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A market street in Kemeraltı, a populous district of Izmir, Turkey, where Turkish and Syrian shoppers often mix, on December 2015. CRISIS GROUP/Jorge Gutierrez Lucena
Report 248 / Europe & Central Asia

Turkey’s Syrian Refugees: Defusing Metropolitan Tensions

Host community hostility toward Syrian refugees is on the rise in Turkey’s metropolitan areas. In order to defuse tensions and mitigate rising intercommunal tensions, Ankara and its international partners should support long-term strategies for the Syrians’ sustainable integration.

What’s new?  Intercommunal violence between host communities and Syrian refugees increased threefold in the second half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Growing grievances in Turkey’s largest metropolises Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir are driving inter-ethnic rivalries, socio-economic inequality and urban violence.

Why does it matter?  The challenge of integrating over 3.4 million Syrians is compounding tensions in a country already struggling with socio-economic strains and political tensions. Grievances could be ripe for political exploitation by opposition parties in the run-up to next year’s elections.

What should be done?  Ankara and its international partners should take steps to ensure the sustainable integration of Syrians while pre-emptively addressing and managing host community grievances. They should also develop mechanisms to defuse refugee-related tensions particularly in the country’s rapidly growing cities.

Executive Summary

Turkey has demonstrated remarkable resilience in absorbing more than 3.4 million Syrians over the past six years. But host community hostility toward these newcomers is rising. Incidents of intercommunal violence increased threefold in the second half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. At least 35 people died in these incidents during 2017, including 24 Syrians. The potential for anti-refugee violence is highest in the metropolitan areas of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir where host communities see Syrians as culturally different and resent their competition for low-wage jobs or customers, especially within the informal economy. Many also believe Syrians receive preferential access to public services and assistance. These grievances are ripe for politicisation in the run-up to the 2019 elections, especially if economic growth slows, driving labour force participation down. Ankara – with the support of international donors – needs to step up efforts to ensure the long-term integration of Syrians into Turkish society while pre-emptively addressing and managing host community grievances.

By ignoring or downplaying tensions, the government has allowed hostilities to reach a boiling point in some refugee-dense communities.

Turkish society has displayed solidarity toward Syrian refugees, but their compassion is waning. Host communities – particularly those who feel marginalised by ethnic, sectarian or ideological cleavages – perceive Syrians as a threat to their political and economic interests. Over-centralisation aggravates these problems: the national government tends not to engage local authorities or civil society in planning for initiatives designed to promote social cohesion, often excluding those best placed to understand local needs and tensions. Treasury allocations are distributed among municipalities according to the number of Turkish citizens, without considering the refugee population, which means resources are especially stretched in communities with large numbers of Syrians. By ignoring or downplaying tensions, the government has allowed hostilities to reach a boiling point in some refugee-dense communities.

Although the government and donors have made enormous efforts to provide education for refugee children, some 370,000 of nearly one million school-age Syrian children are not enrolled, and another 230,000 still attend the temporary education centres (TECs) being phased out as Syrian children transition into the public-school system. International donors need to continue channelling resources toward improving teaching capacity and expanding school infrastructure. Syrian teachers currently working at the remaining TECs could be employed by public schools as “intercultural mediators” to help Syrian children fit in and keep up with their classmates.

Integrating Syrians into the formal labour market is arguably the greatest challenge. Those who remain in Turkey, instead of moving onto Europe, tend to have little education and few skills. Most do not speak Turkish. An estimated 750,000-950,000 Syrians currently work in the informal sector; only 15,000 have obtained the permits needed for formal employment. Changing this will not be easy: the informal sector also employs one-third of the Turkish labour force. Syrian refugees will need language classes and help learning other basic skills; both Syrian and Turkish workers need access to vocational training based on a forward-looking assessment of market needs. Turkish authorities should also remove the bureaucratic barriers that discourage Syrian entrepreneurs from establishing formal enterprises.

Ankara, its international partners, Turkish citizens and the refugees themselves should acknowledge that this will take time. Their long-term roadmap should include measures designed to:

Provide municipalities with funding that reflects their actual population, both Turkish and Syrian, so that local authorities can address the needs of refugees without sacrificing the quantity and quality of services available to citizens;

  • Engage local authorities and grassroots civil society in planning for initiatives designed to promote social cohesion;
     
  • Respond to local grievances over the refugee influx with public messaging that recognises problems while countering misinformation and provocations;
     
  • Gradually transition from unconditional humanitarian aid to assistance that promotes sustainable livelihoods; continue assistance for those considered especially vulnerable (such as the disabled or elderly), without conditions;
     
  • Expand vocational training and apprenticeship opportunities to help both Syrian refugees and local citizens acquire skills that match labour market needs and are based on sector-specific development strategies;
     
  • Increase inspections of unregistered workplaces and provide capital and technical assistance to Syrian entrepreneurs who want to establish registered businesses or scale-up their existing businesses. Whenever possible, such support should be channelled to Syrian-Turkish joint ventures.

Ankara has been reluctant to develop a long-term strategy for Syrians’ integration for two main reasons: it would like to encourage Syrians to return should circumstances allow and it fears a public backlash should it appear to accept their permanent presence. This is short sighted and merely increases impatience among host communities anxious to see Syrians leave, creating grounds for intercommunal confrontation. Instead, the government needs to acknowledge that most Syrian refugees are likely to remain and take steps to integrate them without neglecting the needs and grievances of Turkish citizens, especially in the country’s rapidly growing cities.

Istanbul/Ankara/Izmir/Brussels, 29 January 2018

I. Introduction

Over eleven million Syrians have fled their homes since civil war began in 2011, including more than six million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and about five million refugees.[fn]“Syria Emergency”, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (www.unhcr.org), n.d.Hide Footnote Syria’s immediate neighbours have taken in most of those fleeing across borders and no country has done more to shelter this homeless, shell-shocked population than Turkey. The country’s 80 million people were hosting 3.4 million registered Syrian refugees (around 46 per cent of them female) as of December 2017, plus from 300,000 – 400,000 unregistered Syrians.[fn]An estimated 11 per cent of Syrian refugees in Turkey are unregistered. “Refugee Livelihood Monitor” published by the Human Development Foundation (İNGEV) and pollster IPSOS in July 2017. Turkey applies geographical limitations to the 1951 Geneva Convention, which means that citizens from countries outside the Council of Europe cannot obtain official refugee status. Syrian refugees are provided with temporary protection, which allows them to stay in Turkey legally with access to basic services, such as health care, schooling and social assistance.
Hide Footnote
There are also more than 450,000 non-Syrian refugees (mostly Iraqi, Afghan and Iranian) in Turkey.[fn]Statement of the Turkish interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, on 16 November 2017 following the Migration Policies Council meeting. Available at http://bit.ly/2nSiJ5Y.Hide Footnote

The strain of integrating such a massive exodus is compounding tensions in a country already struggling with socio-economic strains and political tensions. Turkish citizens feel that Syrians threaten their access to jobs in an economy with high un- and under-employment. Economic competition becomes especially bitter when it pits newcomers against groups that have long felt marginalised, such as the Kurds.

Emergency rule, in effect since the coup attempt in July 2016, has fed into the grievances of ethnic and sectarian minorities as nationalist discourse intensifies and space for civil society shrinks. The removal of over 100,000 civil servants has strained capacity to meet the needs of both Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees, especially in the areas of education and health care.[fn]Since the coup attempt, some 140,000 civil servants were removed from duty, with around 40,000 being subsequently reinstalled after investigation. 159,000 individuals (public and private sector) were detained and some 47,000 arrested according to statements released by the interior ministry. “İçişleri Bakanı Soylu: 15 Temmuz 2016 tarihinden itibaren 47 bin 523 kişi tutuklandı” [“Interior Minister Soylu: 47 thousand 523 individuals arrested since 15 July 2016”], Anadolu Agency, 17 December 2017.Hide Footnote

Preventing any further refugee exodus is one of the strategic objectives behind Ankara’s military involvement in Idlib. Recent attacks by regime forces in rebel-held parts of the province have forced up to 100,000 civilians to take refuge in makeshift camps near the Turkish border.[fn]“Assad crackdown on Idlib could trigger a refugee ‘catastrophe’”, The Guardian, 13 January 2018.Hide Footnote If the security situation deteriorates, Turkish authorities fear more of the area’s estimated two million civilians could become displaced.[fn]“Başbakan Yıldırım’dan ‘İdlib’e Yönelik Operasyona’ İlişkin Açıklama” [“Prime Minister Yıldırım’s statement on Idlib operation”], Milliyet, 10 October 2017.Hide Footnote If that were to happen, given existing strains on public services and growing domestic opposition to Syrians refugees, Ankara would be hard pressed to maintain its open-door policy.

In the absence of substantive European Union (EU) accession talks and with the EU-Turkey relationship deteriorating, the March 2016 refugee deal represents the main framework for dialogue between Turkey and the EU. Relations are strained: Ankara complains that EU assistance is disbursed too slowly and ridden with too many conditions while the EU finds Turkey’s bureaucracy ill prepared to absorb funding and develop projects effectively. But despite their differences, both the EU and Turkey understand that cooperation is in their mutual interest.[fn]According to the EU, 1. 78 billion has been disbursed thus far, and the first tranche of 3 billion has been fully contracted to projects in Turkey. Up-to-date figures available on the website of the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: http://bit.ly/2mNa3cO.Hide Footnote

In a November 2016 report, Crisis Group analysed how the Syrian influx played into the country’s complex demographics and political polarisation.[fn]Crisis Group Europe Report N°241, Turkey’s Refugee Crisis: The Politics of Permanence, 30 November 2016.Hide Footnote It urged decision-makers working with Syrian refugees to acknowledge they were likely to remain in Turkey permanently and engage with constituencies across ethnic, economic and political divides to mitigate domestic tensions.

This report is based on research in refugee-dense neighbourhoods of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, Turkey’s three largest cities. It provides a bottom-up analysis of the frictions generated as refugees have moved into these urban areas from the border region. First, the report examines violence between refugees and residents, though data is limited and many incidents may go unreported. Next it looks at the disconnect between popular perceptions and the Turkish government’s official discourse. It notes that an over-centralised state apparatus can stifle local initiatives for defusing intercommunal tensions.

Finally, the report addresses how to promote the refugees’ socio-economic integration, without deepening sectarian and socio-economic differences. It suggests ways to mitigate tensions that could fuel hatred and resentment and, potentially, spark further outbreaks of violence. With the EU expected to allocate another €3 billion for Syrians’ integration in Turkey, there is an opportunity to program funding for the long-term benefit of both Syrians and local host communities.

A crowded terrace in Mardin, on the Turkish border with Syria, on July 2017. CRISIS GROUP/Jorge Gutierrez Lucena

II. Rising Tensions

A. Urban Violence

An international organisation that tracks refugee-related social tension and criminal incidents recorded 181 cases in 2017 (as of 30 November), which resulted in 35 deaths (24 of them Syrian). Violence peaked in July 2017 and increased nearly three-fold over the second half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.[fn]These figures are based on monitoring of the media and other sources by an international organisation that has preferred to remain anonymous. The number of incidents began rising in spring 2017 with seventeen in May, 25 in June, 30 in July, 25 in August, 27 in September, twelve in October, and fourteen in November. Crisis Group interview, international organisation representatives, Ankara, September 2017, and email correspondence with international organisation representative, December 2017. The peak of incidents in July 2017 may be related to more interaction in public spaces when the weather warms up, the days grow longer, and crowds congregate in parks and on beaches.Hide Footnote Residents of neighbourhoods experiencing high levels of tension say that there are many more unreported incidents of such violence involving refugees.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, July-September 2017. Most violent outbreaks are not reported in mainstream news outlets. Left-leaning opposition outlets are more likely to cover them.Hide Footnote

1. Culture clashes

International donors have focused most of their efforts on helping Syrians settled in Turkey’s border provinces such as Gaziantep, Kilis, Urfa and Hatay. By and large, however, there is more cultural continuity and less tension between residents and refugees along the border provinces than within metropolitan areas in western Turkey. Turkish citizens along the Syrian border often speak Arabic or Kurdish, which allows them to communicate with Syrian Arabs and Kurds. Moreover, these are largely rural, culturally conservative areas, making them more hospitable to the Syrians who have settled there, many of whom come from the countryside.[fn]Most Syrians who fled across the border and stayed in Turkey came from the countryside. Gaziantep is an exception as it is also a hub for Syrian business and civil society communities.Hide Footnote

In major cities, the refugees’ inability to speak Turkish limits opportunities to find and build on shared values and interests. “The differences in subculture are more distinct in cities farther from the border”, said an international agency official.[fn]Crisis Group interview, International Organization for Migration (IOM) representatives, Ankara, September 2017. Crisis Group interviews, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote The lack of interaction between refugees and hosts reinforces the latter’s conviction that Syrians do not conform to Turkish societal norms. “Eighty per cent of Syrians think they can integrate, while around 80 per cent of Turkish citizens say they can’t”, an EU official said.[fn]Crisis Group interview, EU official, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote A recent study confirms this trend: 63 per cent of Turkish citizens either feel “far” or “very far” to Syrians, while 72 per cent of Syrians feel “close” or “very close” to Turkish society.[fn]“Syrian Barometer: A Framework for Achieving Social Coherence with Syrians”, 6 December 2017, forthcoming manuscript to be published by Istanbul Bilgi University, cited with author’s permission, available at http://bit.ly/2BgVx2H.Hide Footnote

The lack of interaction between refugees and hosts reinforces the latter’s conviction that Syrians do not conform to Turkish societal norms.

Turkey’s three largest cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – host approximately 23 per cent of the Syrians in the country. Since 2015, Istanbul has become the province with the largest number of refugees: as of December 2017, the metropole hosted about 538,000 registered Syrians.[fn]The number of registered Syrians in Istanbul rose rapidly since 2016, from 394,556 in April 2016 to 479,555 in April 2017 and 522,406 in November 2017, 537.829 in December 2017, according to Directorate-General of Migration Management (DGMM) figures available at http://bit.ly/2Bn2gMI.Hide Footnote Counting those registered in other provinces but living in Istanbul, as well as those who have not registered at all, the number of Syrians living in the metropolitan area exceeds 700.000.[fn]A survey conducted in March-April 2017 (but not yet published) found that 29 per cent of Syrians in Istanbul were unregistered. “A Study of Refugees’ Protection Situation”, Support to Life (Hayata Destek) Foundation, privately shared with Crisis Group on 2 January 2018. A Turkish official interviewed by Crisis Group said the number of unregistered Syrians in Istanbul did not exceed 10,000 but estimated that an additional 250,000-300,000 may be registered in another province of Turkey. Crisis Group interview, Istanbul, December 2017.Hide Footnote The large number of undocumented Syrians fuels perceptions they live in the shadows. Local residents in Sultangazi, a demographically diverse district of Istanbul that hosts some 40,000 Syrians, told Crisis Group they did not trust refugees unless they had settled with their families and registered with the authorities.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, July 2017.Hide Footnote

The capital city of Ankara presents a different case. Relatively few Syrians live there (around 90,000), and so there are few internationally funded programs to foster social cohesion. Yet most refugees are concentrated in a few neighbourhoods where they constitute as much as 20 per cent of the population, which has overcrowded classrooms and fuelled host community resentment.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) integration experts, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote Many of these neighbourhoods, such as Önder, Battalgazi and Ulubey, have been traditionally homogeneous and largely conservative and nationalist. Gentrification over the past few years has already reduced the availability of affordable housing.

Izmir’s nearly 130,000 Syrian refugees are more dispersed across different neighbourhoods where residents share their ethnic background. Most Syrian Kurds settled in Izmir’s Kadifekale, Limontepe, Yeniçamlık neighbourhoods; Syrian Arabs moved to Buca’s Gediz neighbourhood; and Syrian Turkmens went to Bornova’s Doğanlar neighbourhood.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Izmir, August 2017; refugee education consultant from Izmir, Istanbul, October 2017.Hide Footnote Clashes tend to take place more often in workplaces than in residential neighbourhoods, usually because of the perception, particularly among Kurdish manual workers, that Syrians have reduced their opportunities for work.

Refugees’ tendency to cluster with fellow nationals, sometimes resulting in ghetto-like segregation, can intensify hostility on both sides. Young Syrian men walk in large groups for protection, which makes them appear hostile and dangerous to locals.[fn]Crisis Group field observations, Istanbul and Izmir, July and August 2017.Hide Footnote Social media – such as WhatsApp or other messaging platforms – helps spread rumours rapidly through both the Turkish and refugee communities. Latent hostility based on negative perceptions – such as that Syrians receive undue aid or take local jobs – creates an atmosphere in which rumours of sexual harassment or other violations of locally accepted cultural norms can trigger physical clashes.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local residents, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote

In the Demetevler neighbourhood of Ankara’s Yenimahalle district in July 2017, for example, social media spread the rumour that a Syrian refugee had raped a five-year-old girl. The allegation sparked clashes between dozens of Syrian and Turkish men who fought each other with sticks, stones and knives. It took all night for police – three of whom were reportedly injured by stabbing –to restore order.[fn]“Ankara Yenimahalle Demetevler’de ne oldu” [“What happened in the Demetevler neighbourhood of Ankara’s Yenimahalle district”], Akşam, 5 July 2017.Hide Footnote

2. Working-class and inter-ethnic rivalries

Most violent incidents take place in low-income inner-city districts, with Istanbul topping the list. Tension is most acute in working-class enclaves where refugees settle to find affordable housing and unskilled employment in small textile, shoemaking or furniture workshops. Recruiters also seek out labour in these neighbourhoods for construction and seasonal agricultural work. Between 750,000 and 950,000 (predominantly male) Syrians are estimated to participate in the informal economy.[fn]Crisis Group estimates based on two large representative survey results and migration authority figures: “Refugee Livelihood Monitor” published by the Human Development Foundation (İNGEV) and pollster IPSOS in July 2017; “Syrian Barometer”, op. cit.; DGMM “Temporary Protection” statistics http://bit.ly/2Bn2gMI.Hide Footnote Though comprehensive data is unavailable, workforce surveys suggest they chiefly work in the textile, construction, shoemaking, agriculture, furniture and seasonal agriculture sectors, often substituting for host community workers.[fn]Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), household labour force surveys, 2016-2017.Hide Footnote Syrians have been able to obtain work permits since January 2016, but there is little incentive to seek permits and the process is cumbersome, so only about 15,000 have done so.[fn]“Bakan Sarıeroğlu, 2018 Yılı Bütçesinin Sunumunu Gerçekleştirdi” [“Minister Sarıeroğlu presented budget for 2018”], 17 November 2017, http://bit.ly/2zaS2yG.Hide Footnote

Many Turkish citizens – particularly those less qualified and working informally – face heightened competition for work.[fn]Around 34 per cent of the Turkish workforce, or approximately nine million people, works informally. They are more vulnerable and more resentful as they do not have job security or social security.Hide Footnote From their perspective, the massive presence of Syrians has created a zero-sum dynamic, forcing them to compete for a limited number of jobs or accept lower wages. With nationwide youth unemployment at more than 20 per cent, and lower growth rates predicted for next year, economic pressures are likely to increase.

