average duration of stay in Turkey exceeds 4 years. SB-2017 is the most comprehensive study the findings of which is open to public. The study is conducted in 26 provinces with 2,089 Turkish citizens on individual basis; and in 11 provinces with 1,235 Syrian families on household basis, of which 348 families from the camps and 887 from urban settings, through 3,324 surveys, reaching out and exploring the opinions of 2,089 Turkish citizens and 7,591 Syrians. Lack of sound information on the topic and restrictions of access to present information often leads to shortfalls in capturing and assessing the reality. Therefore, we put meticulous effort to design and apply the SB-2017 research with an aim to meet the academic standards, and to the best extent tried to confirm our findings with the present data. Preceding the SB-2017, another study, “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration”, was conducted by M.M. Erdoğan and his team, on behalf of the Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Center-HUGO13. SB-2017 maps the differences during the last three years and makes it possible to compare and report some data between the two studies. Syrian Barometer (SB) research is designed not to be only a single study, but one to be repeated annually with the same model and the same survey items with an aim to come up with a process observation study being publicized in December every year. Thus, the Syrian Barometer research aims to contribute to the policy making processes and make policy suggestions through scholarly observations and assessments.

25As envisaged since 2014 by the team which conducted it, the SB-2017 research takes, as point of departure, the idea that the presence of Syrians in Turkey is to be regarded in terms of permanence. In that connection the study aims to present its findings in the form of policy suggestions, and thus to contribute to integration policies. We discern that, given more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers, amounting to 4.5% of total population of Turkey, the policies which are based on their temporariness and approaches which focuses on saving the day may pose greater risk in future, as opposed to a comprehensive and strategic migration management. The main purpose of the Syrian Barometer is to offer scholarly suggestions to find ways to build a future of peace, compatible with human dignity, for a Turkey in which Syrians will inevitably take part. Within the constraints of an academic effort, this study aims to shed light on the different dimensions of the subject through its findings, and then make its contribution through making rights-based, individual-based policy suggestions for a Turkey which is characterized by consensus and participation, as opposed to that of conflict.

Social Cohesion

26Syrians in Turkey are living overwhelmingly along the border areas but also all across Turkey. Their tendency to remain in Turkey has been irreversibly strengthened. Even if the war in Syria comes to an end in the short term, this sociological reality makes itself felt beyond the expectations of various political plans. This makes it a necessity to think about the future of Turkey’s prosperity and well-being and to generate policies that would take into account the high probability that millions of Syrians would stay in the country. The extraordinary sacrifices of Turkish society, as well as the high level of societal acceptance, be it reluctant and fragile, should be made sustainable. To this end, data-based and realist policies, and a comprehensive strategy of process management should be adopted. If the process management fails, Turkish society’s great efforts and devotion shown so far will simply be drained away. Possible social, economic, political, and security problems with Syrians should be taken very seriously, as their population will reach close to 5 million within the next decade, considering the fact that they currently make up 5% of Turkey’s population, and that there is a natural population increase with 306 Syrian babies born per day. The Syrians Barometer-2017 study clearly highlights Turkish society’s rather “reluctant acceptance” with regard to Syrians (in Turkey), points at potential areas of difficulties, and offers suggestions to address pertaining problems. The coherence and integration processes are of a two-way nature, and in this regard, it is not only the Syrians’ efforts but also Turkish society’s acceptance that will play a decisive role in ensuring social peace for future. We need integration policies that are rights-based and human-based which as well take into account the expectations of Turkish society.

27One of the most unique findings of this study relates to the “conscious distance” that the Turkish society has established between themselves and Syrians in Turkey. While the Turkish society do not avoid helping and supporting the Syrians who had to escape war and persecution, Turks quite clearly demonstrated that they are unprepared to share their future with Syrians. The worries and concerns raised by Turkish people should be taken seriously, as it is them who have displayed a legendary case of hospitality and solidarity with more than 3.5 million Syrians and others who have arrived from different countries.

28Usually, in the first stages of mass migration, governments of the target countries prefer not to employ integration policies and even tend to resist them. One of the reasons is the risk that integration policies will strengthen the desire to become permanent, and another one is the fear of possible social reactions. However, the risks of not implementing such policies involve a higher cost if the possibility of return is virtually nil. An example of the risk thereof is each single unschooled child becoming a member of the lost generation and posing a risk to the society.

