Original Illustration for International Crisis Group Loic Secheresse
Report 2 / United States

How to Save the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

Amid the largest displacement crisis since World War II, President Donald Trump’s administration has cut the U.S.’s annual intake of refugees in half. It should reverse course, and future administrations should strive to put refugee admissions on a stronger political and operational footing.

What’s new? Through various forms of bureaucratic strangulation, the Trump administration is working to squeeze the life from a program that has helped resettle three million refugees in the U.S. since 1980.

Why does it matter? The current administration’s hostile approach is slashing the world’s resettlement capacity, leaving more displaced people stuck in overburdened host countries next to war zones, and hobbling a tool that the U.S. has used to help manage the prospect of instability in those countries.

What should be done? The Trump administration should set a refugee ceiling within range of the historical norm and work to reach it. Proponents of resettlement should hold the administration to reasonable goals. Future administrations will need to take steps to put resettlement on a more sustainable political and operational footing.

Executive Summary

At a time when long-running conflicts are driving global refugee numbers to record levels, the U.S. is stepping back from its traditional role as the mainstay of global refugee resettlement. President Donald Trump’s administration has cut the country’s annual intake of refugees by more than half, and is hobbling the U.S. refugee resettlement program through a combination of politically motivated suspensions, expanding requirements and malign neglect. This policy is both wrong and wrongheaded. The U.S. administration should stop throwing obstacles in the way of its own resettlement operations, set an admissions ceiling within range of past levels and put its weight behind reaching it.

Some countries – like Pakistan, Turkey and Uganda – have borne much of the burden of the 21st century’s enormous refugee flows because they border conflict zones. Recently, Germany and Sweden decided for a period of time to admit very significant numbers of asylum seekers who flooded their borders during the Syrian refugee crisis. By comparison, the number of refugees resettled every year – in other words, given the chance to relocate from the countries where they first found refuge to receiving states where they will start whole new lives – is relatively tiny. Historically, very few countries have had the capacity and the political will to reach out and offer to resettle refugees from far-off regions. But even if the numbers are always small, and well short of what the UN recommends, resettlement can be an important tool. It helps remove refugees from places where they could be the spark for igniting violence, provide an extra level of protection to the especially vulnerable and find homes for waves of migrants denied asylum in the region from which they come. The U.S. is by far the largest country engaging in refugee resettlement. It cannot shirk its commitment without badly eroding global capacity.

Having run for president on an anti-immigration platform, President Trump has approached cutting refugee admissions like the fulfilment of a campaign promise.

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe the White House will heed this call. Having run for president on a deeply anti-immigration platform – and having taken specific aim at Syrian refugee resettlement during his campaign – President Trump has approached cutting refugee admissions like the fulfilment of a campaign promise. Certainly the anti-immigration hardliners who have been managing the president’s policy on refugee resettlement – led by his senior adviser Stephen Miller – have worked with campaign-like intensity to hurt the program. The administration has planted hardliners in the agency offices responsible for resettlement, reassigned long-term professionals who make the program run, imposed dilatory suspensions and burdensome new requirements, suppressed reasonable arguments in support of the program, and amplified misleading statistics that denigrate it.

The contrast with prior administrations is jarring. For decades, the U.S. commitment to refugee resettlement was a point of pride for administrations of both the Republican and Democratic parties, who saw it as serving both strategic and humanitarian interests – whether in providing refuge to Hungarian dissidents, Indochinese boat people, Soviet Jewry, Sudanese orphans or Kosovar victims of ethnic cleansing. Both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations sought to keep the program strong even when post-11 September 2001 laws and security protocols threatened to strangle it in red tape.

While one would expect a restrictionist administration like President Trump’s to take a very different approach to immigration than its predecessors, the hard focus on refugee resettlement is nevertheless revealing. From a purely economic or security perspective, resettlement is not an issue that warrants topping even an immigration sceptic’s priority list. Resettled refugees tend to be solid contributors to the economy over the medium and long term. They do not come in sufficient numbers (an average of 80,000 annually since 1980) to generate meaningful job competition for existing American workers. And notwithstanding a handful of sensationalised cases and the reality that no form of immigration will ever be zero-risk, the program is too rigorously scrutinised to be a preferred channel for would-be security threats.