The risk of social friction is especially high in low-income urban areas with other marginalised minorities, such as the Kurds. “The space previously occupied mostly by Kurds who migrated from the south east to bigger cities to work in the informal sector is now being filled by Syrians who accept less pay”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, economist, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote Many Kurds living in western metropolitan cities were themselves displaced from conflict in south-eastern Turkey and harbour longstanding grievances against authorities. This makes resentment based on the perception that Syrians benefit from more public assistance and greater social acceptance particularly acute. (See Section III.A.1 below)

A good example is Işıkkent, located in Izmir’s Bornova district, which hosts the city’s main shoe/leather producers and where Syrian workers have largely replaced Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin. Of nearly 10,000 workers in Işıkkent, 60 to 70 per cent are Syrian, many of Turkmen origin.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Izmir, August 2017.Hide Footnote Izmir employers appear to prefer Syrian Turkmens over Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, who are considered hard to manage in comparison to “obedient” Syrians.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Izmir, August 2017.Hide Footnote Because Turkmens also speak adequate Turkish, locals do not have any language advantage. “If you ask me whether I prefer a Syrian or a local Kurd, I would say Syrian, because they are really respectful”, said the manager of a shoemaking workshop. “Kurds usually behave in an unmannerly way …. They pick fights quickly”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, manager of a shoemaking workshop, Izmir, August 2017.Hide Footnote

In İzmir's Konak district, Crisis Group visits a neighbourhood settled densely by Syrians, on August 2017. CRISISGROUP

The replacement of local Kurds by Syrian Turkmens and Arabs in Işıkkent has increased ethnic friction, resulting in small clashes and two large-scale protests in 2013 and 2014 mainly led by Kurds who had lost their jobs. Employees reported that groups of men regularly harass Syrians on the street, beat them up and threaten them or their families. A similar dynamic occurs in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, where local youth groups are said to attack refugees, including Afghans and Pakistanis, on paydays to extort money.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, municipality representatives and representative of the local education ministry branch, Sultangazi district of Istanbul, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Some of the most serious incidents involved Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin and Syrian Arabs who compete for seasonal agricultural work in Izmir’s Torbalı district, located on the outskirts of the Izmir province. The area hosts between 8,000 and 10,000 Syrians. In April 2017, angry locals, mostly Kurds and Roma, forced about 500 Syrian agricultural workers to flee their makeshift tents in Torbalı’s Pamukyazı neighbourhood after rumours spread that Syrians had beaten a local child. An argument between the child’s family and the Syrians escalated into a mob attack by locals armed with knives and clubs, leaving about 30 people injured.[fn]“İzmir’de ‘mahalle’ kavgası; 30 kişi yaralandı, 500 Suriyeli mahalleyi terk etti!” [“Brawl in Izmir’s neighbourhood: 30 injured, 500 Syrians fled the neighbourhood”], T24, 8 April 2017.Hide Footnote

B. Popular Perceptions and Official Discourses

Opinion polls suggest Turkish attitudes toward Syrian refugees are generally negative and may be hardening. Surveys conducted in Istanbul and Ankara in 2009 and 2015 found that negative perceptions of foreigners had increased. In Istanbul, only 15 per cent of respondents said, “absolutely not” in 2009 when asked if they viewed the presence of foreigners in their city as positive; six years later the number giving this response had risen to 34 per cent. In Ankara, the percentage responding “absolutely not” rose from 20 per cent in 2009 to 35 per cent in 2015.[fn]The survey was conducted by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV). “Göçmenlere Karşı Kötümserlik Artıyor Mu?” [“Is Pessimism Toward Migrants on the Rise?”], TEPAV, January 2017. Survey available at www.tepav.org.tr.Hide Footnote

Most Turkish citizens believe the influx of Syrians has had an adverse impact. An October 2017 survey found that 78 per cent of citizens believed Syrians had made their country less safe.[fn]“Syrians’ Agenda Study”, Economists’ Platform, (Ekonomistler Platformu), October 2017. Available at www.ekonomistler.org.tr.Hide Footnote Another countrywide survey published in December 2017 found that 75 per cent of Turkish citizens did not believe they could live together peacefully with Syrians.[fn]37 per cent said Syrians should be harboured in a “safe zone” in northern Syria, while 28 per cent preferred them staying in camps only. “Syrian Barometer”, op. cit.Hide Footnote A survey of Turkish citizens in Istanbul published in December 2016 found that 72 per cent felt uncomfortable encountering Syrians and 76 per cent had no sympathy for the refugees.[fn]“Suriyeli Mültecilere Yönelik Algı ve Tutumlar Çalışması” [“Study on Perceptions and Attitudes Toward Syrian Refugees”], December 2016. The research was conducted jointly by Kemerburgaz University and the University of Kent.Hide Footnote

Politically marginalised groups believe the government uses Syrians to advance political goals, both domestically and in foreign policy.

After negative reaction to its June 2016 announcement that Syrians would be fast-tracked for Turkish citizenship, the government clarified that the process would be gradual and limited.[fn]Only educated Syrians deemed capable of contributing to the Turkish economy have been selected for citizenship, according to Turkish authorities. Crisis Group interviews, Turkish officials, Ankara, September 2017. “7 bin Suriyeliye vatandaşlık geliyor” [“Citizenship to be granted to 7 thousand Syrians”], Hürriyet, 8 July 2017. An expert and an NGO worker estimated in December 2017 that 25,000-30,000 Syrians had received Turkish citizenship. Turkish officials announced in October 2017 that they planned to grant citizenship to 50,000 qualified Syrians over the next six months. Crisis Group interviews, expert and NGO worker, Istanbul, December 2017. “Yeni pasaportlar kart şeklinde üretilecek” [“New passports will be produced as cards”], Hürriyet, 30 October 2017.Hide Footnote But both the domestic opposition and Syrians seeking citizenship complain that the process for obtaining citizenship is not transparent.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Syrians and opposition party representatives, Istanbul, July-August 2017.Hide Footnote This issue could heat up again before the 2019 elections: the opposition has consistently warned that the government may be resettling Syrians in order to dilute the opposition vote in certain districts.[fn]See Crisis Group Europe Report N°241, Turkey’s Refugee Crisis: The Politics of Permanence, 30 November 2016, pp. 18-1Hide Footnote Politically marginalised groups believe the government uses Syrians to advance political goals, both domestically and in foreign policy. Minorities such as the Alevis, heterodox Shiites who represent about 15-20 per cent of Turkish society, feel that Syrians are granted rights denied to other religious or ethnic groups. “We Alevis still do not have equal citizenship”, said the representative of a cultural centre. “In some cases, rights that Turkish citizens do not have are being granted to Syrians”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, representatives of an Alevi cultural centre, Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Many negative perceptions are based on myths and misconceptions. Some Turkish citizens believe, for example, that Syrians receive monthly salaries without working or that they can enter university without taking obligatory exams.[fn]Crisis Group field research, Izmir, Istanbul, Ankara, summer-fall 2017.Hide Footnote Such convictions generate anger that can be easily politicised. Officials downplay these tensions, fearing that acknowledging them would allow opponents to mobilise against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local officials, Istanbul, July and September 2017.Hide Footnote So while opposition leaders and media tend to be alarmist – a neighbourhood leader in Istanbul claimed to be “waiting for a bigger incident at any moment”[fn]Crisis Group interview, pro-opposition neighbourhood headman, Istanbul, July 2017.Hide Footnote – public officials and pro-government media downplay tensions, depicting clashes between Syrians and locals as merely isolated incidents. This stifles potentially salutary public debate.

1. Compassion fatigue

The ruling party promotes the notion that Turkish citizens should “help Muslim brothers and sisters in need”. This concept of faith-based solidarity has been at the centre of its efforts to contain and counter negative sentiments toward refugees. “It is thanks to religion that we do not see much violence”, said an official working with an Islamist charity in Istanbul. “The concept of ‘honour’ (namus) is restraining people”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Turkish official working for a state institution and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), Istanbul, July 2017.Hide Footnote Turkish citizens in pious neighbourhoods confirm this view, but also say that over time real-life challenges overwhelm faith-based solidarity.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, residents, Ankara’s Altındağ district, July 2017. This sentiment was confirmed by Crisis Group interviews with ASAM integration experts in Ankara in July 2017.Hide Footnote

Even communities with religious and ideological affinity to the government, appear to be turning from compassion to grievance or impatience.[fn]Crisis Group field research in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, July-September 2017.Hide Footnote Large majorities of the ruling AK Party (61 per cent) and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party or MHP (70 per cent) find the presence of Syrians worrying as do majorities within the two main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) (69 per cent), and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (65 per cent).[fn]The biggest concern, the study finds, is that Syrians will harm the Turkish economy. “Syrian Barometer”, op. cit.Hide Footnote One local muhtar (elected neighbourhood headman) in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district lamented that the central government used the “trade of religion”, calling for sacrifice and tolerance, to stop people from complaining about the need for schools and protection of workers’ rights.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Istanbul, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Among left-leaning or secular communities, the ruling party’s discourse of Sunni Muslim solidarity has deepened antipathy toward both the government and Syrian refugees. Alevis, as mentioned above, feel particularly vulnerable. “We perceive a systematic effort to divide society on the basis of religion, using sectarianism”, said a representative of the community in Istanbul.[fn]Crisis Group interview, representative of an Alevi cemevi, Istanbul, July 2017. Cemevis are Alevi houses of worship, though not officially recognised as such by the Turkish government.Hide Footnote These groups might be drawn to a discourse focused on universal rights, though in their eyes the government lacks the legitimacy to make such arguments. Some Alevis suspect the emphasis on religious bonds between Turkey’s Sunni majority and the mostly Sunni refugee population is part of a strategy to further marginalise them:

We Alevis already feel like we do not belong. Our houses of worship are not recognised in the constitution. It is no secret that the president has no regard for our faith. … We cannot help but think Ankara is conducting demographic politics. In a place like Gazi neighbourhood that is around 50 per cent Alevi, Alevis are concerned that Syrians will be settled to reduce the Alevis to a minority.[fn]Crisis Group interview, representatives of an Alevi cultural centre, Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, July 2017.Hide Footnote

2. Contradictory messages

A wave of negative stories about Syrians swept across Turkish media in July 2017, starting with the clashes in Ankara triggered by social media claims on 3 July that a Syrian had raped a Turkish girl. Throughout the month, outlets critical of the government described how the refugees purportedly were “invading” Turkey’s beaches, leaving mounds of trash and harassing women.[fn]See, for example, “Yeşilköy ve Florya plajlarına çöp ve çadır isyanı” [“Garbage and tent outbreak on the beaches of Yeşilköy and Florya”], Habertürk, 3 July 2017; “Plajda küçük kıza taciz iddiası: 5 Suriyeli yakalandı” [“Alleged harassment of a little girl at the beach: 5 Syrians were caught”], Cumhuriyet, 28 June 2017.
Hide Footnote
A local resident told one newspaper that because Syrians do not speak Turkish, they cannot understand warnings, so “a small incident can easily spiral into an attempted lynching”.[fn]“Sahiller duman altı” [“Coastal areas are thick with smoke”], Hürriyet, 4 July 2017.Hide Footnote

Such reports prompted strong rebukes from leading government figures. “There is blatant public provocation”, said Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak. “People are being called to the street by strange social media accounts. These are agitations from abroad, ill-intended incitements”. He called for tolerance, prudence and common sense. “Let’s all remember that these people are only in Turkey temporarily, that Turkey is hosting them in line with traditions of hospitality”.[fn]“Başbakan Yardımcısı: Hoşgörüyü elden bırakmayalım…” [“Deputy prime minister: Let’s keep on being tolerant…”], Hürriyet, 5 July 2017.Hide Footnote The interior ministry released a similar statement stressing that certain media outlets and social media accounts “were misrepresenting and exaggerating the tense eruptions between Syrians and Turkish citizens and doing so with language geared at igniting reactive anger in society”. The aim of these reports, it said, was to create societal discord for domestic political purposes.[fn]“İçişleri Bakanlığı: Suriyeli misafirlerimizle yaşanan gerginlikler çarpıtılıyor” [“Interior Ministry: Tensions with our Syrian guests are being distorted”], Anadolu Agency, 5 July 2017.Hide Footnote

While they viewed statements suggesting refugees might soon return to Syria as counterproductive, civil society groups welcomed government efforts to correct misconceptions by explaining how Syrians contribute to the economy and debunking myths about high refugee crime rates. The government’s strong statements on behalf of refugees also encouraged local authorities to prioritise the issue of integration.[fn] A social worker in Ankara said these positive messages had helped them deal with negative perceptions in host communities.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ankara’s Altındağ district, July 2017.Hide Footnote The government should not issue such statements only during periods of heightened public concern, however. They should occur regularly, acknowledging both the reality of certain problems and the rationale for official policies to address them.

C. Over-centralisation

Political upheaval following the July 2016 coup attempt has exacerbated the challenge of integrating Syrians. NGOs and INGOs operate in an atmosphere of heightened suspicion. Over 100,000 civil servants have been purged for alleged links to “terrorist organisations”, and nearly 1,500 NGOs were closed. The national government has also limited the ability of appointed district governors to make local decisions, diminishing the role of local authorities in policymaking.

Whether justified or not, these measures have severely strained both public sector and civil society capacity. Locally elected officials and grassroots civil society play vital roles in refugee integration: they can assess needs and defuse tensions; they can also help monitor and coordinate the district work of national entities. Trusted representatives of both Syrians and Turkish citizens at the neighbourhood level need to be empowered to mediate disputes and prevent intercommunal frictions from festering.

1. Disempowerment of grassroots

Centralisation can lead to sub-optimal results because national officials often lack the local knowledge needed to address social divisions and stabilise communities. Those with the most first-hand exposure to neighbourhood dynamics, the muhtars, have only limited administrative duties. The “granularity and local-level input that is so much needed on refugee integration and social cohesion issues gets lost at the central level”, said an EU official.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote

The government also has required multilateral agencies to work through central government ministries. International organisations may no longer work directly with regional development agencies, even if they have qualified personnel aware of local realities and capable of implementing projects. “AFAD [the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency] and the Ministry of Development have told us to talk to them even when we are only thinking of a certain project … and the areas covered are reduced to those that are palatable politically”, said a high-level representative.[fn]Crisis Group interview, international organisation representative, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote

Centrally appointed local authorities – such as the district governor, police and the district branches of national ministries – can be more effective if they coordinate with community actors. Locally elected leaders are often better placed to detect and manage frictions between host and refugee communities. “Municipalities are much more embedded with the local community”, said a district governor in Istanbul. Municipal officials “have a much better grasp of the local population’s daily realities, their life challenges, than we do as appointed governors or than our superiors in Ankara do”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, district governor, Istanbul, September 2017.Hide Footnote

In some localities, there is little or no dialogue between state authorities and local elected officials or civil society organisations.

 Yet in some localities, there is little or no dialogue between state authorities and local elected officials or civil society organisations. Tension between the ruling party and the two main opposition parties – the CHP and the HDP, which together won about 35 per cent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections – further impedes grassroots cooperation. An official from the Beşiktaş municipality in Istanbul, which is run by the CHP, said state authorities had not shared any data on the number of refugees living there or on any other refugee-related issues.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Istanbul, September 2017. Crisis Group observed that this was not the case for municipalities run by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).Hide Footnote

Some NGOs say lack of official support and information makes their work harder; they also complain about greater official scrutiny. Failing to use the human capital represented by Turkish NGOs makes it harder to address the country’s enormous refugee challenge. “Civil society is in survival mode”, an activist said. NGOs are “under so much pressure that their capacity to contribute to Syrian integration is much lower than it would have been ten years ago”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Istanbul, September 2017.Hide Footnote

2. Insecure communities

Following the coup attempt, nearly 25,000 police officers were removed from office for alleged ties to FETÖ (an abbreviation for Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation, a term coined by the government).[fn]“Emniyet Genel Müdürü Selami Altınok: 22 bin 987 emniyet mensubu ihraç edildi” [“Director General of Public Security Selami Altınok: 22 thousand 987 police removed from office”], Karar, 12 December 2017; “İstanbul’da her 500 kişiye 1 polis düşüyor” [“1 police per 500 residents in Istanbul”], Milliyet, 28 September 2017.Hide Footnote Communities critical of the government, particularly those that are left leaning, fear the government is hiring ultranationalist youth to fill gaps in the overstretched police force. Distrust of security services is deeply rooted among Kurdish movement sympathisers, whose anger toward the state is sometimes channelled toward Syrian refugees. A local representative of the Kurdish movement in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district attributed violence against refugees to supressed resentment:

We have no rights. There is police impunity for any action against the Kurdish youth here. Workers cannot hold strikes. Expressing dissent on social media leads to arrest. This is all building up frustration, which can be channelled against the Syrians, many of whom see Erdoğan as their saviour. It is unfortunate but the pent-up frustration among our youth surfaces against Syrians, so Syrians don’t enter certain streets.[fn]Crisis Group interview, HDP Sultangazi district head, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Syrians also distrust Turkish police. They complain that law enforcement gives locals the benefit of the doubt when they are involved in brawls with refugees.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former NGO project manager who worked with Syrian families in Istanbul, November 2017.Hide Footnote Fearing deportation, or simply out of mistrust, they almost never call the police to report crimes or threats. Moreover, police generally do not have Arabic-speaking personnel, relying instead on Syrians – often children – who speak both languages, or the translators used by the district governorate, if they can be reached.