29One of the most serious concern faced by host society at times of mass migration is losing their jobs or suffering a decrease in their wages. The last 7 years have not posed an example to support such phenomenon taking place in Turkey in real terms. The main reason lies in the fact that Syrians accept to work in areas, under conditions and with wages that are not desirable for average Turkish workers. This is to say that, they are not seen as a threat by the “blue-collar” or “white-collar” Turks. The lack of massive losses of employment in Turkish society proves to be a major reason why social tensions were kept at minimum. Based on the estimates from a limited number of available data and findings, some 800,000‑1 million Syrians work to provide for themselves, and thus contribute to the Turkish economy and society. Notwithstanding the short term satisfaction it generated among the Turkish society and economy, this is rather an unsustainable situation in sight of its being legally and morally unacceptable, and may damage the general economic structure of the country in sight of the 35% unregistered workforce. As of November 2017, only 10,000 Syrians under temporary protection are employed with work permits. Therefore, the current situation runs great social and economic risks in sight of the exploitation experienced by the Syrians virtually all whom are employed through irregular means.

  • 14  See also: M.M. Erdoğan: [2017] Urban Refugees from “Detachment” to “Harmonization” Syrian Refugees (...)

30It is not possible to state that a comprehensive strategy concerning the Syrians in Turkey has been developed in the last 7 years. The patience and support of Turkish society, coupled with the extraordinary efforts of bureaucrats in the central and local settings, led to short-term solutions, thereby ensuring the effective response to the problems faced. However, a comprehensive strategy is required in order to ensure sustainability of the process. Such a strategy needs to be based on integration policies, should envisage the mid- and long-term dimensions and be based on reliable data. This strategy should involve a central institutional structure in the form of secretariat-general, presidency or ministry. Centralized organization is of vital importance for decision and strategy making concerning the Syrians. However, conditions vary among the provinces, and even among the districts within those provinces. After the headquarters in Ankara takes the necessary strategic decisions which outline the general framework of a particular course of action, it would be more effective to delegate the resources and authority to the local settings. As pointed out by the quote “The catastrophe is local”, we need to empower local initiatives, emphasize coherence, and prevent every single decision to be bound to the approval of Ankara, and to provide local authorities with power and sources14.

31While the Syrians in Turkey have many complaints, the overall impression is that they are happy in Turkey. That is counted as a success of the Turkish society. However, the trend is strong among educated and skilled Syrians to emigrate to other countries. Turkey needs to put special effort to keep the skilled human capital in the country, and at the same time should focus on not losing the social role-models and key personalities which will help enable the policies of integration. Legal status proves to be a major issue in this context. Syrians are not eligible of the refugee status in Turkey since Turkey retains “geographical limitation” in its ratification of the 1951 Geneva Convention. The removal of this limitation would be a huge development in terms of refugee rights. However, in face of such huge numbers and the worldwide tendency towards protectionism prevents possible environment for lifting geographical limitation. Many countries which do not retain geographical limitation in the Refugee Convention have started to implement de facto limitations. Another alternative to overcome “temporariness” is the citizenship/naturalization. However, this is widely recognized as the ultimate stage of integration processes following a phase of social, economic, and spatial integration; and most importantly, the society should be prepared by the political authority for such a step. “By-passing” these processes, and making citizenship regulations without seeking social acceptance in a fait accompli manner certainly leads to reactions. It is possible to observe overwhelming social reaction in Turkey concerning the naturalization of Syrians and the conferment of other political rights. Regulations that would be undertaken despite these social tendencies could also create difficulties for Syrians, and social tensions may escalate into conflicts. Policy-makers should take into account the level of education and skills of Syrians, their conditions of arrival and living, their approach to the Turkish society, and the risk of the ghettoization of this 3.5 million Syrian community in their planning on the matter, seeking of social approval and support.

32The possibility of Syrians’ returning to their home has turned into an infinitesimal one. With their country destroyed, and having a rather dim prospect for establishing trust and stability in the future, return to Syria is at minimum even after successes against certain non-state actors. Not only returning to Syria, but also a relocation policy within Turkey seems rather impossible. As they live in all across Turkey and have established their lives, it is not feasible to settle them to other places without having their consent, with the exception of cases where there are very serious security concerns and if only limited to smaller groups. On the other hand, it is not conscientious or feasible to hold Syrians in camps, in newly founded Syrian exclusive cities or buffer zones which are expectations widely held by the Turkish society in favor of isolating Syrians. One of the rare “positive” developments for the prospects Syrians to integrate in Turkey and maintaining the social acceptance, is about their Turkey-wide presence that emerged as a result of settling Turkish these cities on their own accord.

33One of the most important elements of the framework of social coherence with Syrians is related to their inclusion into the decision-making processes. This is of vital importance in order to ensure coexistence under the conditions of coherence and peace. Despite Turkish society and state’s extraordinary support for Syrians, the hatred among the Syrian youth and children, be it justified or not, poses a major risk for the future. Promoting Syrians to participate in the process management mechanisms through the formation of student, professional, NGO associations would prevent loss of resources and time, as well as would contribute to the Turkish society.