But the opinion leaders who now shape the White House immigration agenda are not consumed exclusively with narrow economic and security concerns. They are also driven by a view that the ethnic and cultural diversification brought about by the landmark 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act – which ended a national-origin quota that encouraged migration by northern and western Europeans (and discouraged nearly everyone else) – has changed America for the worse. President Trump’s own comments pining for higher migration from Norway, and vulgarly disparaging global south countries, are of a piece with this agenda. It is this anti-diversity logic through which the administration’s hardline approach to refugee resettlement should also be viewed.

Not everyone inside the U.S. government fully shares the animus against resettlement, however. In 2018, career civil servants fought internal battles to counter falsehoods and half-truths being peddled by immigration hardliners inside the administration. This year, the Department of Defense is reportedly playing a lead role, arguing both for a respectable ceiling that is consistent with U.S. wealth, capacity and humanitarian traditions, and advocating for the admission of Iraqis who placed their lives at risk helping the U.S. armed forces. Outside pressure from all corners – Congress, the press and civil society – strengthens the hand of those who fight for resettlement from the inside at the same time as it can help stop meritless arguments advanced by opponents from settling into received wisdom.

At the same time, it is important to look toward the future, and how an administration committed to resettlement might put the program on a stronger, more sustainable footing. One key objective should be to shore up political and popular support. During the Cold War, political elites supported resettlement as a mechanism for embarrassing the Soviet bloc and bringing anti-communist defectors into the U.S. The disappearance of that grand strategic rationale has made resettlement more politically vulnerable. Thus, when the executive branch wishes to resettle a group of refugees whom, rightly or wrongly, Congress and the public regard as posing a particular security risk, it must bend over backwards to prepare the ground with Congress and explain how it is protecting the American people. Congress and the public react poorly to sudden changes in policy, as President Barack Obama’s administration learned the hard way during the Syrian refugee crisis.

The other key point is operational. Even before the Trump administration layered on new requirements, administering the resettlement program had become absurdly cumbersome. The vetting process for refugees has been aptly compared to a Lego house – a haphazard jumble of often ill-fitting, sometimes redundant pieces. Reviewing the entire security check process to eliminate duplication, appointing a senior civil servant to oversee it and bringing together in a single location officers from different agencies who play a role in the refugee vetting process could make it much more efficient and effective. These steps could help the U.S. reinvigorate its resettlement efforts amid a global displacement crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Washington/Brussels, 12 September 2018

Ahmed Mohammed Zein (Syria) arrived in the U.S. with his wife and four children on 7 December 2016. They left Aleppo in 2012, spent four years in Turkey, and now live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Four of his adult children are still in Turkey. “Before I arrived, I knew they were going to close the gates”, says Ahmed. “We were lucky to make it here. The whole process has become more difficult. One of my sons did an interview with the UN but his file wasn't transferred to the U.S. The family reunification of all refugees has been affected”.   

I. Introduction

In recent years, conflicts in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and elsewhere have helped displace more people than at any time since World War II.[fn]See UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Figures at a Glance” (as of 19 June 2018), which notes that 57 per cent of the world’s refugees come from Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.4 million), and Syria (6.3 million). See also Jean-Marie Guéhenno, “Conflict is key to understanding migration”, Carnegie Europe, 13 March 2016.Hide Footnote While the majority of the world’s 68 million displaced persons remain inside their countries of origin, 25 million of them have fled across borders seeking refuge from violence or persecution.[fn]See UNHCR 2018 figures. While the global refugee figure of 25 million includes both Palestinian refugees who fall under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (4.9 million) and refugees who fall under the mandate of UNHCR (19.9 million), in general UNHCR statistics do not reflect refugees who fall under the UNRWA mandate. Accordingly, wherever UNHCR statistics are cited in this report, they should be understood not to include UNRWA refugees unless otherwise noted.Hide Footnote