In August 2017, authorities introduced a new system of “neighbourhood guards” tasked with patrolling urban areas and monitoring local tensions.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Turkish officials, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote The interior ministry had hired 386 guards in Istanbul by October 2017 and was considering applications for another 2,000 positions.[fn]“İstanbul’un bekçileri yarın akşam göreve başlıyor” [“Istanbul’s new guards will begin duty tomorrow evening”], Akşam, 13 August 2017. The interior ministry announced plans to hire 2,000 more guards in Istanbul on 25 October. “İstanbul’a 2 bin yeni bekçi (Bekçi alımı için gerekli şartlar)” [“2000 new guards to be hired in Istanbul (application requirements for guards)”], NTV, 25 October 2017.Hide Footnote Countrywide, the number is expected to reach 15,000 in 2018. Liberals as well as Kurds and other minorities, fear that authorities are hiring youths linked to the Turkish nationalist party, MHP. They fear these guards could abuse their power or be used to strangle legitimate dissent.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, neighbourhood guard candidates and residents, Istanbul, December 2017.Hide Footnote

In neighbourhoods with large numbers of refugees, headmen should be able to hire Syrian assistants to help them smooth frictions and flag potentially dangerous situations.

Neighbourhood headmen are often the first to identify which groups are vulnerable and where tensions are brewing.[fn]“After all it is municipalities who are embedded with the local community and know best where their needs are … with decision-making having moved away from the local level we have also moved away from local action”. Crisis Group interview, UN representative, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote They should be clearly tasked to play an early-warning role. Ankara should develop guidelines for local authorities (governors, mayors, police chiefs, neighbourhood headmen) on how to identify and pre-empt tensions before they escalate. In neighbourhoods with large numbers of refugees, headmen should be able to hire Syrian assistants to help them smooth frictions and flag potentially dangerous situations. Syrian community leaders can also assist district governors and mayors, making their efforts to address refugee needs more effective.

Refugees and their host communities generally do not interact much, which can generate misunderstandings that lead to violent brawls. Field workers say daily interactions at laundromats, video game centres, sports fields, and playgrounds reduce hostility more effectively than lectures on tolerance. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other international donors have tried to foster social cohesion by creating or rehabilitating these public spaces.[fn]UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), among others, also have projects to foster public interaction. Crisis Group interviews, IOM, UNICEF and UNHCR, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote Local NGOs, neighbourhood headmen or imams sometimes launch similar initiatives in an ad-hoc manner.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, July-August 2017.Hide Footnote

Turkey (unlike countries such as Germany and the U.S.) does not offer refugees cultural orientation courses, but it could incorporate such material into the training provided at community centres. These centres should find ways to attract participants from both the host and refugee communities, so they can learn about each other’s behavioural norms or cultural sensitivities. Locals rarely use these facilities, believing their programs cater only to Syrians.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, local residents, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote

III. Investing in Long-term Integration

A. Economic Integration

Government officials like to emphasise the positive impact Syrian refugees have had on Turkey’s economy. The massive influx has stimulated growth and attracted new investment by providing cheap labour and boosting consumption. Some experts believe that Syrian refugees helped Turkey’s economy grow about 3 per cent in 2016 “despite terrorist attacks, a failed coup attempt, political turmoil and a decrease in foreign capital inflows”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, migration expert, Ankara, July 2017. See also this forthcoming (date unforeseeable) study on how refugees induce “positive spillovers in local economies”: Onur Altındağ, Ozan Bakış and Sandra V. Rozo, “How Do Refugees Affect Businesses? The Case of Syrian Refugees in Turkey”. Turkey’s economy grew by an unexpected 6.7 per cent in 2017, one of the world’s highest rates. See “Global Economic Prospects: Economic Outlook for the Europe and Central Asia Region”, The World Bank, January 2018, available at http://bit.ly/2DiYbH4.Hide Footnote They also argue that Syrians are not taking jobs away from locals, but rather accepting menial positions that Turkish citizens do not want. “Today no one except for Syrians works in the unskilled labour market in Kahramanmaraş, Adana, Osmaniye, Gaziantep and even at Ostim in Ankara” said Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak in July 2017. “Our factories would stop operating [without them]”.[fn]“Başbakan Yardımcısı: Hoşgörüyü elden bırakmayalım…” [“Deputy prime minister: Let’s keep on being tolerant…”], Hürriyet, 5 July 2017.Hide Footnote

Many locals see a race to the bottom, however, not expanding opportunities. As discussed above (Section I.A.3), hostility toward Syrian refugees – at times violent – is rising as Turkish citizens accuse Syrians of unfair competition for jobs and business. The following sections explore strategies to help Syrian refugees transition to productive employment without pitting them against equally disadvantaged local communities.

1. Address both refugee and citizen needs

Much of the cash and in-kind aid provided to Syrians is also extended to host communities (such as social support from municipalities and the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation of district governorates); refugee-only funding, including cash cards and aid distributed via local community centres and NGOs, generally comes from international donors. Yet many Turkish citizens resent what they perceive as a zero-sum dynamic in which Syrians gain at locals’ expense. A middle-aged Turkish man in Ankara’s Altındağ summed up this sentiment:

It is as if all these distributors of aid and the state only realised that this neighbourhood had a poverty problem after the Syrians settled here. Suddenly they opened shiny offices and started distributing aid. As if before Syrians came, our neighbourhood was a bed of roses. Nobody ever cared about us as we struggled for years to sustain ourselves. After the Syrians arrived, suddenly everyone came here to help them.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ankara’s Altındağ district, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Because central government budgets do not keep up with demand, impoverished Turkish citizens have to compete with Syrians for state-generated aid. This funding is currently allocated to local authorities based only on the number of Turkish citizens in their district. Pegging allocations to the total number of residents (including refugees) might release tensions among citizens who see Syrians as taking away their share of a fixed budgetary pie.[fn]In September 2017, Turkish media quoted deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic affairs Mehmet Şimşek saying that they were working on amending the law on local government accordingly. “Suriyeli barındıran şehre Hazine teşviki” [“Treasury incentive for cities hosting refugees”], Sabah, 11 September 2017. Unless this change is implemented, municipalities have little incentive and insufficient resources to cater to Syrians needs.Hide Footnote The Turkish deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs announced in September 2017 that the government was working on a formula for municipal budgets that would take refugee populations into account.[fn]“Suriyeli barındıran şehre hazine teşviki” [“Treasury incentives for cities housing refugees”], Sabah, 11 September 2017.Hide Footnote

2. Move from unconditional to conditional support

Syrians must become self-sustaining, not only to prepare for the eventual decrease of international aid, but also to mitigate the resentment of poverty-stricken locals. Nearly nine out of ten Turkish citizens believe Syrians’ main source of income is state assistance.[fn]Murat Erdoğan, “Syrian Barometer”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Most of the direct aid to Syrians, however, comes not from the government but from the EU’s European Social Safety Net (ESSN), which provides unconditional cash support dispensed through a debit card.[fn]Cash support came to about 120 Turkish liras ($35) monthly in November 2017. Refugees can qualify for this aid based on criteria including income, number of children, and factors such as being a single parent, having a disability or illness, caring for elderly dependants etc. For more information about this program see “FAQ on Emergency Social Safety Net”, World Food Programme (WFP) Turkey, December 2016. The debit card, distributed by the Turkish Red Crescent, is known as a “Kızılay” (Red Crescent) card. The program is expected to continue until the end of 2018.Hide Footnote More than one million Syrians in Turkey benefit from this project, which is channelled through the World Food Programme (WFP), the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policies.

Some local NGO representatives argue that unconditional cash should be phased out because it complicates their efforts to help Syrians achieve sustainable livelihoods. “We have reached a stage where it does not make sense anymore to provide direct cash support”, said an NGO representative. Instead, they argue, funding needs to be designed to help Syrians become self-sustaining.[fn]NGO representative reflections shared at event attended by Crisis Group titled “Migration and the Integration into the Education System” organised by Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Turkey Office, 13 October 2017.Hide Footnote For example, cash assistance under the ESSN could be offered only to those who enrol in Turkish language courses and/or vocational training, with Syrians deemed especially vulnerable (such as the disabled, sick or elderly) exempt from these conditions.[fn]See also, “An Introduction to Cash-Based Interventions in UNHCR Operations”, UNHCR, March 2012.Hide Footnote

3. Incentives and training

International organisation representatives and European officials repeatedly call for providing Syrians with more formal job opportunities. This requires eliminating some of the bureaucratic barriers that discourage Syrians’ formal employment. Streamlining the cumbersome process for obtaining a work permit would help: Syrian refugees are required to obtain employer sponsorship, among other steps. Another bureaucratic constraint is the quota on foreign employees: each firm can only hire one Syrian for every ten Turkish citizens.[fn]See Crisis Group Europe Report N°241, Turkey’s Refugee Crisis: The Politics of Permanence, 30 November 2016, pp. 7-8. Employers can obtain exemptions from the hiring quota when there are no Turkish citizens willing to take the job or with the necessary expertise/qualifications. This is rarely the case for the unskilled jobs sought by Syrians, however.Hide Footnote

The government could also extend workforce participation incentives to businesses that employ refugees. Employers who hire a Turkish citizen who has completed a state-sponsored apprenticeship program, for example, are exempt from paying that employee’s social security contributions for six to 30 months, depending on age and gender.[fn]Information on incentives for Turkish citizens available on İŞKUR website, http://bit.ly/2wx6v2Q.Hide Footnote

Given the sheer numbers of the Syrians seeking employment and the size of Turkey’s informal sector – estimated to employ about one-third of the Turkish workforce – many refugees have no choice but to accept informal employment, which generally means accepting lower wages, with no benefits or job security.[fn]Informal workforce figures from website of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, http://bit.ly/2AtmfJY.Hide Footnote Both Syrians and Turkish citizens need new skills to find better paying jobs in the formal sector. The Turkish labour market suffers “skills and educational mismatches” manifested in an estimated 1.2 million unfilled market vacancies.[fn]Roger Kelly, “Achieving Sustainable Growth through Economic Inclusion in Turkey”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, summer 2017.Hide Footnote More targeted vocational training and on-the-job apprenticeship programs, based on sector-specific development strategies, could help address this problem. NGO representatives said training programs were usually ineffective in matching skills with local market demand.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, NGO representatives, Istanbul, December 2017 and January 2018. For example, in Gaziantep, a city in south-eastern Turkey near the Syrian border, İŞKUR, the labour agency, offered hairdressing classes to female Syrians because that was what most of them wanted. Most were then unable to find jobs, however, because there was no demand. Crisis Group telephone interview, NGO representative in Gaziantep, October 2017. In another case, İŞKUR paid Syrian women in Gaziantep cash incentives over six months to complete textile crafts training. Although an employer wanted to hire those who completed the course, only about 10 per cent accepted the offer. “What motivated them was not the prospect of finding formal work, but the daily cash incentive”, said an external evaluator working for an international organisation. Crisis Group interview, Istanbul, October 2017.Hide Footnote

Both the Ministry of Labour and Social Security – through its employment agency, İŞKUR – and the Ministry of National Education – through the Directorate General for Lifelong Learning – have vocational centres around the country that offer training for various skill levels. International organisations, such as UN Development Programme, the World Bank, the German Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and International Labour Organization, work with these institutions to support both refugees and host communities.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, representatives of international organisations, Ankara, September 2017. The World Bank, with funding from the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey, implements a labour market integration program for both Syrians and Turkish citizens. It provides €50 million for job search support, skills assessment, language, vocational, on-the-job training etc. The project also has an institutional component to help local İŞKUR offices provide counselling, job assistance and monitoring. Germany’s KfW also receives €20 million under the Facility for Refugees for a project providing high-quality vocational education and training for Syrians and hosts. Its development agency (BMZ) in 2016 committed more than €62 million for direct job-creation projects open to both citizens and refugees and another €22 million for vocational training and labour market integration projects through IŞKUR, the ministry of education and local chambers of commerce, industry and crafts. Crisis Group e-mail correspondence, EU and German government officials, November 2017.Hide Footnote Syrians are generally unaware that they can also enrol in such vocational training, though most would need to take Turkish language classes in advance.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, public education centre official in Izmir’s Bornova district, October 2017.Hide Footnote

To devise more targeted policies, planners need to identify the skill sets of the Syrian refugee population and their socio-economic characteristics.

Lack of data “makes designing/implementing effective vocational training courses very difficult”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, migration expert, Istanbul, October 2017.Hide Footnote To devise more targeted policies, planners need to identify the skill sets of the Syrian refugee population and their socio-economic characteristics. The Directorate-General of Migration Management (DGMM), with EU funding, is currently surveying the qualifications of registered Syrian refugees throughout the country.[fn]As of 11 October 2017, the DGMM had updated the records of 529,313 Syrians in 57 provinces. See “Turkey: Fact Sheet”, UNHCR, October 2017. A Labour Ministry official told Crisis Group that this effort, based on the Syrians’ own statements, turned out to be ineffective. He said the labour ministry had begun to implement a new project that would identify Syrians’ skills via practice-oriented exams/tests. Crisis Group interview, Ankara, January 2018.Hide Footnote Approximately 20-30 per cent of Syrians in Turkey are illiterate and another 10 per cent learned to read and write but never attended school. This means that significant investments will be needed to provide the basic skills necessary for integration into the labour market.[fn][3] AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) study, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey, 2013”, http://bit.ly/2BVMPri; DGMM figures (as of 7 April 2016) provided in response to a parliamentary inquiry by the main opposition party, CHP, available at http://bit.ly/2C82nt2.Hide Footnote

On-the-job apprenticeship programs, designed by the labour ministry in consultation with employers, are another way to plug both Syrians and local youth into the formal economy. Some programs that have been implemented successfully in border regions of Turkey could also be applied in urban areas. The Golden Crescent Movement Association in Kilis province, for example, in cooperation with the local İŞKUR office, implemented a project matching Syrians with employers and covering their expenses for six months. To be successful in economically disadvantaged areas, an İŞKUR official said, such efforts should be led by “big enterprises that are determined to invest in these places and to hire refugees”.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, October 2017.Hide Footnote

4. Expand the formal economy

Turkish small business owners resent the growing number of unregistered Syrian businesses, including street vendors and shops selling electronics or accessories, grocery stores, restaurants, hairdressing salons and bakeries.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, business owners, Istanbul’s Sultangazi, Ankara’s Altındağ and Izmir’s Bornova districts, July-August 2017.Hide Footnote These informal enterprises operate without supervision by tax officers, municipal controllers or health inspectors, giving them an unfair advantage, according to Turkish shopkeepers.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Konak and Torbalı districts of Izmir, August 2017; and Sultangazi and Fatih districts of Istanbul, July 2017.Hide Footnote

In Fatih, a district in central Istanbul, Turkish café owners complained they could not compete against Syrian establishments that ignored the ban on smoking cigarettes indoors. An employer in Sultangazi, another Istanbul district, said untaxed, unregistered businesses could pay better wages, accusing them of luring away employees.[fn]Crisis Group interview, textile sector employer, Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, July 2017.Hide Footnote A local shop owner in the Torbalı district of Izmir expressed similar grievances: “Syrians here illegally opened shops selling goods much cheaper than we can”. He said local business people were ready to “storm” Syrian-owned shops when the municipality stepped in to close them down, avoiding what could have been “quite an outburst of violence”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Izmir’s Torbalı district, August 2017.Hide Footnote

A street vendor in Izmir, on March 2015. CRISIS GROUP/Jorge Gutierrez Lucena

To bring unregistered Syrian businesses into the formal economy, authorities should cut the red tape needed to obtain a licence, reduce registration costs and make information on procedures more accessible. Syrians also find it more difficult than Turkish citizens to obtain financing. Unlike Turkish-owned enterprises, Syrian businesses cannot get credits from the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organisation (KOSGEB) or the economy ministry. Syrians also find it hard to get bank loans, perform international transactions or simply open an account. Investors, discouraged by bureaucratic hurdles and unsure of growth potential, provide these Syrian enterprises with little in the way of microfinance.

Syrian businesses can have a significant impact, however. According to a June 2017 study by Building Markets, a U.S.-based NGO, Syrians in Turkey have invested more than $330 million, creating more than 6,000 formal companies since 2011. The same study finds that these enterprises employ on average 9.4 Syrians, the majority of whom previously worked in the informal sector.[fn]“Another Side to the Story: A market assessment of Syrian SMEs in Turkey”, Building Markets, June 2017.Hide Footnote As of December 2017, there were about 8,000 registered Syrian businesses in Turkey; experts put the number of unregistered enterprises at about 10,000.[fn]Crisis Group interview, expert on Syrian entrepreneurs, November 2017; “8 bini aşkın Suriyeli şirket 100 bin kişiye istihdam sağlıyor” [“More than 8 thousand Syrian businesses are employing 100 thousand”], Anadolu Agency, 19 October 2017.Hide Footnote

International donors are seeking ways to support refugee-owned small and medium enterprises or SMEs.[fn]New projects by the World Bank, UNDP, ILO, IOM, Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), to be funded under the EU Facility for Refugees, are expected to be implemented in 2018. Crisis Group e-mail correspondence, EU official, November 2017.Hide Footnote The opportunity to receive loans and technical assistance could encourage Syrian entrepreneurs to register their businesses and provide formal work opportunities for other Syrians. Supporting Turkish and Syrian joint ventures is another option, with the added benefit of fostering more interaction between Syrians and Turkish citizens.

B. Strains on Education

Turkey’s already strained education system is struggling to integrate nearly one million Syrian school-aged children. Simply enrolling Syrian students is a tremendous challenge; around 370,000 children are still out of school. But authorities must also manage local host community anger by addressing their legitimate concerns about overcrowding and its impact on educational quality.

1. Phasing-out Temporary Education Centres

Ankara established temporary education centres or TECs to provide an accredited Arabic-language curriculum for Syrian children, setting the centres up first in camps along the southern border and later in urban locations around the country. It decided in early 2016 to phase out the TECs over three years and integrate Syrians into the public-school system. As of late 2017, 37.5 per cent of the 976,200 school-age Syrian refugee children attended public schools while 24.5 per cent still studied in TECs. The remaining 38 per cent did not attend school at all.[fn]Data on Syrian refugee enrolment available from the Ministry of National Education at http://bit.ly/2AJ4BOV.Hide Footnote

The decision to phase out the TECs angered Turkish and Syrian families alike. Turkish parents complain the influx of Syrians has overcrowded their schools and overwhelmed the capacity of teachers. Many believe that Syrian children spread disease and call them troublemakers, claiming they steal from other students.[fn]Crisis Group interview, official of a local branch of the Ministry of National Education, Istanbul, June 2017.Hide Footnote Syrian parents, on the other hand, complain that teachers and classmates discriminate against their children.