34In this whole process, international solidarity and support are of utmost significance. The financial and technical aid provided to Turkey needs to be increased, and comprehensive cooperation frames should be developed. The international community, primarily the UN and EU institutions, should focus their diligent awareness on the topic. Regardless of the provision of international aid, Turkey needs to develop realistic policies and recognize its0 sociological reality and pay attention to the Turkish society’s concerns for its own peaceful future. The current picture demonstrates that Turks display resistance about sharing their future with Syrians, although they accepted living with the Syrians in a reluctant and concerned manner. Obviously, the desired ideal outcome for Syrians would be their eventual return to their home country and to live a life of safety in peace. Efforts should continue to create the conditions of possibility for returning to Syria in future. Obviously, Turkish society would appreciate such a development. However, a realistic approach holds that a return as such is virtually impossible. As the tendency to stay grows stronger each day, and it would be prudent to consider the costs of an attitude that is based on the assumption that “Syrians will eventually leave.” The basic goal here should be to create a peaceful future under the conditions given. Perception of temporariness and being indecisive about the subject would lead to lost generations and irreversible consequences, loss of financial resources and time. Failure in proper management of the process would also lead Turkish society to lose its tolerance, that is, its peace. Such a loss could make go all the sacrifices of the last years in vain. We should not forget that the resilience of Turkish society is the most important resource in this process.

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1  In this study, we have deliberately used “Syrians”, “asylum-seekers” and “Syrian refugees” interchangeably based on the sociological context and common daily use regardless of the respective terms’ legal meaning and relevance in Turkish legal system.

2  See: Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) web page (Acess: 08.04.2018)

3  See: Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) web page (Acess: 08.04.2018)

4  Press release following the Migration Policy Board’s convention on 18 November 2017 (DGMM:

5  Ministry of Health in Turkey: PPP Presantation in September 2017.

6  See M.M. Erdoğan, B. Yavcan, A. Erdoğan (2017) “Élite Dialogue”: Türkiye’deki Suriyeli Mülteci Akademisyen ve Üniversite Öğrencilerinin Durumu, Sorunları ve Beklentileri Araştırması-2017,ıtıes In Hıgher Educatıon For Syrıans In Turkey.

7  See: M.M. Erdoğan (2018) Suriyeliler Barometresi, p. 160.

8  See: Turkish Statistical Institute-TUIK:, acses: 0804.2018.

9  See: M.M. Erdoğan-C. Unver (2015) Perspectives, Expectations And Suggestions Of The Turkish Business Sector On Syrians In Turkey, TISK Press-Ankara.

10  For 3RP see:

11  Deutsche Welle (1.2.2016): “Tax money to the tune of 50 billion euros is needed to shelter, feed and train the refugees in Germany in 2016 and 2017, says a new study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Reseach (IW). The study was financed by companies and business associations. Housing, food and welfare would cost 12,000 euros per refugee per year, the researchers assume. They add 3,300 euros annually per refugee for language and integration classes, resulting in a total of 15,000 euros per person and year.” Andreas Becker, “The Costs of The Refugee Crisis”, DW, February 1, 2016, (accessed Jan 10, 2017).

12  The Syrian Barometer survey was published in Turkish in April 2018 as a book. See: M. Murat Erdoğan (2018) Suriyeliler Barometresi, İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınevi, Istanbul.

13  M.M. Erdoğan (2015) Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration, İstanbul Bilgi University Press, (For English summary of this book see:‑1.pdf)

14  See also: M.M. Erdoğan: [2017] Urban Refugees from “Detachment” to “Harmonization” Syrian Refugees and Process Management of Municipalities: The Case of Istanbul, Marmara Belediyeler Birliği Yayınları.

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M. Murat Erdoğan, « Syrians in Turkey: A Framework for Achieving Social Cohesion with Syrians in Turkey »Anatoli, 9 | 2018, 13-30.

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M. Murat Erdoğan, « Syrians in Turkey: A Framework for Achieving Social Cohesion with Syrians in Turkey »Anatoli [En ligne], 9 | 2018, mis en ligne le 05 décembre 2020, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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M. Murat Erdoğan

Faculty member, Turkish German University (Istanbul), Chair, Department of Political Science & International Relations and Director of Migration and Integration Research Centre-TAGU at TAU (since 30.11.2017) Founder and former director of Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Reseach Center-HUGO (2009‑2017). Member of UNESCO-Turkey, Member of ISC of Metropolis International. Mr. Erdoğan is political scientist and Migration specialist. His fields of interest are Turkish Migrant in Europe, EU-Turkey Relationship, Turkish Domestic and Foreign Policy, EU, Europeanization, Germany, Migration, Islamafobi, European Public Opinion and political cartoon. Prof. Erdoğan’s latest books are: Syrians-Barometer-2017: “A Framework for Achieving Social Cohesion with Syrians in Turkey” (2018), Urban Refugees from “Detachment” to “Harmonization” Syrian Refugees and Process Management of Municipalities: The Case of Istanbul (2017), Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration (2015).

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