The burden of sheltering and supporting these 25 million refugees is far from evenly distributed. By far the greatest weight falls on states that abut conflict zones and that themselves often have small economies, fragile political systems or histories of internal violence.[fn]According to UNHCR statistics, the top five refugee hosting countries in the world are Turkey (3.5 million), Uganda (1.4 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (1 million) and Iran (979,400). Ibid.Hide Footnote Wealthy donor states have traditionally offered some support to help host countries bear this burden. This may be because they were a party to the conflict that caused the crisis, or because they in general feel a sense of moral responsibility to help address humanitarian emergencies, or because they see it as in their strategic self-interest to provide this assistance. Often, the latter boils down to a desire to keep conflict and violence from spreading, humanitarian and economic costs from spiralling, and the resulting waves of migration from reaching their shores.[fn]The body of scholarly work that associates the presence of large numbers of refugees in a host country with increased risk of conflict or violence has tended to focus on four theories: 1) the introduction of refugees can upset ethnic balance in a destabilising way (I. Salehyan and K. S. Gleditsch, “Refugees and the Spread of Civil War”, International Organization, vol. 60, no. 2 (2006), p. 335.); 2) the presence of refugees can create or exacerbate economic tensions and put strain on community resources (M. Weiner, “Security, Stability and International Migration”, International Security, vol. 17, no. 3 (1992), pp. 91-126.); 3) “refugee warriors” can use camps as staging grounds for attacks against either the host country and/or the country of origin (A. R. Zolber, A. Suhrke, and S. Aguayo, Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World (New York, 1989), pp. 275-278); and 4) refugee-sending nations may violate the sovereignty of refugee-receiving nations in pursuing grievances against those who have fled (I. Salehyan, “The Externalities of Civil Strife: Refugees as a Source of International Conflict”, American Journal of Political Science, vol. 52, no. 4 (2008), pp. 787-801). A growing body of research also notes the prevalence and under-reporting of gender-based violence and the targeting of children and adolescents within refugee populations (“Violence in the city: a systematic review of the drivers of violence against displaced populations in urban crisis and post-crisis settings”, International Rescue Committee, January 2017). Not all scholarship, however, finds a connection between refugee populations and violence in host countries. See Y.-Y. Zhou and A. Shaver, “Do Refugees Spread Conflict?”, 23 January 2018, at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3107830 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3107830, which finds that refugee sites do not increase the risk of conflict in a host country and that in cases where refugees cluster in a single province there may actually be a reduction in the risk of new conflict because of “increased state presence and humanitarian efforts”. Crisis Group’s own fieldwork has often examined the risk that large refugee populations introduce or exacerbate the risk of violence or conflict or introduce challenging issues into the negotiation of peace agreements. See, for example, Crisis Group Africa Report N°20, Burundian Refugees in Tanzania: A Key Factor in the Burundi Peace Process, 30 November 1999; Crisis Group Middle East Report N°77, Failed Responsibility: Iraqi Refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, 10 July 2008; Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Report N°84, Nurturing Instability: Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugee Camps, 19 February 2009; Thibaud Lesueur, “CAR: The Fate of Refugees in Southern Chad”, Crisis Group Commentary, 10 November 2014; Crisis Group Europe Report N°248, Turkey’s Syrian Refugees: Defusing Metropolitan Tensions, 29 January 2018; and Crisis Group Asia Report N°296, The Long Haul Ahead for Myanmar’s Rohingya Refugee Crisis, 16 May 2018.Hide Footnote

Most commonly, donor governments help blunt these risks by furnishing assistance to refugees in camps – lowering the economic cost of the refugees to the host government and its citizens and the friction that this cost can cause. Increasingly, donors also look for ways to subsidise host government efforts to encourage refugee self-reliance, by allowing refugees to earn a living or educate their children in local schools. But there is also a third means of support – used in a much more targeted way – that can help relieve the burden on host governments while also providing transformative assistance to the most vulnerable refugees. And that is to resettle refugees who have abandoned hope of returning home and give them a fresh start somewhere else.