Experts say phasing out the TECs entails two main risks: that fewer children will enrol in school and that those who do enrol will feel even more marginalised and eventually drop out.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, migration expert, Istanbul, September 2017; migration expert, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote To encourage school attendance, the EU and UNICEF in partnership with the Turkish ministry of education, launched a Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE) program in March 2017, designed to encourage an additional 230,000 Syrian refugee children to attend school and reduce dropout rates. The CCTE provides refugee families with bi-monthly cash transfers amounting to about 35-60 Turkish lira ($10-$16) based on age and gender.[fn]The CCTE, with a total budget of €34 million, was inaugurated in May 2017. “EU’s largest ever education in emergencies programme in Turkey reaches first refugee families”, press release, European Commission, 8 June 2017. Syrian girls often drop out because their families force them into early marriages.Hide Footnote

Absorbing Syrians into the national education system is the right policy in the long run.

Absorbing Syrians into the national education system is the right policy in the long run. Not only will this help Syrian children integrate into Turkish society, it will also provide them with a diploma recognised in Turkey and abroad. However, phasing out the TECs too quickly is straining public school capacity and fuelling tensions between Turkish citizens and refugees.[fn]According to a September 2017 study by the Education Reform Initiative, around 77,000 new classrooms and 70,000 additional teachers are needed to meet demand. “Education Monitoring Report 2016-2017”, Education Reform Initiative, October 2017.Hide Footnote “In practice integration into the schools is not working”, said a migration expert. “Teachers and school principals do not know how to manage this transition”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, migration expert, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote

Overcrowding is especially acute in urban areas with high refugee concentrations. In Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, 6,000 Syrian students were added to a school system that accommodates about 103,000 children. The influx has dramatically increased the size of public school classes, reversing recent progress. “We are now back to conditions we were in four or five years ago”, said a TEC director. “It is hard for everyone to swallow this”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, TEC director, Istanbul’s Sultangazi district, July 2017.Hide Footnote

The problem is even worse in Ankara’s Altındağ district, where Syrians make up 20 per cent of the population in some neighbourhoods. In response to parent complaints, school administrators decided to create Syrian-only classrooms, effectively undermining the goal of integration. “Teachers are desperate”, said an NGO representative. “Sometimes they use other Syrian children who have learnt a bit of Turkish to translate for them in the classroom”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, NGO representative, Ankara, July 2017.Hide Footnote

The EU’s Facility for Refugees in Turkey provides a total of around €650 million for education, including programs to build new schools, provide language support and train teachers to facilitate the transition away from the temporary education centres. Implementation takes time, however. The European Commission announced in December 2016 that it had signed contracts worth about €270 million for building and equipping schools that should accommodate more than 70,000 Syrian refugee children.[fn]“Facility for Refugees in Turkey: the EU invests in the education of 70,000 Syrian refugee children”, press release, European Commission, 22 December 2016.Hide Footnote UNICEF has tried to address the problem of capacity by building prefabricated classroom structures as a temporary measure.[fn]This measure was partly funded by the EU. Crisis Group interview, UNICEF representative, Ankara, September 2017. UNICEF has also paid to run, renovate and clean some schools for six months.Hide Footnote Expanding such short-term measures could prove useful in this transition process.

Another issue is whether to integrate the roughly 12,000 Syrian teachers still employed at TECs into the public-school system. Turkish teachers oppose bringing these teachers into public schools permanently when hundreds of thousands of Turkish teachers work on short-term contracts. UNICEF (with funding primarily from the German government and the EU) currently pays TEC teacher salaries; it could continue to do this for Syrian teachers, employing them in public schools on a temporary basis as “intercultural mediators”, a model that has worked in other countries dealing with large refugee populations. Syrian teachers could make sure refugee children understand lessons, quell tension between children, and facilitate communication with Syrian parents.

The longer children remain out of school, the higher the risk that they will feel marginalised. The discrimination faced by many Syrian children in public schools, both from classmates and teachers, could create an alienated and angry generation. Authorities need to manage the transition from TECs carefully to avert this risk. Host community and Syrian concerns about coexistence in Turkish public schools need to be addressed through better public communication and by focusing on the message that refugee-related capacity-building also benefits locals.

2. Diminishing role of civil society

The Syrian influx encouraged the establishment of NGO-run learning centres in Turkish cities. Most of these previously had signed authorisation protocols with district or provincial governorates, a procedure initially sanctioned by Ankara.[fn]Some of the centres forced to stop teaching were internationally funded, such as the Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants or ASAM, which ran 24 such centres in fifteen provinces around Turkey. Though some of its non-education related services continue to be offered to both refugees and locals, ASAM has suspended language programs for about six months, losing trained teachers who took other jobs. Crisis Group interviews, ASAM representatives, Istanbul, July 2017.Hide Footnote Starting in mid-2017, however, the national government cancelled these protocols, requiring NGOs to apply for authorisation from the education ministry. The official reasoning was twofold: some NGOs were suspected of having links to illicit groups; others were faulted for not meeting the required education standards. “Centres were established all around Istanbul that we had no control over”, said a Turkish official. “We did not know who they were operated by”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Turkish officials, Istanbul, July and September 2017.Hide Footnote

The cancelations limited refugee access to specialised courses, such as vocational training, and assistance to help children learn the Turkish language and other basic skills. “We are concerned that NGOs have been pushed out of the non-formal education sector”, said a representative of an international organisation. “In our view, non-formal education has to be strengthened/scaled up …. NGOs play an important role in that”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ankara, September 2017.Hide Footnote

Twelve NGOs had signed new protocols with the National Education Ministry by 10 December 2017; twenty others reportedly had applied, but remained unclear about their status.[fn]Crisis Group interview, NGO representative, Istanbul, November 2017.Hide Footnote Organisations aligned with the government obtained renewals quickly, while the process dragged on for more secular groups, fuelling suspicions that the ministry was using refugee assistance projects to boost conservative values.[fn]For example, the government quickly authorised Ensar, an Islamic foundation with close links to the government, to reopen its learning centres. The National Education Ministry posted a list of organisations that signed protocols on its website, http://hboprojeler.meb.gov.tr/protokol-liste.html. Turkish news outlets reported that the national education ministry, in a letter dated 8 September, had asked all 39 district directorates in Istanbul to direct Syrian students into religious “imam-hatip” schools. This led to uproar among secular constituencies and opposition parties. “‘Suriyeli öğrenciler imam hatiplere yönlendirilsin’ genelgesi” [“Circular on directing Syrians to imam-hatip schools”], Sözcü, 20 September 2017.Hide Footnote The representative of an NGO that recently secured a protocol called the process complicated and opaque: “There is no clarity on why the protocol is granted or not … NGOs with hundreds of employees do not know what their status will be two years from now”.[fn]NGO representative views shared at event attended by Crisis Group titled “Migration and the Integration into the Education System” organised by Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Turkey Office, Istanbul, 13 October 2017.Hide Footnote

Instead of cancelling local protocols, the government could subject NGO-run centres to more rigorous inspection procedures while allowing those already supervised through EU or UN mechanisms to continue. Procedures for renewing authorisations should be more transparent and expedited for organisations with proven track records. This would provide Syrians with much-needed educational support while ensuring that NGO-run facilities perform according to clearly defined standards.

IV. Conclusion

Turkey has taken important steps to integrate 3.4 million Syrians, accommodating this massive influx of refugees with less backlash than might have been expected or feared. However, it still faces stark social challenges. Frictions between host and refugee communities are rising, particularly in inner-city districts with high refugee density. Ankara policymakers should develop mechanisms and public messaging aimed at defusing refugee-related tensions at the local level.

Despite strained relations, Turkey and the EU have a shared interest in continued cooperation to ensure the sustainable integration of Syrians into Turkish society. Both sides understand the consequences should the March 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU unravel. As the EU decides how to allocate an additional €3 billion to Turkey for Syrians’ integration, it should also consider how to counter rising negative public sentiments toward the refugees.

The Turkish government cannot continue operating without clear policy goals for the sustainable integration of Syrian refugees. It needs to prepare both short- and long-term plans designed to prevent intercommunal confrontations while educating Syrian children and helping adults transition from assistance to productive employment. Ankara also needs to address public sentiments, mostly negative, about Syrian refugees becoming Turkish citizens.

Failure to secure wide support for these policies, from both refugees and their hosts, could stoke resentment and violence. Turkish society ultimately must come to terms with the reality that a significant portion of the Syrian refugees who fled into Turkey will remain there. The question is not whether but how to weave them into the country’s social fabric.

Istanbul/Ankara/Izmir/Brussels, 29 January 2018

Appendix A: Map of Turkey

Appendix B: Number of Registered Syrians in Turkey (2012-2017)

Appendix C: List of Acronyms

AFAD – Afet ve Acil Durum Yönetimi Başkanlığı (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency).

AK Party – Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party): Turkey’s ruling party since 2002, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It received 49.5 per cent of the vote in the November 2015 parliamentary elections.

ASAM – The Organisation for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants.

CCTE – Conditional Cash Transfer for Education: A program funded under the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey that aims to incentivise the schooling of Syrian refugee children.

CHP – Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party): Turkey’s main opposition party headed by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. It received 25.3 per cent in the November 2015 parliamentary elections. One of the party’s MPs is imprisoned for leaking state secrets and spying charges.

DGMM – The Directorate-General of Migration Management.

ERG – Eğitim Reformu Girişimi (Education Reform Initiative): An NGO in Turkey specialised in education policy.

ESSN – The Emergency Social Safety Network: One of the EU’s humanitarian aid projects in Turkey providing direct cash support to some one million Syrians in need.

FETÖ – Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü (Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation): The designation given by the Turkish authorities to Gülen movement members/sympathisers the state considers responsible for illicit infiltration into state institutions and the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. Ankara demands the extradition of U.S.-based Fethullah Gülen who is accused of heading the organisation.

HDP – Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples’ Democratic Party): The main legal party representing the Kurdish national movement in Turkey. It received 10.75 per cent of the total vote in the November 2015 parliamentary elections. Nine of the party’s MPs (including its co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş) are imprisoned over terrorism charges, while five (including former co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ) were stripped of their MP status.

IHH – İnsani Yardım Vakfı (Humanitarian Relief Foundation): A prominent Islamist-leaning Turkish aid organisation operational in more than 130 countries.

ILO – International Labour Organization.

IOM – International Organization for Migration.

İŞKUR – Türkiye İş Kurumu (Turkish Employment Agency).

KfW – Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (Reconstruction Credit Institute): A German state-owned development bank based in Frankfurt. It was founded in 1948 after World War II as part of the Marshall Plan.

KOSGEB – Küçük ve Orta Ölçekli İşletmeleri Geliştirme ve Destekleme İdaresi Başkanlığı (The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organisation).

MAZLUMDER – İnsan Hakları ve Mazlumlar İçin Dayanışma Derneği (The Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed): A non-governmental human rights organisation in Turkey established in 1991. While initially the organisation’s focus was on religious discrimination, in recent years it expanded its scope to areas such as the Kurdish issue and the refugee crisis.

MHP – Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party): Turkey’s right-wing, nationalist party headed by Devlet Bahçeli. It received 11.9 per cent of the vote in the November 2015 parliamentary elections. Following disarray in the MHP, five of its MPs (among other party figures and members) joined the Good Party (İYİ Parti) that was formally established on 25 October 2017 and is headed by Meral Akşener.

TEC – Temporary Education Centre: Schools established to provide education for Syrian students in Turkey. They typically employ Syrians as teachers and use an adapted Syrian curriculum. The Turkish government began phasing out the TEC system in the 2015/2016 school year.

Tzu Chi – An international Buddhist aid organisation headquartered in Taiwan that operates in 56 countries. The organisation has a branch in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district where it distributes aid, provides health and education services to Syrians.

UNDP – United Nations Development Programme.

UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNICEF – United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

A Syrian refugee girl makes her way to the school at a refugee camp in Nizip in Gaziantep province, near the Turkish-Syrian border, on 17 March 2014. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Report 241 / Europe & Central Asia

Turkey’s Refugee Crisis: The Politics of Permanence

Turkey is under growing pressure from nearly three million Syrian refugees. To mitigate domestic tensions and spillover from regional conflicts, Ankara needs to develop, and find support for, new policies that open refugees’ routes to jobs, education and permanent legal status.

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Executive Summary

Turkey’s response to the influx of Syrians is a source of national pride. The massive numbers pose significant absorptive and financial challenges and compound problems stemming from complex demographics, deep political polarisation and rising security threats. The uncertainties with regard to the Syria war delayed long-term planning by both authorities and Syrians in Turkey. Ankara now needs to assume the permanence of the refugees in order to craft an integration strategy to mitigate the long-term risk for the nation’s stability. Replacing top down, erratic policymaking with a national plan alongside efforts to build consensus among constituencies is necessary both for Syrians to have clarity about their future in Turkey and to ensure that their hosts do not see them as an economic burden, security threat or instrument for redesigning national identity.

The scale is staggering. 2.75 million Syrians are registered in Turkey, around 3.5 per cent of the population. When the influx began in 2011, Ankara assumed a smaller number and shorter timeframe, but with the war showing no signs of abating and Europe’s migration policies in disarray, it is a reality that looks set to stay or expand. Emergency responses have meant fitful policies and convoluted rhetoric. For the refugees, challenges include learning the language, finding meaningful jobs, housing and education, vulnerability to exploitation and navigating an unfamiliar, complicated bureaucracy. Acknowledgement of likely permanence has begun in 2016 to show up in policies for integration in education and employment. Implementation of the new progressive integration policies, however, needs tighter coordination between public institutions, which should be aligned around a holistic, coherent strategy. Moreover, the year’s dramatic political upheavals, peaking with the July coup attempt and its aftermath, have deepened the general sense of an unpredictable and precarious future that dominates the refugee experience.

Host communities complain about the impact of dense refugee concentrations on the labour force, social benefits refugees receive and potential for increased crime and terror. Violence against refugees is isolated and downplayed, though the occasional flare-ups on social media and alarming coverage after the president said citizenship would be granted suggest the potential for friction. Squaring state capacities with refugee expectations and host grievances is complicated. Integration policies need to consider host community concerns of a zero sum equation between their and Syrians’ interests and be coupled with communication strategies alongside other efforts to foster dialogue between refugees and hosts.

The refugees are overwhelmingly Sunni Arabs, adding an ethnic-sectarian dimension to the issue. The common European assumption that Turkey is a natural environment for Syrians tends to neglect the complexities of its society. Much as in Europe, absorption involves not merely administrative and financial matters, but also cultural and political values. Sensitivities of minority communities are based on collective memories of persecution, recent political marginalisation and mistrust of the president and government. Alevis, Kurdish nationalists, liberals, secularists and some Turkish nationalists worry that political leaders are using refugees to transform national identity, consolidate power and reframe Turkey’s role in the Middle East as more Arab, Sunni and hegemonic. The perception that refugees are a demographic threat and pawns used by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dampens prospects for a dispassionate, constructive debate about their presence and future.

Suspicion of AKP’s refugee agenda is also fuelled by lack of clarity about, for example, locations for new refugee housing and camps and possible citizenship prospects. An inclusive national dialogue is needed to distinguish unfounded speculation from legitimate concerns, but the polarised environment hinders an integration debate. Opposition parties complain the president decides on refugees without consulting and wants to use them to achieve absolute power. Because society’s cultural, ethnic and sectarian fault lines correspond to party constituencies, they manifest themselves in political confrontation at the centre.

Ideally, Ankara would, in line with international precedents and human rights standards, lift the geographical limitation it applies to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and give Syrians formal refugee status, but this is currently unlikely. A long-term citizenship prospect would provide Syrians with an incentive to integrate but poses risks if offered without building consensus and setting clearly defined, fair conditions. Regardless of citizenship, targeted integration policies with clearly-defined legal steps incentivising transition from temporary to permanent legal status are needed. This requires decision-making and engagement by political leaders that is inclusive, not imposed. More comprehensive debate on a new constitution and amendment of Article 66 on the definition of citizenship could provide a positive framework if government and opposition engage constructively.

While Europe is most concerned about preventing more Syrians from seeking refuge in its countries, a more nuanced focus needs to be on how the refugees integrate in Turkey over the long term. However, the low numbers the European Union (EU) is willing to accept make Turkish authorities unwilling to engage on refugee rights and give Ankara a sense of occupying the moral high ground in face of EU requests on issues such as the rule of law agenda. It is a dynamic from which all stand to lose.

Ankara/Brussels, 30 November 2016

Integrating Syrian Refugees in Turkey

In this video, our Project Director for Turkey Nigar Göksel explains the main findings of Crisis Group's report "Turkey’s Refugee Crisis: The Politics of Permanence" and advocates a long-term strategy to integrate Syrian refugees into Turkish society. CRISIS GROUP

I. Introduction

The politics of Syrians’ integration into Turkish society is complex on many levels. Domestic upheaval has increased political polarisation and further eroded confidence between Turkey and the European Union (EU). That polarisation and the tensions with the EU render management of the crisis more difficult at the same time as the consequences of not integrating the refugees are becoming more dangerous.

AKP has pursued unprecedented consolidation of power after losing its thirteen-year parliamentary majority in June 2015, then restoring single-party rule in the November 2015 election. Since disintegration of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) conflict ceasefire in July 2015, dramatic escalation in the mainly Kurdish-inhabited south east has cost over 2,300 lives, with no end in sight. Seven attacks attributed to the Islamic State (IS) in the same period have killed more than 250. This instability was compounded by the 15 July 2016 coup attempt led by what the state calls the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY).

The failed coup created grounds for emergency rule, which has dramatically increased presidential power. It has also resulted in dismissal of some 125,000 civil servants and arrests of many, straining bureaucratic capacity in areas ranging from the judiciary to law enforcement and education, all of which are relevant to refugee absorption capacity. Moreover, with the focus on PKK- and FETÖ-related developments, refugee integration challenges are not getting the attention they need.

