Experts believe that the majority of the Syrian refugees in Turkey will be permanent. They warn against the danger of marginalisation due to the deficiency in educational opportunities.
The number of Syrians who fled their country due to the civil war in the last five years surpassed the four-million mark in June. According to official data, Turkey has become the country with the highest number of refugees in the world after opening its doors to two million Syrian asylum seekers. However, the problems of accommodation, education and employment are growing every day.
According to data released by the Turkish Interior Ministry, 1,905,984 Syrians are registered in 82 cities. The number of Syrians living in 25 camps set up in 10 cities is 262,134. These statistics clearly show that nearly 1.7 million Syrians are trying to survive outside the camps on their own.
Turkey has already spent $6bn on Syrian refugees and is now experiencing severe problems due to the impact of its deteriorating economy and general political uncertainty. Moreover, the United Nations estimates that the flow of refugees from Syria will continue this year, increasing their number in Turkey to some 2.5 million by the end of 2015.
One of the most important issues regarding the refugees living in Turkey is the education of the children, who constitute half of the refugee population. Selin Unal, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey, said the rate of access to educational opportunities for children living in the camps is higher than those living outside of the camps.
Unal emphasised the necessity of taking urgent steps in granting education to hundreds of thousands of children living outside the camps. Unal also said: “It is important to enable the integration of the Syrian refugees socially in the countries they live; otherwise the marginalization risk will rise.”
‘Turkish people are against granting citizenship’
Besides education, the road to citizenship is also a highly debated topic. Associate Professor Dr Murat Erdogan, Director of the Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Center, who published “The Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration” in March 2015, said the longer the refugees stay in a country after mass migrations, the more permanent they will become. Erdogan also believes the permanent status will also increase when there is no “homeland” left to return to. Erdogan also noted that both cases are relevant for the Syrians and added “I think that the significant part of the Syrians in Turkey, more than 75-80% of them will be permanent.”
Erdogan stated that the right of citizenship is the most sensitive issue and the last option considered in mass migrations. “That’s how it is in the whole world,” he said. “Even in the USA there are more than 11 million non-citizen immigrants who have been living there for years. But if these people are here to stay and other limited options are presented besides a citizenship status, this will have a negative impact on integration.”
Erdogan also believes the reactions of the public should be taken into consideration. According to his research, the Turkish public clearly opposes granting citizenship to Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, he said: “I think those who stay more than a certain period of time should first be given a Green Card type status, and then, citizenship must be granted.”
Erdogan stated that the refugees, especially in southeastern Turkey, affect the labour market negatively and child labour has increased following the arrival of the refugees. “There is an increase in illegal labour and huge exploitation has been observed,” he said.
Drawing attention to the cause of unease within society, Erdogan said that “the risk of losing one’s job due to cheap labour always causes rejection, anger and even hatred towards foreigners or the asylum-seekers. In order to avoid this, an immediate recognition of the legal status is necessary. Also employment planning should be done with regional and professional groups.”
‘The biggest refugee crisis’
The USA and European countries are being accused by Turkey of not demonstrating the necessary will to overcome the refugee problem. The UNHCR estimates the need for humanitarian and development aid for 2015 to be a total of $5.5bn. However, only 24% of this amount was collected through the beginning of July.
Selin Unal, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Turkey, believes the refugee problem should be addressed urgently and globally. Unal said the civil war in Syria led to the biggest refugee crisis in UNHCR history. Unal stressed that Turkey is hosting half of the Syrian refugees granted temporary protection status and said: “Although this ‘temporary protection’ guarantees that the refugees and asylum-seekers lead a life worthy of human dignity in Turkey, it takes time until it is fully in practice. Therefore, there are still people who want to go to Europe and these people might be taking risky ways to arrive there.”
Those whose final destination is the European Union have flocked to Turkey’s Aegean coast in recent months. The increase in the number of refugees in Izmir – one of the most important tourism centres in Turkey – has caused the alarm bells to ring for tourism authorities in the region. As a result, the Izmir regional authorities have started to gather Syrian refugees in certain centres, to move some refugee groups out of the city and have launched efforts to crackdown on human trafficking networks.
‘EU must be more active’
Unal also stressed that accepting so many refugees for a long time is a tough test for any country and emphasised they appreciate the hospitality and understanding shown by Turkish society so far.
Unal said, compared to the last five years, there has been a significant increase this summer in the number of refugees wanting to cross the Aegean to Europe: “The recent developments we have witnessed in Izmir show once more the urgent need to establish reliable, legal ways to reach Europe. Otherwise, we are worried that those who are under threat of persecution and serious human rights violations in their countries will try to reach safety and go on taking those dangerous sea journeys.”
Unal stated that living conditions and the protection levels of the Syrians in neighboring countries have worsened: “Unfortunately, the aid provided by the international community is not adequate. The commitments of the USA and the EU are positive steps. But more steps should be taken concerning assessment of asylum applications, the reception of the asylum-seekers, solidarity and mutual responsibility among the countries and the establishment of legal ways to reach Europe. We call on the members of the EU and the whole world to develop effective mechanisms to show solidarity and to take responsibility for a strong response to the refugee crisis.”