Because only a tiny number of the world’s refugees gets resettled every year – usually fewer than 200,000 people out of millions – sceptics have questioned whether resettlement serves an important purpose.[fn]The largest number of refugees submitted for resettlement by UNHCR in the last twenty years – 163,000 – came in 2016. See UNHCR, “UNHCR Resettlement Data”, at http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/resettlement-data.html. While UNHCR pre-screens and submits to receiving countries the great majority of refugees who are resettled, some countries, including the U.S., allow certain populations to be referred through other channels.Hide Footnote It does. Sometimes resettlement is the best way to de-escalate a situation where the presence of refugees could spark conflict or violence, as was the case when the U.S. airlifted thousands of Kosovar refugees out of Macedonia in 1999. Sometimes it is the only way to protect a group that is being denied asylum by countries closer to home, as was the case with the Indochinese “boat people” after the Vietnam War. Sometimes resettlement is a way of bringing to safety a refugee who is particularly vulnerable because of illness, age, gender, sexual orientation or a traumatic history that involves rape or torture. And sometimes resettlement is important as a gesture of solidarity with a state that is stretching to its limits in order to protect the vulnerable inside its borders.

As U.S. resettlement numbers have plunged, so have worldwide numbers.

A big challenge for global resettlement efforts today is that the U.S. is pulling back. As by far the largest country that regularly engages in resettlement, the U.S. has for years been the mainstay of these efforts, taking more than half of the refugees identified as priorities for resettlement by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[fn]See UNHCR, “Resettlement Data”, at http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/resettlement-data.html. While the U.S. takes by far the largest number of refugees for resettlement in absolute terms, it is not the top resettling country on a per capita basis. In 2017, the top three countries for resettlement on a per capita basis were Monaco (0.59 resettled refugees per 1,000 inhabitants), Norway (0.53/1,000) and Sweden (0.34/1,000). Rounding out the top ten were Luxembourg (0.31/1,000), Canada (0.24/1,000), New Zealand (0.21/1,000), Finland (0.20/1,000), Australia (0.16/1,000), Iceland (0.14/1,000) and the Netherlands (0.13/1,000). The U.S. ranked thirteenth with 0.08 resettled refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. See UNHCR, “UNHCR Projected Resettlement Needs 2019”, p. 79, at http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/resettlement/5b28a7df4/projected-global-resettlement-needs-2019.html.Hide Footnote No longer. While a candidate, Donald Trump ran on an anti-immigration platform that criticised U.S. refugee policy. Now that he is in office, his administration has slashed resettlement numbers to historical lows. As U.S. resettlement numbers have plunged, so have worldwide numbers. UNHCR, which plays a clearinghouse role for the bulk of resettlements around the world (75 per cent in 2017), was required to cut its referrals by more than half last year; it attributed these cuts to “a decline in resettlement quotas”.[fn]UNHCR, “Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017”, at http://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2017/.Hide Footnote If the U.S. makes further dramatic cuts, global numbers will almost certainly reflect them.[fn]Experts note that as U.S. resettlement falls other countries are not compensating by increasing their numbers. Crisis Group interviews, representatives of an organisation that tracks global resettlement, September 2018.Hide Footnote

Recognising the importance of a healthy U.S. refugee resettlement program to global resettlement efforts, this report explores how the U.S. resettlement program came to be, thrived and declined – and how it might be placed on a sustainable footing for the future. It explores the historical roots of refugee resettlement in the U.S. since World War II, analyses how it became politicised during the 2016 presidential campaign and examines the extraordinary pains the Trump administration has taken to diminish it.[fn]The historical discussion in this report draws primarily upon the following sources: Deborah E. Anker and Michael H. Posner, “The Forty Year Crisis: A Legislative History of the Refugee Act of 1980”, 19 San Diego Law Review 9 (1981); Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, “The Implementation of the Refugee Act of 1980: A Decade of Experience”, March 1991; U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, “Refugee Timeline”, at https://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/our-history/refugee-timeline; Kathryn M. Bockley, “A Historical Overview of Refugee Legislation: The Deception of Foreign Policy in the Land of Promise”, 21 North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation 253 (1995); and Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World (Oxford, 2017).Hide Footnote It analyses arguments that have been used to attack the program and draws on lessons learned to suggest ways in which the program might be revitalised within its existing legal architecture but on firmer operational and political ground. The report is based on more than three dozen conversations, discussions and interviews with former Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administration officials, former and current Trump administration officials, humanitarians and other experts. The authors, who previously worked for the U.S. government, also drew upon first-hand knowledge of certain events described in the report. Research was conducted primarily in Washington.