The expedited pace of concentrating power in the presidency and the top-down yet haphazard nature of decision-making render establishing constructive dialogue with the opposition and building national consensus on Syrians’ integration ever-more unlikely. Sensitive issues such as the prospect of granting citizenship are perceived by government critics as ploys to strengthen AKP’s electoral base. Though the refugee crisis was not of Ankara’s making, and the open door policy toward refugees has been widely commended, the way dynamics have evolved leaves refugees feeling instrumentalised in both Turkey’s domestic politics and its EU relations.

The EU-Turkey refugee deal plays into this picture in complex ways. In the last two years, the refugee issue has alternately reinvigorated and strained ties. The deal has delivered mutual benefits: the flow of irregular migrants to the EU has been curbed, and European funding and programming have had visible positive impact on Syrians’ opportunities in Turkey, which is also in the country’s long-term interests. The promise to curb the flow to Europe has likewise increased Ankara’s leverage and arguably rendered EU counterparts less vocal about human rights and rule-of-law issues. Achievement of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, however, hinges on compliance with EU conditions relating to anti-terrorism laws, among others, which is unlikely in the post-coup environment.

Anti-EU rhetoric is high in Turkey, while the appetite in the European Council and European Parliament to support visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens is low. Ankara is floating the prospect of reintroducing the death penalty, and the European Parliament adopted on 24 November a non-binding resolution proposing a freeze on accession negotiations. A major confrontation is possible that could not only derail the drawn-out accession negotiations, but also spell the end of the refugee deal. Such a confrontation, especially at a time when the Syrian government’s progress toward recapture of the parts of Aleppo long under insurgents’ control risks creating a new wave of refugees, would have important implications for the inflow to the EU and Turkey’s political trajectory.

Bitterness toward the West has swelled over the Syria conflict as well as the refugee crisis. Ankara sees the West as intent neither on ending the former nor sharing the burden of the latter. That it hosts by far the most refugees has reinforced Turkey’s political demands regarding developments in Syria. Creating a safe zone in the north of that country has been a priority. One of the aims of Operation Euphrates Shield, launched in August alongside allied Syrian armed-opposition factions, is accordingly to establish a territory where Syrians could stay if another refugee wave comes from Aleppo.[fn]The operation also aims to drive IS from the border area and block the Syrian Kurdish group YPG from connecting the Afrin canton with its territory east of the Euphrates.Hide Footnote  At the same time, a neo-Ottomanist vision gains traction, with the presence of Syrian refugees playing in complex ways into the search for an answer to the questions who is a Turk and where does Turkey belong.

This third Crisis Group report since 2012 on the integration of Syrian refugees thus comes at a febrile time in Turkey’s modern history. Ultimately, only a sustainable resolution to the conflict in Syria will stem the flow of refugees and create conditions in which their needs and rights, including the right of return, can be comprehensively addressed and protected. While Europeans are most concerned about how to prevent the flow to their countries, a greater focus is required on how the refugees integrate in Turkish society over the long term.

This report concentrates on that integration and consequential social and political implications. It does not examine the intricacies of the EU-Turkey deal or its compatibility with the UN Refugee Convention, which also involves implementation in Greece and the Balkans.[fn]www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=67&newsletter_ID=108.Hide Footnote  It is based on extensive field research in three provinces bordering Syria – Hatay, Gaziantep and Kilis – as well as interviews with Syrians in Adana, Izmir and Istanbul and with state institutions, political parties, NGOs and international organisations in Ankara and Istanbul. The aim is to assess how humanitarian and development considerations on behalf of the refugees accord with the interests of the host community, political realities and Turkey’s stability.

II. Navigating Displacement: Turkey’s Response and Refugee Perspectives

View from the window of a Syrian NGO working with refugee children and women in Gaziantep province, March 2016. CRISIS GROUP

A challenge that started as “guests” being housed in camps and given emergency help in 2011 has turned into 2.75 million Syrians under “temporary protection”, 90 per cent of them settled around the country, mostly in provinces bordering Syria and the lower income outskirts of Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. Integration into society remains skin-deep. The temporary protection regime in theory allows unlimited free health care, access to education by joining the public system or enrolling in one of 400 Temporary Education Centres (TECs) and, since January 2016, work permits. They can also sign contracts for services (electricity, water, gas, TV, mobile communication, etc). But around 400,000 children (43 per cent of the school-aged) are still not enrolled in any educational institution. Only 10,227 Syrians have received work permits as of 24 November.[fn]“60 bin yabancıya çalışma izni [“60 thousand work permits for foreigners”], Anadolu Agency, 24 November 2016.Hide Footnote  Even as both refugees and Turkish hosts increasingly recognise their permanence, a sense of precariousness prevails.

A. The Bureaucratic Scramble

Ankara expected neither an influx of this size nor for the conflict to continue so long. The conceptual and institutional shifts necessary to integrate Syrians in a sustainable way came late and fitfully.[fn]Crisis Group previously examined Turkey’s response to the challenges posed by the continuing influx of Syrian refugees and their spread across the country, underlining the need for a comprehensive social and economic integration strategy. See Crisis Group Europe Report N°230, The Rising Costs of Turkey’s Syrian Quagmire, 30 April 2014.Hide Footnote  The concept of “temporary permanence” (geçici kalıcılık), pronounced by then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s adviser in December 2015, summarised the convoluted approach and the government’s difficulties to define a strategy.[fn]“Geçici Koruma Altındaki Suriyelilerin Durumu Değerlendirildi” [“Status of Syrians under temporary protection assessed”], Milliyet, 17 December 2015.Hide Footnote  The chaotic policymaking, a patchwork of small initiatives with micro effects, left refugees having to find their own way. Ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Spokesperson Metin Çorabatır explained:[fn]Crisis Group interview, Metin Çorabatır, ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson, Ankara, 30 September 2016.Hide Footnote

There were very few experts on migration or asylum in the country. Neither the political leadership nor opposition parties had consultants that knew the relevant international norms. The necessary legal frameworks for dealing with such an influx were not in place. So decisions were made ad hoc, for short term solutions to challenges as they erupted.

Repeated reshuffling of the officials responsible for devising policies and coordination have hindered accumulation of know-how and strategy development. Nearly all institutions involved with policies relating to Syrians are understaffed or had to grow so quickly they are still learning responsibilities. The Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), mandated not only to register those needing protection, but also to handle all issues concerning foreigners, was established in 2014 with a staff of ten that grew to 3,000 by 2015.

Authorities came to understand only in 2015 that the refugees were “a long-term situation”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ali Osman Öztürk, public diplomacy coordinator, Turkish prime ministry, 30 September 2016.Hide Footnote  One of the first public acknowledgements came that September, when Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said most Syrians seemed destined to stay, and the government was working on increasing capacity to integrate them.[fn]“Bakanlar Kurulu sona erdi” [“The cabinet meeting has ended”], Habertürk, 22 September 2015.Hide Footnote  It was 2016 before ministries assessed the increased personnel needs and the language and professional training programs necessary. Lagging institutional capacity has meant that refugees have often not been able to take meaningful advantage of opportunities the temporary protection status provided on paper.

The ad hoc temporary protection regime established at the beginning of the crisis was enshrined in law in 2014.[fn]Due to the geographical limitation it imposes on its adherence to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Turkey does not give official refugee status to citizens of countries not in the Council of Europe. It holds that unrestricted application of the convention would attract crippling numbers from its turbulent neighbourhood.Hide Footnote  Because continuation or termination is at government discretion, Syrians have no guarantee they will not be sent back one day. Ankara still lacks a clear strategy for their permanent integration. Authorities say there are too many unknowns, short and long term: “Will there be another wave, maybe soon from Aleppo? When will the war end, and what will it look like when it does? … How many will want to move back? How will Turkey-EU relations and the economy unfold? …” Without answers, they say, expecting a firm strategy is unrealistic.[fn]Crisis Group interview, prime ministry official, 30 September 2016.Hide Footnote  Not knowing what is on offer from Turkey in the long term, however, has implications for Syrians’ motivation to integrate.

B. Incentive and Opportunities to Integrate

Syrians express gratitude for the protection Turkey offers. 70 per cent of those Crisis Group talked to across the country underscored a desire to go home when the war ends, but many also listed numerous factors that make Turkey more desirable than Europe. These include proximity to Syria, cultural similarities (especially in border provinces), social tolerance, the government’s hospitable approach and absence of Islamophobia. Some said being physically close to Syria makes them more optimistic about the future. Another widely shared sentiment was to be actively involved in making a new Syria, as many believe those who leave for Europe “will not be able to come back”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Gaziantep, Adana, Istanbul, Osmaniye, Kilis, February-March 2016.Hide Footnote

But hurried policymaking and ever-shifting institutional frameworks pose problems, especially for non-camp refugees, who are unclear about their status, puzzled about where to get information and say registration procedures and access to services differ from place to place and time to time.[fn]Most Syrians interviewed, including those engaged in daily economic activities, were unaware of the introduction of work permits. Many also did not know the location of local authority buildings, particularly the DGMM. A few said they received informative Arabic mobile text messages from the prime ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) on registration, access to education and health services and internal travel regulations. However, not everyone registered receives these. Some Syrians said fliers circulated by authorities are unhelpful and a more permanent, standardised means is needed to receive information on rights and obligations. Social media groups are a source of information, but some noted that incorrect information is circulated online as well. Crisis Group interviews, Izmir, Adana, Istanbul, Osmaniye, Gaziantep, February-March 2016.Hide Footnote  The resulting sense of limbo directly impacts ability to integrate. Many are reluctant to invest in learning Turkish if they do not see themselves as permanently settled. Lack of firm legal status, limited job opportunities and inadequate access to education were the circumstances most cited by interviewees who would rather stay in Turkey but anticipated leaving for the EU or elsewhere. The challenges that keep many Syrians out of school or work and without command of Turkish are also at the core of their being perceived by host communities as a negative influence on the economy and potential security threat.

1. Education and the risk of a lost generation

Though the number of Syrian children enrolled in school is gradually rising – there was a 50 per cent increase between June 2015 and March 2016 – some 400,000 of the around 900,000 of school age still do not attend any educational facility as of November, according to national education ministry figures. This contravenes Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees the right to free education.[fn]Article 28 reads: “1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all …”Hide Footnote  At the January 2016 “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference in London, Ankara committed to enrol all Syrian children in schools by the end of the 2016-2017 academic year.[fn]Turkey’s statement reads: “The Republic of Turkey and its international partners committed to the aim of providing education to every Syrian refugee child by the end of the school year 2016/17. The Republic of Turkey is already providing education to 310,000 Syrian children and has committed to enrolling 460,000 Syrian children by the end of this school year. In order to achieve this objective, stronger and urgent support for Syrian children’s education is needed”.Hide Footnote

Continuation of low enrolment would mean a generation of children would not be able to live up to its potential, whether they stay in Turkey or someday go home. The situation also lends itself to child labour, child begging, early marriage and potential for radicalisation. Syrian families have had the option to send their children either to TECs or public schools, where by law the language of instruction is Turkish.[fn]According to November 2016 figures of the national education ministry, around 125,000 refugee children were enrolled in Turkish public schools and following the national curriculum. Undersecretary Yusuf Tekin of the ministry announced the same month that 509,000 (57 per cent) of the some 900,000 Syrian school-age children were enrolled in educational facilities. Figures announced by official Turkish institutions and UN agencies include children formally enrolled in temporary education centres and public schools but not those in informal/underground facilities. Crisis Group field research indicates that an unknown number attend informal programs set up by former Syrian teachers, charities or business groups. The phasing out of TECs is expected to increase demand for illegal facilities, which can bring a new risk.Hide Footnote  They have largely preferred the TECs, which were set up as an emergency response and teach in Arabic an adapted Syrian curriculum approved by the Turkish national education ministry. Classes are run by Syrian teachers of various qualification levels.[fn]According to a UNICEF report, 247,000 children were enrolled in the 2015/2016 school year in TECs in urban areas and camps. Some 1,000 Turkish language teachers and 11,500 Syrian volunteer teachers worked in these. Seven new schools were built, and 200 were renovated in Turkey in 2015. Additionally, Turkey hired 8,700 Syrian “volunteer” teachers, and 10,000 Syrian students received subsidised school transportation. “UNICEF Annual Report 2015”, December 2015.Hide Footnote  The key challenges for the some 125,000 in public schools are the language barrier and, at many, the lack of catch-up provisions.[fn]“Syrian refugees missing school in Turkey”, BBC News, 30 June 2016.Hide Footnote  The education ministry, NGO and private language school projects that exist to expedite Turkish language learning are deemed chaotic and experimental.[fn]In Gaziantep, some schools, including Münifpaşa Middle School, have begun offering Turkish courses for Syrian students to help them adapt to a non-Syrian curriculum. Suriyeli Öğrenciler İçin Türkçe Kursu Açıldı” [“Turkish course for Syrian students opened”], Haberler, 8 October 2016. In June 2016, Ankara University signed an agreement with Sequa, an international development organisation, to teach Turkish to 1,200 Syrian refugees. Syrians older than sixteen living in Ankara, Istanbul and along the Syrian border will take a five-month course to provide basic command of Turkish. “More Syrians to learn Turkish with new project for refugees”, Daily Sabah, 25 June 2016.Hide Footnote

Recognising the risk of creating a marginalised community as a result of parallel education systems, Ankara plans to absorb Syrian children into the national structure by phasing out TECs in the next three years. Ambiguities remain, however, with regard to how the process will play out.[fn]UNICEF representative to Turkey Philippe Duamelle explained: “There are clear instructions coming from Ankara to schools in all provinces around the country to open the doors for Syrian children”. Crisis Group telephone interview, 1 November 2016.Hide Footnote  As of September, Syrians starting primary and pre-school (first graders and kindergarten level) can only attend public schools. This is to be extended each year, with the eventual closing down of TECs and integration of all Syrian students into the Turkish system.

This leaves some Syrian parents concerned about their children not developing proficiency in their mother tongue and having trouble reintegrating into the Syrian school system if they return after the war.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Syrian NGO representative, Istanbul, 21 October 2016.Hide Footnote  In light of the families’ expressed preference, the education ministry is currently working on ways to enable the children to maintain their Arabic language with elective and extra-curricular classes in public schools. This is important for all Syrians attending Turkish schools.[fn]The issue is politically charged, however, because of the controversies regarding Kurdish language instruction.Hide Footnote  It would also conform with Article 29(c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which reads:

States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to … the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.

Another reason families have preferred to send their children to TECs or have not sent them to any school is economic. There are increased drop-out rates when children reach secondary and upper secondary level, because most families want their children to earn income for the household.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, UNICEF, 1 November 2016.Hide Footnote  In some cases TECs function for only a few hours a day, enabling students to work in the informal sector for the rest of the day. Many school-aged Syrians illegally do low-skilled labour, mostly in construction, manufacturing and textiles, to help support families.[fn]The high number of Turkish children working has increased with the influx of Syrians. “Number of child workers nears million in Turkey”, Hürriyet Daily News, 20 September 2016.Hide Footnote  The Emergency Social Safety Network (ESSN) for basic needs that was agreed in September 2016 as part of three billion Euros in EU aid is expected to help with this problem. Beginning in the first months of 2017, monthly cash transfers and electronic debit cards will be given to some one million refugees following an application and needs-based selection process. Each family will receive a Kızılay (Red Crescent) card that provides 100 TL (around $30) per person a month.

Work is in progress for an additional conditional “education cash grant” to encourage families to send their children to school. The plan under discussion would give further monthly support of 35-60 TL ($11-$18) for each child attending school and a one-time financial allowance of 100 TL (around $30) per semester. Such incentives have been in place for low-income Turkish families since launched in the early 2000s with World Bank help. The ESSN has an initial one-year limitation. Syrians welcome it but do not see it as a sustainable response to their concerns: “No one knows what will happen afterwards”, said a Syrian NGO representative working on integration.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Syrian NGO representative/consultant who has worked extensively in the field on integration challenges and is based in Gaziantep, Istanbul, 21 October 2016.Hide Footnote

The Turkish education system was strained even before the Syrian influx. After the failed coup and dismissal of some 30,000 teaching personnel suspected of affiliation with FETÖ/PDY or the PKK, this is even more so. The non-formal education sector (NGOs, civil initiatives, vocational and linguistic training) also needs more support, so children who do not return to formal education have alternatives. “Access to formal education needs to be sustained”, UNICEF’s Turkey representative said, “but much more investment is needed into non-formal education”.[fn]Crisis Group telephone interview, UNICEF, 1 November 2016.Hide Footnote  Addressing Syrian children’s psychological problems also must become a priority. Having lived through war, many suffer from serious shock and trauma that teachers and school social workers need training to treat.

2. Challenges entering the labour market

Limited job opportunities in Turkey, especially for the highly skilled and educated, drove many to seek refuge in Europe until 2016.[fn]Above 40 per cent of Syrian arrivals on Greek islands gave “finding a job adequate to their skills, meeting their basic living expenses, avoid exploitation” as the main reasons for leaving countries they had stayed in for six months or more before leaving Syria. UNHCR Factsheet, February 2016.Hide Footnote  Those in Turkey continue to face challenges such as complicated administrative procedures to obtain a work permit and mobility restrictions. Many have sustained themselves largely by working in the informal sector, and others receive assistance from international humanitarian aid entities, the state and local NGOs, but a longer-term strategy for self-sustenance is needed. As discussed below, this is also important for addressing host communities’ concerns Syrians drain service budgets and drive down wages, a perception that engenders social exclusion and friction between host and refugee communities.

Acknowledgement of the need to integrate Syrians into the workforce began in January 2016, when Syrians under temporary protection were granted the right to receive work permits. The process, however, is cumbersome.[fn]The labour ministry’s Regulation on Work Permits of Foreigners Under Temporary Protection was put into effect in January 2016. It sets the upper limit of Syrians to be employed in businesses at 10 per cent. It also requires applicants to have a Turkish identification card (kimlik) for at least six months. Once they have had a kimlik for six months, they must remain in the district where registered and find an employer there who will apply for a work permit for them.Hide Footnote  Between January and November, only around 10,000 obtained them.[fn]There are multiple reasons for the low number of applicants. Workplaces need to apply for work permits for the Syrians. Preparing the application document is complicated and labour-intensive and lawyers or fixers to assist in the process can cost as much as $1,000. Various professions are exempted; it is difficult for professionals to get the required equivalence certificates of their diplomas from the Turkish Higher Education Board (YÖK) or documents from Syria; there is a general lack of information about work permit procedures, and the language barrier is a major problem.Hide Footnote  Neither employers nor Syrians have an incentive to apply for formal work arrangements. For the employer, officially hiring a Syrian means paying a monthly minimum wage (some $400), social security contributions and taxes. For Syrians, particularly the low-skilled without a competitive market edge, illegal employment gives advantages over citizens, since they can take lower wages and pay no social security contribution.[fn]According to Hussam Orfahli, head of an Istanbul firm that assists Syrians with paperwork, “the minimum wage is 1,300 TL [around $400], and most employers refuse to give contracts so they can pay less and don’t have to pay for your health insurance”. “Fewer than 0.1% of Syrians in Turkey in line for work permits”, The Guardian, 11 April 2016. “Cheap and illegal, Syrian workers show underside of Turkey’s refugee crisis”, Reuters, 4 December 2015.Hide Footnote  The estimated 300,000-500,000 working informally believe legalisation might cost them their jobs.

The practice leads to poor work conditions as well as child labour, and Ankara needs to tackle it. Because only increasing inspections and fines on employers for informal hires could result in the loss of the only income for many Syrians, however, such measures should be accompanied with incentives/derogations to encourage Syrians and employers to enter into formal arrangements. These could include making effective vocational training and employment services more accessible to Syrians as well as the incentives available to citizens from the Turkish Employment Agency (İşkur), including two- to four-year waivers of social security payments for women and young adults.[fn]Crisis Group Skype interview, Ankara-based UN Development Programme (UNDP) representatives, 24 October 2016. For more information about the incentives offered to Turkish citizens by İşkur see, in Turkish, www.iskur.gov.tr/tr-tr/isveren/tesvikler.aspxHide Footnote  Simplifying work permit procedures and building Turkish language into vocational training programs will also be needed. While some informality in the workforce is inevitable, the more Ankara encourages Syrians to work legally, the more the economy will benefit in the long run and alleviate social tensions from competition, especially in the low-skilled job market.

Another need for Syrians is to obtain travel documents for provinces other than where they are registered.[fn]Turkish authorities say the need to regulate Syrian refugees’ mobility is a direct outcome of recent terrorist attacks by suicide bombers whose identities were detected through the DGMM’s registration system for Syrians under temporary protection. According to a prime ministry official, this measure also helps stem the flow of refugees toward Turkey’s western border and prevent irregular crossings. Bus companies and railway officers do not sell tickets unless Syrians show permission documents. However, such mobility restrictions also pave the way for less desirable mobility methods such as human smuggling. Recent reports indicate facilitators drive refugees without travel documents from border provinces to desired destinations in Turkey for 250 TL (around $88).Hide Footnote  Those Crisis Group talked to argued that, after a security clearance, they should be able to have documents valid for at least a year and multiple visits. The system is in theory operational, but some say no documents are issued since the post-coup crackdown.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Syrians, Istanbul, October 2016.Hide Footnote  Many also say administrative procedures are arbitrary and uneven. Thus, implementation of mobility restrictions differs province to province, municipality assistance varies, registration and issuance of ID cards is halted at times, and they struggle with questions such as how to get a driving licence.

Communication should take into account refugees’ economically diverse profile, vocational and language training requirements and labour market needs. A detailed study of Syrians’ skills and Turkish economic needs would help. A tax/social security payment exemption for a certain period after entrance into a legal work relationship could also provide incentives to both Syrians and employers. Lifting employer sponsorship for Syrians’ work permit applications might be an additional enticement.

3. Experience of political upheaval

Uncertain politics makes Turkey less attractive for Syrians considering their long-term prospects. They were sympathetic to AKP in the run-up to the June 2015 elections due to appreciation for a safe haven and President Tayy ip Erdoğan’s commitment to confront the Assad regime, while they saw the opposition as representing anti-refugee sentiments and worried when the AKP lost its parliamentary majority. A Syrian Turkmen said, “we were probably more worried about the election results than Turkish society was, because the possibility that main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) might win created a deep sense of fear: what if their leader would send us back to Syria, if they collaborated with Assad?”.

Some other Sunni-Arab Syrians asserted that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were scared of the “Arabisation of Turkey”, that “MHP would only protect Turkmen Syrians and the HDP only Kurdish Syrians or Iraqis, leaving out Arab Syrians”. A half Kurdish/half Arab Syrian said, “HDP is sincere about Syrian Kurds, but not enough about all refugees. If it were, it would have shown more support for AKP’s positive policies”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Osmaniye, Istanbul, Gaziantep, Adana, February-April 2016. But some educated Syrians said the government instrumentalised them in EU relations and Syria policy.Hide Footnote  These concerns were alleviated when AKP regained its majority in November 2015.

Another form of uncertainty swept over refugees when Erdoğan said in July 2016 Syrians would receive citizenship. Government representatives later said that initially around 300,000 would be naturalised, with families, possibly amounting to one million. Government representatives said there would be skills-based criteria but none have been announced, leaving Syrians unsure they would qualify. More important was the societal backlash (detailed below). Interviews showed the nationalist reaction caused many to feel more exposed and under increased social pressure. One said, “we were living in quiet and peace, blending in, minding our own business. After the announcement I feel much more anxious when someone asks me where I’m from”.[fn]“Syrians in Turkey could become citizens: Erdoğan”, Hürriyet Daily News, 3 July 2016. “Suriyelilere ‘istisnai vatandaşlık’ formülü” [“Formula of ‘exceptional citizenship’ for Syrians”], Milliyet, 15 July 2016. Crisis Group interview, Istanbul, July 2016.Hide Footnote

The 15 July failed coup changed politics drastically. Syrians poured into the streets protesting the military takeover the first night and organised parallel rallies to the celebratory gatherings for weeks after the coup was defeated. Those in Istanbul recalled fear that a military government, traditionally more nationalistic and secularist, could mean rule similar to what they fled in Syria or harsh backlash against refugees, as in Egypt after the Morsi government was deposed in 2013.[fn]According to a Middle East Eye article, many Syrian refugees took to the streets to protest the coup the night of 15 July. They cited the pro-Sisi media and street-mob attacks on refugees in Egypt while police looked the other way. “Many [refugees] were kicked out of the country”, said Sameer al-Shami, who later came to Turkey. “Syrians in Turkey Celebrate Erdoğan’s Triumph over Coup Attempt”, 19 July 2016.Hide Footnote

Turkish authorities underline the need to balance Syrians’ preferences and needs with the security considerations and economic interests of the country at large. Noting their displeasure with international complaints that they are not managing the crisis well enough, the prime minister’s public diplomacy coordinator explained:[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ali Osman Öztürk, 30 September 2016.Hide Footnote

Our GDP is what it is. We have a large young population and many unemployed who complain Syrians are reducing their access to jobs and services. We are grappling with an unstable neighbourhood and raging conflict with PKK and have no veto in the UN Security Council. … There is just so much we can do …. Integration will take time; it can only happen with political consensus so as to not upset domestic stability. We need more support to develop our capacity.

III. Beyond Guests: Are Syrians Welcome?

The Şenyurt home of Turkish nurse Nadire Demircan (R), who has divided up her house and given a large room and access to a toilet to a four-person Syrian refugee family who she’d seen living for three days on the street in town. CRISIS GROUP/Hugh Pope

The president and AKP have adopted a “welcoming our guests” rhetoric, blended with a focus on compassion required by Islamic values, to justify an open door policy for Syrians as well as aid and services. In certain contexts, Syrians escaping the “tyranny of the Syrian regime” have been referred to as muhacir (a term rooted in Islamic history used originally to denote those who had to move from Mecca to Medina because of religious persecution, and later Muslims fleeing oppression in non-Muslim countries); helping them has been deemed ensar (an affirming descriptive for those who help fleeing Muslims).

Not only religious but also nationalist pride has been central in the government’s contrast of its magnanimity in hosting Syrians with the lack of compassion and hospitality exhibited by EU countries. President Erdoğan said:[fn]Onlar ensar, muhacir ne demek bilmezler [“They don’t know what ensar and muhacir mean”], TRT Haber, 18 February 2015.Hide Footnote

We are a nation that has the consciousness of ensar. We see all our siblings com-ing to our country as muhacir and convivially welcome them. We open our homes to them, share our bread. Today there are around two million siblings within our borders who fled from … Syria and Iraq. … Two million here, 130,000 in the whole of Europe. Where is [your commitment] to human rights, the Uni-versal Declaration of Human Rights? Wasn’t it you who were protecting the op-pressed? What happened to the European Union aquis? Where are you?

Such language resonates with AKP’s conservative and nationalist constituencies.

The interaction between host community and Syrians varies by province, socio-economic situation and political disposition and has changed with realisation refugees are likely to be permanent. In border provinces where many have settled, there is often little social interaction. Residents complain about emergence of working class ghettos, “little Aleppos”, while NGOs note that “Turkish people have started to avoid avenues that they see Syrians as having taken over”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Muzaffer Baca, International Blue Crescent, Istanbul, June 2016.Hide Footnote  The potential for tension also varies province to province based on economic, demographic and cultural considerations.[fn]Few refugees spoken to in Kilis February-March 2016, from children to elderly, had Turkish friends. Crisis Group interview, Muzaffer Baca, International Blue Crescent, Istanbul, June 2016. Gaziantep, economically vibrant and already diverse, is generally regarded as comfortable for Syrians of different ethnic and sectarian identity. One from there said, “we do not feel the urge to hide our ethnic/religious identities because Turkish people treat us as Syrians, not as Kurdish-Syrians, or Christian Syrians or Alawite Syrians”. However, refugees Crisis Group talked to in Gaziantep did not think they would be so comfortable in Hatay, where there is a sizeable local Alawite population.Hide Footnote  Particularly Kurdish nationalists, Alevis and secularists fear that if Syrians stay, society will become more distinctly Sunni conservative, further marginalising religious minorities, liberals, leftists and others who feel threatened by what they see as increased consolidation of a Sunni national identity under AKP.

Border provinces are particularly prone to tensions, though there have been efforts to restrain and hush them.[fn]This was confirmed in Crisis Group interviews, Metin Çorabatır (ex-UNHCR spokesperson) and UNDP. “There is a risk of tension between refugee and host community, particularly in provinces where the Syrian population is most concentrated. The host community says they can’t speak the same language, and do not fit in; Turkish citizens say the hospital lines have grown too much, the labour market has become harder to penetrate, they can’t find jobs, university seats are taken away.” Crisis Group Skype interview, UNDP representatives based in Ankara, 24 October 2016.Hide Footnote Host community resentments increased in summer 2016, first after the citizenship prospect was voiced, then after the coup attempt. Manifestation is limited to sporadic violent flare-ups, but the potential is evident.[fn]There was sporadic violence against Syrians in Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep in June 2016. On 17 July 2016, following the coup attempt, a group that organised through social media burnt workplaces and homes of Syrian refugees in Ankara’s Altındağ district. Riot police used tear gas to break up ensuing violence. Suriyeli Mültecilerin Dükkanlarına Saldırı” [“Shops of Syrian refugees attacked”] Milliyet, 17 July 2016. An attack on a street in Konya populated by refugees injured five Syrians. “Can nöbeti … Alevilere taciz Suriyeliye linç” [“Life watch … Alevis harassed, Syrians lynched”], Cumhuriyet, 18 July 2016. Hide Footnote

A. The Growing Anti-refugee Sentiment

Particularly after the 2014-2015 influx and realisation of the problem’s long-term nature, the broad-based, positive “having guests” sentiment gradually began to fade. Surveys repeatedly find a widely-held view that refugees are a burden. In 2013 nearly 60 per cent of the population thought immigration negatively impacted tourism, labour and the economy broadly. A seminal 2014 study underscored these findings as well as the cultural distance and other insurmountable barriers to integration host communities perceived. Over 80 per cent of respondents opposed citizenship; roughly 70 per cent wanted more restrictive policies, even sending Syrians home.[fn]Transatlantic Trends: Topline Data, 2013. The German Marshall Fund of the U.S. (GMF), http://trends.gmfus.org/transatlantic-trends-2013/. Murat Erdoğan, “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration Research”, Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre (HUGO), November 2014.Hide Footnote

Far less welcoming of Syrians as neighbours than guests, 81 per cent of the public believes they have not integrated well. A push by political leaders for such integration would likely be unpopular, because the public has not wanted to hear that the refugees will stay. Opposition parties have started to point out, as did CHP deputy head Veli Ağbaba, that the high rate of Syrian children not going to school holds “the danger of a lost generation. They will exponentially join crime waves. We are at a critical juncture to prevent this by urgently integrating them in our education system and providing vocational training”.[fn]Turkish Perceptions Survey, GMF, 2015, pp. 12-13, www.gmfus.org/sites/default/ files/TurkeySurvey_2015_web1.pdf. Crisis Group interview, Metin Çorabatır, ex-UNHCR spokesperson, Ankara, June 2016. “CHP Genel Başkan Yardımcısı Ağbaba: Sığınmacıların tamamı güvencesiz bir şekilde çalışıyorlar” [“CHP Deputy Chairman Ağbaba: All refugees are working without protection”], Anadolu Agency, 20 June 2016.Hide Footnote  The burden on services, declining job opportunities, deteriorating trade relations in regions nearest to Syria and fear of refugees as a security risk are complaints voters share irrespective of party.

1. Refugees as an economic burden

With approximately 3.5 million Turkish citizens unemployed, resentment is high about Syrians competing for jobs, mostly in the informal sector, where they are willing to work for lower pay. In Izmir, disgruntled citizens pointed out that seasonal (unskilled) workers used to get 50 TL a day (around $16), but Syrians accepted 30 TL (around $10); others said shoemakers used to hire out for 80 TL (around $25), but Syrians do the work for 12 TL (around $4). Syrians are also seen as favoured in public services, for example using health facilities, unlike citizens, for free and without paying into social security. Reaction to the citizenship idea and social benefits that Syrians but not low-income Turkish citizens enjoy showed the potential for serious backlash, from not only opposition but also AKP constituencies.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, citizens, NGOs, Izmir, February 2016. “Suriyelilere vatandaşlık: AKP seçmeni ne diyor?” [“Citizenship for Syrians: What do AKP voters say?”], BBC Turkish, 13 July 2016.Hide Footnote

Border provinces, especially Hatay, were particularly hit by border closures, though there was compensation in some, such as Gaziantep, where Syrians enlivened the economy as consumers and cheap labour and money flowed in from Syrian businessmen abroad and international aid bodies.[fn]Trade with Syria was restored at some border gates, as Turkish commercial trucks were able to unload at the border (primarily food items and construction materials) and subsequently reload on to Syrian trucks. This was the case, for example, at the Öncüpınar border crossing, Kilis province, which Crisis Group visited in March 2016.Hide Footnote  Landowners, taxi drivers and construction managers who employ manual workers told Crisis Group their net economic balance was positive.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Gaziantep and Kilis, March 2016.Hide Footnote  Economists say refugees buy goods such as refrigerators, cooking equipment, cooking oil, flour and building material, so contribute to growth. The flipside is inflation in regions with many refugees tops the national average.[fn]“Turkish economy grows 4.8 per cent in first quarter”, Hürriyet Daily News, 10 June 2016. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, inflation was a percentage point higher in Gaziantep. “Syrian refugees boost Turkish economy, but for how long?”, Al Monitor, 6 April 2016.Hide Footnote

Hardest hit have arguably been unskilled construction and agricultural workers, as well as those in textile workshops. The potential for friction is highest among such groups, first of all because they compete for the same jobs and public assistance, but also because such positions were largely held by Kurds who had previously moved from south-east Anatolia to western city outskirts, and thus ethnic, ideological fault lines also exist.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Turkish businessman and philanthropist, Istanbul, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Municipalities where many refugees have settled complain they do not receive additional money from Ankara to help with the burden and are not included in refugee-related decisions.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, municipal representatives, Hatay, Istanbul and Izmir districts, January-June 2016. UNDP representatives said, “municipalities tried to extend services but some got overstretched …. they say they have trouble obtaining additional resources to cover the financial burden of the Syrians they now accommodate, and they are not a party to the programs devised at central [Ankara] level”. Crisis Group Skype interview, October 2016.Hide Footnote  They can access international funds on a project basis, but their budget from the central government should be adjusted to the refugee numbers they serve. A Municipal Law amendment to do this was drafted in April but not sent to parliament.

To reduce host community concerns, the positive economic aspects should be better communicated. The paid-in capital of Syrian-owned businesses in Turkey was about $220 million in 2015. As of March 2016, Syrians in Gaziantep had established over 600 businesses.[fn]The dollar figure does not include informal firms and money invested directly through real estate deals, front-company transactions, etc. “The impact of Syrian businesses in Turkey”, Brookings Institution, 16 March 2016. According to Gaziantep’s Chamber of Trade, Syrians had established 614 businesses (mainly in the textile, logistic, footwear and plastic sectors). Gaziantep province hosts some 350,000 refugees, the most after Istanbul. “Over 600 businesses owned and operated by Syrian refugees in Turkey’s Gaziantep”, Hürriyet Daily News, 15 March 2016.Hide Footnote  It is also important to explore the trickle-down benefits of international aid used to help border provinces on host communities. This may be less significant in terms of consumption or trade increase, but more significant where the strengthening of infrastructure (eg, renovation/upgrade of public schools, improved technology in health services, better waste water management etc.) is concerned.

2. Refugees as a security risk

Host communities widely see Syrians as a security risk. Jihadists connected to radical networks active in the war are suspected to have penetrated Turkey, taking advantage of the open border policy. This perception was exacerbated when an IS-linked suicide bomber registered as a refugee killed ten German tourists in Istanbul’s historic centre in January. Hatay residents from different walks of life, including aid NGOs who work with refugee children and hospitals, say militants/rebels cross the border for logistics, training and medical care; some name schools they say only (Syrian) martyr children can attend and hospitals where only fighters and their families are accepted and assert the funding sources are unknown.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Hatay, June 2016.Hide Footnote  The Turkish intelligence agency gives the police and offices responsible for registering Syrians who apply for temporary protection names of suspected members of terrorist organisations, but forged identity documents are not hard to obtain, and not all Syrians register.