II. A Brief History of U.S. Refugee Resettlement from World War II to the Obama Administration

A. From World War II to Vietnam – The “Half-Open Door”

When World War II ended in 1945, the U.S. was not a welcoming country to most immigrants. During the first quarter of the 20th century, the U.S. Congress created a restrictionist edifice of laws, tests and quotas designed to discriminate against populations it deemed to be potentially damaging to the social and economic fabric of the U.S. – including southern and eastern Europeans, Jews and Asians.[fn]In 1917, Congress had imposed a ban on immigration from most of Asia and the first-ever literacy test on prospective immigrants to the U.S. The test’s primary purpose was to discriminate against southern and eastern Europeans and to tilt the scales in favour of bringing into the country northern and western Europeans. The “quota acts” of 1921 and 1924 created a system that allocated entry slots according to national origin. Congress did not repeal the national-origin quota system until 1965. For an overview of the evolution of U.S. immigration policy in the first quarter of the 20th century, with a particular focus on the impact of the bipartisan Dillingham Commission, whose recommendations are reflected in the restrictionist legislation of the period, see Katherine Benton-Cohen, Inventing the Immigration Problem: The Dillingham Commission and its Legacy (Cambridge, Mass., 2018).Hide Footnote While World War II did not bring down this edifice, it opened fissures in it. Humanitarian concern for Holocaust survivors, strategic concern for European stability and, most enduringly, a desire to embarrass Washington’s new Cold War rivals in the Soviet bloc all motivated surges of resettlement activity in the period following the war.[fn]Jewish-American groups helped crack open the door to resettlement by arguing that Holocaust survivors could not possibly be expected to return home; they needed a fresh start. These and other humanitarian concerns helped prompt the Truman administration to authorise 40,000 entry visas for displaced Europeans at the end of 1945. Congress did not support this effort. Its first resettlement legislation, the Displacement Act of 1948, used cutoff dates and geographic limitations to discriminate against Jews. See Bockley, op. cit., p. 261, citing Gil Loescher and John A. Scanlan, Calculated Kindness: Refugees and America’s Half-Open Door, 1945 to the Present (Oxford, 1986), pp. 4-7. See also Directive by the President, 22 December 1945, reprinted in Department of State Bulletin, 23 December 1945, p. 13; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Refugee Timeline, p. 2; and Anker and Posner, op. cit., pp. 13-14. (“Technical cut-off dates precluded the issuance of visas to ninety percent of the displaced Jews who entered Germany, Austria and Italy”.) On the Cold War motivation for refugee resettlement, see Bockley, op. cit., pp. 261-262, drawing on Loescher and Scanlan, op. cit., pp. 19-24; Anker and Posner, op. cit., p. 14 (“The emphasis in these measures was less on broad humanitarian goals than on giving encouragement and support to anti-communists”.)Hide Footnote

Between the end of World War II and 1980, the U.S. resettled between 1.4 and 1.5 million refugees.[fn]Anker and Posner, op. cit., p. 63.Hide Footnote Resettlement efforts focused initially on Europe.[fn]Just as the U.S.’s domestic resettlement practices aligned with its Cold War objectives, so the U.S. guided emerging international refugee law in the same direction. Under U.S. pressure, both the 1950 international statute creating the UNHCR and the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees focused on displacement in Europe, with a particular emphasis on facilitating migration from communist eastern Europe to the west. The Convention only became a universal instrument through the adoption of a 1967 Protocol that eliminated geographic and certain other limitations. The U.S., which was not a party to the 1951 Convention, acceded to the Protocol in 1968. See Betts and Collier, op. cit., pp. 36-41.Hide Footnote Though they grew to include refugees from locations like China, Cuba and Vietnam, there remained a common theme: America would be a haven for anticommunists fleeing repressive governments. Because U.S. immigration law did not include a standing mechanism for bringing refugees into the country, or even recognise the concept of “refugee”, resettlement was done largely ad hoc. Faced with a displacement crisis in Cuba or Hong Kong or Hungary, the president might borrow against existing quotas to issue visas, or rely on Congress to create “non-quota” visas (which were generally time-limited and available only to people fleeing communism in certain countries or areas).[fn]For example, the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 created 200,000 time-limited, non-quota admissions slots for those fleeing from communist or communist-dominated countries in Europe and the Middle East. USCIS Refugee Timeline, op. cit., p. 4.Hide Footnote Or he might direct the attorney general to use his “parole” authority (a discretionary power to admit aliens on a temporary basis) to bring in the desired group.[fn]The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 gave the attorney general the power to “in his discretion parole into the United States temporarily under such conditions as he may prescribe for emergent reasons or for reasons deemed strictly in the public interest any alien applying for admission to the United States”, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(d)(3) (1952) (later amended). The Dwight D. Eisenhower administration relied on a patchwork combination of congressionally created visa slots and parole to admit 21,500 Hungarians who fled their country after the Soviet Union crushed a U.S.-backed revolt in 1956. Anker and Posner, op. cit., p. 15. In 1962, the Kennedy administration created a Hong Kong parole program that, over the course of four years, admitted 15,000 Chinese refugees who had fled mainland China to Hong Kong. USCIS Refugee Timeline, op. cit., p. 5. The Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations relied on parole to admit, in the aggregate, more than 300,000 Cuban refugees. USCIS Refugee Timeline, op. cit., pp. 5-8; Anker and Posner, op. cit., pp. 16-20.Hide Footnote