Harassment and petty crime also cause concern. Locals as diverse as a mother with a fourteen-year old daughter in Istanbul and a taxi driver in Hatay complained about too many “young Syrian men on the streets with nothing to do” and that Syrian men have a different upbringing, are relatively unchecked and drive cars with Syrian license plates that cannot be traced.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Gaziantep, Adana, Istanbul, Kilis, February-March 2016.Hide Footnote  According to a 2014 study, 62 per cent of respondents also believe Syrians in Turkey distort social order and moral values by criminal activity (such as violence, theft, smuggling and prostitution). However, official statistics reveal that the impact of refugees on crime rates is low. According to the police, only 0.33 per cent of Syrians (33 in 10,000) were involved in criminal activity between 2011 and June 2014. According to its governor, Syrians were involved in 2015 in only 1.3 per cent of all criminal cases registered in Gaziantep, where around 220,000 reside.[fn]Murat Erdoğan, “Syrians in Turkey”, op. cit. The percentage of foreign nationals in Turkish prisons has been 1.6-1.8 per cent between 2011 and 2014. Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), www.tuik.gov.tr/PreHaberBultenleri.do?id=18689. “Suriyelilerin adli olaylara karışma oranı on binde 33” [“Ratio of Syrians involved in crime, 33 in 10,000”], Anadolu Agency, 19 September 2014. “Suriyeli Misafirlerimize yönelik çalıştay düzenlendi” [“Workshop organised for our Syrian guests”], Gaziantep Provincial Directorate for Disasters and Emergencies website, December 2015.Hide Footnote

In addition to the sheer weight of the new situation with large numbers of for-eigners suddenly being highly visible in the communities, rumours, xenophobia and deeply rooted anti-Arab sentiments have most likely led to the misconception that Syrian refugees are violent and inclined to criminality. Isolated acts bear a serious risk of being attributed to all Syrians, creating potential for violent reactions from host communities. To counter this prejudice and combat widespread group stereotypes, the government should devise policies and initiate information campaigns that reflect the diversity of the country’s Syrian population.

B. Identity and Demographic Balance Concerns

Mistrusting the state/AKP, various minority communities believe the government is strategically settling refugees so as to weaken voter blocs in districts known to support the opposition on sectarian or ethnic grounds. They consider Syrians a threat to Turkey’s demographic balance and an instrument by which to reshape its national identity.

Minorities ranging from Alevis and Kurds to secularists worry that long-term refugee settlement will mean their own further marginalisation in neighbourhoods and districts where they have been dominant. The risk of changes to the character of their hometowns is commonly voiced, such as “our women feel like they have to dress more conservatively; if they vote in local elections this place will fall under AKP control; they are ruining our social cohesion”. The suspicion that President Erdoğan will use Syrian votes to tip elections in his favour fuels this negative disposition.[fn]“Sığınmacıları kullanarak demografik yapıyı bozacaklar: Oy vermiyorsanız oy vereni buluruz!” [“They are going to use the refugees to disrupt the demographic structure: If you do not vote for us, we will find those who will!”], Birgün, 31 March 2016.Hide Footnote

Residents of provinces such as Kahramanmaraş, Diyarbakır and Izmir have alleged the government aims to change demographics with camps or subsidised residential complexes for Syrians. The claims of refugees crowding out Turkish minorities became entangled with the debate over the March 2016 EU-Turkey refugee agreement because it was announced that six camps would be built with EU financial aid. In April-July, speculation spread that they would be in strongly secularist Dikili (Izmir province) and majority Alevi areas such as Sivricehöyük village (Kahramanmaraş province), Divriği, İmranlı, Dara, Zara, Hafik, Yıldızeli (Sivas province) and Mazgirt (Tunceli province). Though authorities say these allegations are groundless, they have not released information about where the camps will be, except for Sivricehöyük, where construction is underway. While distrust of AKP is important in shaping these fears, so is history. The spokesperson of the pro-Kurdish HDP explained:[fn]Crisis Group interview, Ayhan Bilgen, HDP parliamentarian, Ankara, 14 June 2016.Hide Footnote

Historical memories are evoked by the systematic relocation plans of the political leadership. There are many examples in our history of forced movements of polit-ical nature. In the ’50s and ’60s, Kurds were moved to the [western] provinces and tensions with residents erupted.

1. Sectarian cleavages

Turkey’s Alevi community, between 15 and 20 per cent of the total population, has been especially concerned about the settlement and permanence of Syrian refugees. Secular-minded, it has always distrusted parties representing political Islam and traditionally votes for CHP. Its fear of religious extremism is rooted in experience of violence. Where Alevis were historically concentrated in Anatolia, such incidents ended with relocation and a much diminished presence in old hometowns.[fn]In the 2012 elections, some 75 per cent of Alevis are thought to have voted CHP; in the 2015 elections, according to Crisis Group interviews, Alevi community leaders (Ankara, June 2016), Alevi families are thought to have split votes between HDP and CHP strategically to ensure HDP would pass the 10 per cent electoral threshold, and AKP would not secure an absolute majority. According to a Washington Institute article, AKP parliamentarian Mustafa Albayrak, while discussing the demand for government support for houses of worship (cemevis), said that would “open the path for subsidies to devil worshippers”. “Turkey’s Slow-Burning Alevi Unrest”, 24 March 2014. Zeidan, David. “The Alevi of Anatolia.” Middle East Review of International Affairs 3.4 (1999), pp. 74-89.Hide Footnote

Alevis have long-standing demands and security concerns that AKP governments have not met.[fn]See Crisis Group Europe Report N°230, The Rising Costs of Turkey’s Syrian Quagmire, 30 April 2014, p. 25.Hide Footnote  They have little representation in the upper echelons of the party, feel discriminated against because their houses of worship (cemevis) lack legal status and complain of derogatory language and lack of protection from the state and government. Recently, they were alarmed because the Bosphorus Bridge opened in August was named for Yavuz Sultan Selim, a sixteenth century Ottoman ruler who massacred tens of thousands of Alevis. The legacy of such massacres has made many especially sensitive to speculation since January about refugee resettlement.[fn]Between 1937 and 1938, the state put down a suspected rebellion in what many consider a “Turkification” campaign in Tunceli province, killing well over 10,000 and exiling many more. In a 2011 official apology, President Erdoğan said the operation was “planned step by step” and “one of the most tragic events in our near history”. The next major incident occurred in Kahramanmaraş, where an attack on a right-wing cinema on 19 December 1978 escalated into a week of reprisals on Alevi neighbourhoods and establishments during which 100 lives, 100 homes and 200 shops were lost. In Sivas on 2 July 1993, 35 people, mostly Alevis, attending the cultural Pir Sultan Abdal festival were burned to death in a hotel by local Sunnis.Hide Footnote  The head of a prominent Alevi NGO, asserted: “Alevis will not feel safe and will move from these areas, so the settlements will amount to displacement”.[fn]“The Turkish state is using the refugees to change the demographic structure of the population to benefit itself. They are planning to settle refugees in provinces where there is Alevi concentration.… So why place them in an area that will cause tension. Their culture and traditions are not harmonious”. Crisis Group interview, chairman of an Alevi association based in Ankara, 15 June 2016.Hide Footnote

General Alevi distrust has been exacerbated by the government’s stance on the war in Syria. AKP’s categorical anti-Assad position carries sectarian insinuations from the Alevi perspective. After the May 2013 bombing in the border town of Reyhanlı, President Erdoğan, assuming pro-Assad elements were responsible, said, “53 of my Sunni citizens were martyred”.[fn]“Erdoğan: Reyhanlı’da 53 Sunni Vatandaşımız Şehit Edildi!” [“Erdoğan: 53 of Our Sunni Citizens have been Martyred in Reyhanlı”], Radikal, 14 June 2013.Hide Footnote  It was later discovered that IS was responsible, and Erdoğan’s words came to symbolise his disposition to think in us vs. them terms, geared at exclusively protecting Sunnis.

Besides Sunnification of society, a widespread Alevi concern is that refugees will be particularly hostile to them since they are escaping an Alawite regime.[fn]Alevis and Alawites have commonalities; both are variants of Shia Islam, and members of both communities tend to oppose Islamist ideology and governance. However, they are distinct in historical evolution, culture, and religious practices. Alawites in Turkey are of Arab ethnic origin, are concentrated mostly in the province of Hatay, have close ties to Syrian Alawites and are estimated to total less than one million. Alevis, of both Kurdish and Turkish ethnic origin, reside mostly in central and eastern Anatolia, as well as in cities in the west of Turkey, and are estimated to total between fifteen and twenty million.Hide Footnote  Fear that Syria’s sectarian conflict could spill into Turkey, resulting in local confrontations, is particularly pronounced in the border province of Hatay, where approximately half the population is Arab Alawite, with close historic and economic connections to the Syrian Alawites. At the peak of the refugee influx, some Alawite villages in the Samandağ district of Hatay apparently armed themselves to prevent refugees from entering. They say they fear both jihadist infiltration and that real refugees might consider them an extension of the Syrian president’s clan and attack them. “Many refugees hold Alawites responsible for the civil war”, a local elected official said. “Sectarian conflict may be triggered”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Hatay, June 2016. Alawites there said they had links with the Syrian Alawites across the border, were not sympathetic to President Bashar al-Assad but were more concerned about ascendance of jihadists and Sunni militants than continuation of his rule. Mehmet Caner, local elected Sivricehöyük official, quoted in “Turkish villagers rally against refugee plans, citing fears of Sunni extremists”, Hürriyet, 7 April 2016.Hide Footnote

In February 2016, bidding began for construction of a settlement camp to house 25,000-27,000 refugees on a field next to Sivricehöyük, one of 24 Alevi villages of Dulkadiroğlu district in Kahramanmaraş province. The village of around 3,000, joined by Alevi associations from across the country, organised days of protests. Construction began in March, and in April protestors clashed with the local gendarmerie. The movement received support from several members of opposition parties and social media campaigns such as #OvamaDokunma (#Don’tTouchMyField). The province’s governorate banned the protests in June. The dispute is delicate, because coming across as anti-refugee is also a turn-off for voters. When HDP Co-chair Demirtaş supported the protestors, pro-government media attacked him as anti-refugee, and he defended the protestors as opposed not to the refugees but rather to AKP’s ill-intentions.[fn]“Turkey: Container Cities, Uprooting Alevis, Fear of Infiltrating Jihadists”. Gatestone Institute, 26 April 2016. “Demirtaş ‘Mültecileri istemiyoruz’ eylemcilerini savundu”, Sabah, op. cit.Hide Footnote

Claims of similar projects for Divriği, Sivas and Mazgırt, Tunceli circulated in government-critical outlets. An online platform published a letter allegedly from the governor of Sivas to the mayor of Divriği in April asking him to “urgently” find a site for a camp in line with the EU deal.[fn]“Maraş’tan sonra Sivas Divriği: Alevi Nüfusu Yoğun Ilçeye Mülteci Kampı Hazırlığı” [“After Maraş is Diviriği, Sivas: Plans for a Refugee Camp in Alevi Majority District”], Diken, 12 May 2016.Hide Footnote In response to speculation about a camp in Mazgirt, the district mayor said:[fn]“Valilik açıkladı, Tunceli’de sığınmacı kampı kurulmuyor” [“Governorate announcement: No refugee camp to be built in Tunceli”], CNN Türk, 2 June 2016. District Mayor Tekin Türkel is of the leftist ÖDP (Freedom and Solidarity Party). His reaction was followed by a governorate statement that no refugee camp was planned in Tunceli.Hide Footnote

If the region is to be alienated or changed in line with [some people’s] own stra-tegic aims and political understandings, nobody will accept this. A camp here would mean the death of the beliefs, experiences of the people …. No state or power can play games on this geography or beliefs of a people.

Authorities and AKP representatives deny there is a systematic assimilation and disruption policy and stress there is no political agenda behind placement of refugee camps. Given historical traumas and identity cleavages as they relate to the war in Syria, however, opting not to locate settlements near Alevi communities would be prudent. Moreover, the government should engage with local communities that have identity-related fears about refugee infiltration into their neighbourhoods. Decisions on refugees and camps are made centrally and coordinated with appointed governors of the provinces, while locals say they feel imposed upon, particularly because no one has established dialogue with them and listened to their security and other concerns. The absence of communication channels and transparency over refugee settlement creates grounds for speculation, much of it unfounded, to multiply.

2. Kurds, Liberals and Secularists

The Kurdish communities in Turkey, particularly those sympathetic to the Kurdish national movement, have their own reasons to be critical of Ankara’s Syria policy. They view it as bent on containing Syrian Kurds, specifically the PYD, from gaining ground in northern Syria. Much like Alevis, they also see refugees as a security and political risk and worry they will be settled in the restive Kurdish majority districts in the south east. Those districts traditionally support the Kurdish movement and vote HDP, some with an electoral margin that might be disrupted if Syrians could vote.

Clashes between PKK urban militia forces and state security have led to displacement of over 300,000 Kurds and to suspicion that rapid demographic transformation would follow. Memories of assimilation policies toward Kurds in the ’80s and ’90s have led to fears reconstruction would be part of efforts to, “change the demographic structure, and balance out the Kurdish population”.[fn]CHP Istanbul parliamentary deputy Erdoğan Toprak in his report on Turkey’s refugees. “Türkiye’nin yeni seçmenleri: Suriyeliler” [“Turkey’s new voters: Syrians”], Deutsche Welle, 18 March 2016.Hide Footnote

Secularist segments of the population share a version of this sentiment. “Handpicked groups are being distinctly relocated … [to] traditionally CHP voting places”, that party’s deputy chairman and spokesperson said. “I talk to people there who would normally be open to refugees because they are social democratic and liberal, but they think the ruling party is settling refugees to change voting figures in their district, gerrymandering, so they are adamantly opposed to refugee settlements”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Selin Sayek Böke, Ankara, 13 June 2016.Hide Footnote  Plans for a temporary detention centre in Dikili, Izmir created an outcry among residents in spring 2016. The facility, to temporarily house up to 72,000 refugees returned to Turkey under the March 2016 EU agreement, would be 110km from the centre of Izmir, a CHP stronghold. Dikili residents Crisis Group interviewed in April 2016 noted news of similar plans for centres in the tourist hub of Çeşme; despite an assurance from former Governor Mustafa Toprak that refugees will be transferred from the centre within 24 hours, many expressed fear of long-term effects.

Pro-refugee local NGO representatives say the city’s residents, fearing heightened security risks and cultural dissonance, were unwelcoming and urged the government to host refugees elsewhere.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Kadir Beyaztaş, assistant general coordinator, Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), 15 June 2016.Hide Footnote  The Izmir metropolitan municipality and some district municipalities have refused to provide services or had no resources for refugees.

Ideologically-based mistrust of the government is at the centre of these threat perceptions, but the result is a closed mindset about humanitarian approaches toward refugees and unwillingness to acknowledge practical economic reasons for their settlement in Western metropolitan centres where job opportunities are higher. Some experts try to de-politicise the debate:[fn]Crisis Group interview, migration expert, Ankara, June 2016.Hide Footnote

There is indeed an emotional closeness to President Erdoğan. Syrians in Turkey name their babies after him, but deducing from this they are strategically being instrumentalised is a stretch. The fear voting rights will be granted … to bring about a favourable outcome for AKP has been there since 2011. Secularists see Arabic writing all around in the big cities … as a sign secularism is under threat. Alevis in Hatay fear Sunni Syrians will take control of the province. While the re-sult may be Sunnification in some cases, how much is deliberate, how much inev-itable is hard to know. Particularly if naturalised, the Syrians cannot easily be moved here and there; … they won’t agree to move where they do not want to.

Systematic intercommunal dialogue between Turkish citizens and Syrians can also help disperse the notion the latter are a homogeneous group that will unconditionally support Erdoğan and his agenda. A targeted government communication strategy is needed to comprehensively explain policies, approaches and dilemmas to the public so as to pre-empt misunderstandings which may feed tensions among host communities.

IV. Political Polarisation and Opposition Conundrums

Turkish National Assembly. WIKIMEDIA/Maurice Flesier

Polarisation of society, with almost half the nation deeply concerned about the president’s consolidation of power and interpreting every government move in that context, is an obstacle to healthy debate on any issue. That parties have distinct identity-based constituencies, ethnic, sectarian and cultural, renders discussion of refugee integration even more politically charged. Belief that Syrians would vote for the AKP if citizens further impedes constructive discourse.[fn]This is exacerbated by social polarisation. 74 per cent of survey respondents did not want their children to play with those of parents who vote for another party. “Turkey: Divided We Stand”, GMF, April 2016.Hide Footnote

Absence of productive dialogue is not specific to the refugee crisis. For almost a decade, AKP and opposition parties have been unable to come together constructively. Almost every issue is seen in zero sum terms. This polarised national scene gives the CHP, MHP and HDP no incentive to ease the government’s challenges with respect to the refugees, and trying to represent the sensitivities of their diverse constituencies makes it even more difficult for them to be forthcoming about integration. The main opposition party’s spokesperson said:[fn]Crisis Group interview, Selin Sayek Böke, CHP spokesperson, Ankara, June 2016.Hide Footnote

It is necessary to prepare the public, but we cannot do this because of the increas-ingly ingrained political polarisation. There cannot be an open national debate based on rational parameters such as security, services or the labour market. Everything is perceived in the framework of polarisation.

Opposition parties at large view the refugee issue as AKP’s fault, due to an unsound Syria policy they consider ideologically motivated: unequivocal in opposition to Assad, vigorous in support of anti-Assad armed Sunni rebels and lenient toward IS, at least until 2014.[fn]Deputy CHP head Veli Ağbaba said in parliament, “the underlying reason for the refugee crisis having deepened so much is the wrong and short-sighted Syria policy of the AKP. What the AKP calls strategic depth, has in Syria – just like around the world – gotten stuck in the muddle. The AKP with a sectarian approach and with dreams of ‘reaching Damascus in three hours’ has incited the war in Syria by demonstrating it is unable to read foreign policy and international [power] balances …”, www.tbmm.gov.tr/tutanak/donem26/yil1/ham/b10401h.htm, 21 June 2016.Hide Footnote  In the run-up to the June 2015 elections, the leader of the CHP, the main opposition party, promised, without articulating a clear plan, to end the war if elected and send Syrians back home, where they would be happier.[fn]“CHP’s latest election promise of sending back Syrian refugees in Turkey comes under criticism”, Daily Sabah, 23 April 2016. Earlier CHP statements followed the same line. “CHP head pledges to get Turkey out of troubling situation”, Hürriyet Daily News, 11 June 2015.Hide Footnote

Opposition parties also face the conundrum that while most of the public does not support permanent residence, it shares the pride in contrasting Turkey’s compassion with what is widely viewed in the country as European Islamophobia. This dichotomy contributes to the incoherence of public positions, because it is politically expedient neither to appear anti-refugee, nor to engage on proposals to facilitate long-term integration.

Complex voting bases also limit opposition party manoeuvrability. CHP, which wins some one fourth of the total vote, has a secularist-minded urban constituency and strong Alevi support base in east/central Anatolia and western provinces.[fn]The CHP won 25.4 per cent of the vote in the November 2015 election, second after AKP’s 49.4 per cent. “Turkey election: Ruling AKP regains majority”, BBC, 2 November 2015.Hide Footnote  It tries both to respond to the perception of Alevi and urban middle class secularist supporters that refugees threaten their identity and safety and also to find sustainable solutions. A CHP parliamentarian explained: “Our hands are tied. When we publically vocalise the concerns of an Alevi village, for example, this is used against us to brand us as taking the side of Alevis, which [is] a turn off for the support we get from the Sunni population”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, CHP parliamentarian, June 2016. There have been cases in the past when President Erdoğan used the Alevi roots of the CHP chairman to ILGILENICEM BUNLA YARIN, YETISMIYOR VAKTIM SIMDI id citizenship would be granted to refugees suggests that there is more potentiundermine the party’s appeal among mainstream majority-Sunni voters.Hide Footnote  After the 2015 elections, representatives started emphasising the need to come to terms with the reality that most Syrians would stay, so must be integrated. A June 2016 report by the party’s refugee research commission drew attention to the mounting integration challenges and outlined recommendations, including that efforts should be coordinated by establishing a Migration Ministry, and that the geographic limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention should be lifted.[fn]www.igamder.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SINIRLAR-ARASINDA-BASKI2.pdfHide Footnote

The MHP has grappled with a similar dilemma: to be supportive of Ankara’s open door policy while appealing to its nationalist, security-conscious, West-sceptic constituency. Before the June 2015 elections, its leadership emphasised the huge economic cost of Syrian refugees and said Turkey could face higher crime rates due to the increasing numbers. A helping hand for “guests” is right, the party chairman said, but not turning Turkey into a depot of refugees to serve European interests, and certainly not giving them the right to live here permanently.[fn]“Toplumsal Onarım ve Huzurlu Gelecek: Bizimle Yürü Türkiye” [“Social Repair and Peaceful Future: Walks with Turkey”], MHP official website, 7 June 2015. “Bahçeli: Hükümetin yanındayız” [“Bahçeli: We are with the government”], Takvim, 26 April 2016.Hide Footnote  The MHP has also been particularly vocal about the security threats refugees may pose:[fn]“Ne kadar bela varsa, Türk düşmanlığında birleştirdiler” [“All the menaces out there came together in enmity to Turks”], Doğan News Agency, 19 February 2016, citing deputy head Celal Adan.Hide Footnote

… refugees have definitely turned into a national security problem. The issue of uncontrolled Syrians is a matter of survival for Turkey. Is there any guarantee that in the short, medium, or long-term all these people will not become pawns/tools of terrorist organisations or enemies of Turkey?

Pro-Kurdish HDP purports to side with the downtrodden but needs also to be receptive to a left-leaning constituency that is inherently against Ankara’s Syria policy and concerned about Arabisation and rising Sunni Islamism in Turkey. Its June 2015 election program urged lifting the geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which it considered a violation of the right to life of millions who fled war and suffering, and emphasised refugee integration.[fn]http://www.hdp.org.tr/images/UserFiles/Documents/Editor/HDP%20Se%C3%A7im%20Bildirgesi%20Tam%20Metin.pdfHide Footnote  Reflecting concerns of Kurdish host communities, however, it has also alleged that Ankara does demographic engineering by settling Sunni-Arab Syrians in majority Kurdish and Alevi provincial centres and rural areas and cited concerns of jihadist activity in camps.[fn]Explaining the party position, co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said, “… you [the government] are the ones who are going to send 27,000 Sunni Syrians to Maraş Pazarcık, an area with a total Alevi population of 3,000. Camps will be built in Dikili, Çeşme …. to achieve a sectarian change …. You [the government] are not opening refugee camps to independent monitoring. There are serious allegations… of IS and Nusra receiving training there. There are claims they massacre [people] in Syria, then come back to these camps [and commit] sexual abuse, prostitution, rape …. are we not right to look for other aims here?”. “Demirtaş’tan Bahçeli’ye: Kan görünce yanaklarına can geliyor [“Demirtaş to Bahçeli: When you see blood your cheeks flush”], Cumhuriyet, 5 April 2016.Hide Footnote

Judging by their evolving discourse, each party has recently begun to come to terms with the reality that most Syrians will stay in Turkey. However, and despite engagement between AKP, CHP and MHP on national security issues such as the operations against what the state calls FETÖ/PDY, dialogue on the thorny refugee issues has not begun. In the meantime, engagement with HDP is virtually absent, with the party marginalised by the government because of alleged PKK ties, and ten of its deputies arrested in November 2016, including its two co-chairs. The concerns and proposals of all parliamentary opposition parties should be seriously addressed so as to alleviate legitimate concerns of their constituencies, safeguard social cohesion and avert inter-communal conflict.

V. Protection, Integration versus Citizenship

Refugee camp in Kilis, south-central Turkey. WIKIMEDIA/AFAD

When speculation that refugees would acquire citizenship first arose before the 2014 local elections, opposition parliamentarians submitted written inquiries, asking for clarification on the plans regarding the legal status of the Syrians. Authorities and rights-based NGOs issued press statements that the speculation was unfounded and intended to create a climate of hatred and resentment against refugees. The speculation indeed appeared groundless, until the president unexpectedly announced in July 2016 that citizenship would be granted to Syrians currently under temporary protection.[fn]“Suriyeliler 30 Mart’ta oy kullanacak mı?” [“Will Syrians vote on 30 March?”], HaberTürk, 5 February 2014. “MÜLTECİ-DER’den Suriyeli mültecilerin oy kullanma iddiasına yanıt” [“Response from MÜLTECİ-DER [Association for Solidarity with Refugees] on the allegation that Syrian refugees will vote”], Bianet, 28 March 2014. “Turkey plans to offer citizenship to Syrian refugees”, The Telegraph, 3 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Nationalist sentiments against refugees and allegations of a secret AKP agenda to increase its vote base increased and dominated politics until the coup attempt in mid-month. The hashtag #ÜlkemdeSuriyeliİstemiyorum (#IDon’tWantSyriansInMyCountry) started trending worldwide.

The AKP incrementally nuanced the citizenship prospect, emphasising it would depend on criteria for naturalising only 300,000 Syrians and their families, chosen for educational or technical skills to contribute to the economy. It also underlined that meticulous security checks would be performed to ensure that candidates had no criminal record or connection to terrorist networks. The interior ministry was reported to be working on a dual citizenship formula and a concept of “exceptional citizenship” for those and their families who could make “extraordinary” contributions in “industrial investments, science, technology, economy, sports, arts and culture”.[fn]Tolga Şardan, “Suriyelilere ‘istisnai vatandaşlık’ formülü” [“Formula of ‘exceptional citizenship’ for Syrians”], Milliyet, 15 July 2016.Hide Footnote

The declaration that Syrians would be granted citizenship presented opposition parties with a clear opportunity, given the prospect’s unpopularity. The CHP called for a referendum. The MHP leader, playing the nationalist card, said, “our citizens are Turkish, our homeland is Turkish, and our future will be Turkish”. HDP leader Demirtaş initially called for a referendum but reversed himself, saying basic human rights and liberties issues could not be put to a vote. AKP representatives have strongly objected to allegations of electoral calculations and emphasised the party’s humanitarian intent.[fn]“Muhalefetten ‘Suriyelilere vatandaşlık’ tepkisi [“Opposition’s Response to Citizenship for Syrians”], Al Jazeera Türk, 12 July 2016. “I also want to correct a mistake I made in our parliamentary group meeting: I wrongly expressed a matter not the official policy position of our party. I did injustice to these people by saying it should be put up for a referendum. A referendum cannot be held in matters concerning fundamental rights and freedoms”. “Demirtaş: Referandum diyerek haksızlık yaptım” [“Demirtaş: I did injustice calling for a referendum”], Al Jazeera Türk, 14 July 2016. “The AKP looks at the refugee issue only from a humanitarian and protective point of view, not a ‘political gains’ perspective. … Those who claim that this is our strategy … are trying to fuel tensions”. Crisis Group interview, Afif Demirkıran, AKP member of parliament, Istanbul, September 2016.Hide Footnote

Syrians’ current status is not sustainable. Once obtained, there is no time limit for their temporary protection, but there is no clear legal provision on how those under temporary protection can transfer to permanent legal status. The only options for acquiring long-term residency are to apply for a legal short-term residence permit or find an employer willing to sponsor a work permit. Both are time consuming, expensive and subject to bureaucratic obstacles. Moreover, as explained above, Syrians in Turkey lack incentive to try to become part of the formal labour market. It appears the government recognises the problem but does not know how to resolve it.[fn]“There is no clear idea how to solve the issue, so the president, as in other instances, throws something onto the agenda, and gauges … reactions”. Crisis Group interview, Turkish migration expert, Ankara, September 2016.Hide Footnote

As many Syrians still say they would like to go home once the war ends, policy-makers insist they must keep options open. “As long as the future of Syria is uncertain, their expectations as well as our policies will remain ambiguous”, a senior bureaucrat said. An AKP parliamentarian, however, said citizenship would close the door neither for Syrians to go home nor go to Europe. Syrians do not believe citizenship will be available anytime soon.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Ankara, September 2016; Afif Demirkıran, AKP MP, Istanbul, September 2016; Syrian refugee, Istanbul, October 2016.Hide Footnote  From an international norms and human rights perspective, Turkey should recognise the refugee status of those who qualify based on country-of-origin circumstances. This would require lifting its geographical limitation to the 1951 Refugee Convention, not only for Syrians but also for other nationalities, and strengthening its individual protection system and administrative capacity to process asylum applications.[fn]Human rights organisations draw attention to Turkey’s preferential treatment of some migrant groups and neglect of others. Amnesty International reported Turkey hosts more than 400,000 non-Syrian refugees, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Iran, Somalia and Palestine. While Syrians can apply to the state for temporary protection, others can apply for international protection via UNHCR, a multi-year process during which they have only limited state protection. Ankara’s policy has been criticised as preferential based on migrant groups’ ethnic and religious traits. Following the announcement of possible citizenship for Syrians, the interior minister said Ankara would grant citizenship to around 17,000 Ahiskan Turks and justified this by reference to common ethnic roots. “Güvenli Olmayan Sığınak” [“Unsafe Shelter”], Amnesty International, July 2016.Hide Footnote  However, Ankara is unlikely to take this step, as it is concerned it might encourage so many new refugees that the country would face unmanageable administrative and economic burdens.[fn]Experts Crisis Group interviewed said Turkey’s approach is becoming obsolete, as migrants from third countries will come irrespective of whether Ankara maintains the geographical limitation. Crisis Group interviews, Ankara, October 2016.Hide Footnote

Policy should thus prioritise sustainable integration, with or without citizenship.

It is uncertain whether the government will open fast-track naturalisation, but it is clear that doing so could cause problems. Granting Syrians citizenship without targeted integration policies or applying different criteria to them than to non-Syrians could be seen as unfair by both host communities and third-country refugees. President Erdoğan acknowledged the risks at the 2016 UN General Assembly: “We initiated the process of citizenship for the refugees …. This brings about social risk problems. We took this risk and do not regret it”.[fn]“Cumhurbaşkanı Erdoğan: Vatandaşlık sürecini başlattık” [“President Erdoğan: We have initiated the citizenship process”], Sabah, 20 September 2016.Hide Footnote  But it is essential to give Syrians a long-term perspective in some form, with clearly-defined steps and conditions for meaningful integration in education, the labour market and social life.

If the citizenship vision is to be pursued, it needs to be done with more clarity. Reactions of host communities show the necessity of a healthy political debate. It is also important to take account of apparent divisions among the Syrians themselves. Low-income and low-skilled groups seem to have less appetite for citizenship due to tax and social benefits they might lose. Interviews revealed that the temporary protection regime is perceived as more advantageous, especially for lower-class Syrians.[fn]“Suriyelilere vatandaşlığa neden karşı çıkılıyor?” [“Why the opposition to citizenship for Syrians?”], BBC Turkish, 5 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Others more concerned about their legal status and future in the country, such as skilled workers looking for equal opportunities or those concerned about training/education and work prospects, seem to welcome the citizenship prospect more.

Constructing an inclusive citizenship definition in the constitution is necessary to lay the policy groundwork. Changing Article 66, which defines citizenship as being Turkish, is crucial for designing a more inclusive national identity. It reads: “Everyone bound to the Turkish State through the bond of citizenship is a Turk”. Amendment is also a longstanding, legitimate demand of the Kurdish movement that all four main political parties considered during talks on a new constitution in 2012-2013. It would be crucial to ensuring that Syrian, Kurdish and other ethnicities feel they are equal members of Turkey’s social fabric. A high-level AKP bureaucrat agreed: “We need a new, inclusive citizenship definition in the constitution before we can start implementing new policies on the naturalisation of Syrians”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Turkish state official working with prime minister, Ankara, September 2016.Hide Footnote  Given the deadlock among parties over amendment, however, it is highly likely that offering citizenship en mass to Syrians will be delayed.

Policy should thus prioritise sustainable integration, with or without citizenship. It should also take account of long-term challenges unintegrated Syrians could pose for Turkey and mitigate risks associated with a potentially marginalised social group.

VI. Conclusion

Daily life in a refugee camp in Turkey. FLICKR/European Parliament

Turkey’s aid and support to in-country Syrians has been commendable; 2016 in particular has marked an improvement in integration opportunities. The decrease in irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing to Greece, or drowning trying, is also noteworthy.  However, risks prevail. Though for now civilians fleeing the war zones are staying in the country as IDPs, new influxes from Syria and Iraq to Turkey may take place that would make it even more important for the EU and Turkey to coordinate, not only to meet basic needs and ensure sustainable integration of Syrians in Turkey, but also to curb migratory flows to the EU and, more generally, for Turkish stability. Consideration of saturation limit and absorption capacity is a necessity.

All sides need to be cognisant of the risk and consequences of the Turkey-EU deal unravelling. Ankara and Brussels need each other but are heading for a collision. Ankara threatens to withdraw from the agreement if visa liberalisation does not result. Anti-EU sentiment is soaring and will increase if visa requirements are not lifted, but the authoritarian turn in Turkey diminishes prospects. European diplomats say too many Turkish citizens may qualify for asylum under current circumstances.

The low figures the EU is willing to accept make Turkish authorities unwilling to engage on refugee rights. Since April, only some 2,300 have been resettled from Turkey to the EU; before the April deal, 4,000 were settled in total from there, Lebanon and Jordan. The July 2015 EU commitment was to take a total of 22,504 in 2015-2016. This and EU fear of a new influx also bring an unhealthy dynamic to the relationship that permeates other layers, including discussion on rule of law and human rights issues in Turkey.

More resources must be channelled to Syrians in Turkey, with a focus on improving access to education and jobs. While devising the required policies, local dynamics and political sensitivities should not be overlooked. Mechanisms are needed to encourage consensus-building with opposition parties, as is a dispersal approach that does not violate host communities’ notion of fairness. All this is vital to prevent long-term social tensions and accustom Syrians to a social and political reality in Turkey considerably different from their own and little understood in Europe.

Turkey’s temporary protection regime is not sustainable given the conflicts on the country’s borders. A constructive national dialogue on refugee integration and an inclusive definition of citizenship are needed. Ankara should devise and implement not just for Syrians but for all migrant groups a coordinated strategy that takes the interests and concerns of multiple stakeholders into account. Ultimately, however, resolving the core problem requires a more concerted effort from all stakeholders to end the Syrian conflict and reconstruct that devastated land.

Ankara/Brussels, 30 November 2016

Appendix A: Map of Turkey

Map or Turkey. CRISIS GROUP

Appendix B: Number of Registered Syrians in Turkey (2012-2016)

Number of registered Syrians in Turkey (2012-2016). CRISIS GROUP/UNHCR

Appendix C: Top Ten Provinces with Highest Number of Syrians in Turkey

This table shows the top ten provinces with highest number of Syrians in Turkey. CRISIS GROUP/DGMM
Map of provinces with highest number of Syrians in Turkey. CRISIS GROUP/DGMM

Appendix D: Glossary

AFAD: Afet ve Acil Durum Yönetimi Başkanlığı (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency).

AKP: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party), Turkey’s ruling party since 2002, led by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım since May 2016; President Tayyip Erdoğan led the party before assuming his present office.

CHP: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party), Turkey’s main opposition party.

ESSN: The Emergency Social Safety Network, A humanitarian aid project funded by the EU.

EU: The European Union.

FETÖ/PDY: Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation/Parallel State Structure, the designation given by the Turkish authorities to Gülen movement members the state considers responsible for the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt and illicit infiltration into state institutions.

DGMM: The Directorate General of Migration Management

HDP: Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples’ Democratic Party), the main legal party representing the Kurdish political movement in Turkey.

IDPs: Internally Displaced Persons.

İşkur: Türkiye İş Kurumu (Turkish Employment Agency).

MHP: Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party).

PKK: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) Co-founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan, it started an armed insurgency in Turkey in 1984. It is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU, the U.S. and a number of other countries.

PYD: Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (Democratic Union Party), the Syrian Kurdish affiliate of the PKK, founded in 2003.

TEC: Temporary Education Centre, schools established to provide education for Syrian students in Turkey. They typically employ Syrians as teachers and use an adapted Syrian curriculum.

YÖK: Yüksek Öğretim Kurumu (Turkish Higher Education Institution).