Over time, parole became the favoured tool, but because it was by definition temporary, Congress generally had to pass legislation creating a pathway to citizenship for each group paroled in. A full twenty years after the end of World War II, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the national-origin quota system and created a modest standing authority to admit refugees. In practice, however, the annual number of places it created proved far too paltry, and successive administrations continued to rely extensively on parole for large-scale resettlements.[fn]The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the national-origin quota system, created a standing authority to resettle between 10,200 and 17,400 refugees per year. The authority applied only to political refugees who had fled communist countries or the Middle East (and were now in non-communist countries) and victims of certain natural disasters. Anker and Posner, op. cit., pp. 17-18.Hide Footnote

Such was the status of U.S. law and policy when the U.S. pulled its troops out of Vietnam in 1975, and began an enormous, decades-long resettlement effort that to this day dwarfs its other post-World War II resettlement efforts, and that also heralded the launch of the U.S. refugee resettlement program in its current form.[fn]Of this number, approximately 900,000 came from Vietnam and most of the rest from Cambodia and Laos. See chapter four, “Flight from Indochina” in UNHCR, “The State of the World’s Refugees 2000”, 2000, at http://www.unhcr.org/3ebf9bad0.pdf.Hide Footnote

B. The Boat People, the Refugee Act of 1980 and Slipping the Cold War Tether

Roughly 1.5 million South East Asian refugees resettled in the U.S. between 1975 and 2004.[fn]U.S. Department of State, “Fact Sheet: Refugee Admissions Program for East Asia”, 16 January 2004, at https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/prm/rls/fs/2004/28212.htm.Hide Footnote The core initiative was called the Orderly Departure Program.[fn]The first wave of resettlement began immediately before the fall of Saigon, when the U.S. organised the evacuation of 130,000 people at particular risk because of their association with the South Vietnamese government. The second wave began in 1978, when large numbers of Vietnamese began taking to the high seas to seek refuge elsewhere. By 1979, the five ASEAN members announced that they were no longer in a position to accept “boat people”, implying that they would push back boats that attempted to land on their shores (a practice that had already begun). UNHCR “State of the World’s Refugees 2000”, op. cit., pp. 81-90.Hide Footnote UNHCR organised it in 1979, after Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand (the five nations then making up ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) announced that they would no longer allow refugees to claim asylum on their territory and began stopping boats from landing on their shores. Under the Orderly Departure framework, regional governments committed to afford temporary asylum to the boat people, Vietnam committed to prevent illegal departures and permit authorised ones, and donor governments, including the U.S., committed to accelerate resettlement efforts.

The massive Indochinese resettlement effort formed the backdrop for Congress to enact the transformative Refugee Act of 1980, which it had been deliberating for more than a decade. This Act released resettlement from its Cold War tether.[fn]In a 1970 hearing about a possible new legislative framework, Senator Ted Kennedy stated that: “A comprehensive asylum policy for refugees is long overdue. We should … broaden the definition of a refugee from its present European cold war framework to include the homeless throughout the world – in South America, southern Africa and elsewhere”. Proposed Amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act: Hearings on H.R. 9112, H.R. 15092 and H.R. 173370 Before Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Committee on the Judiciary, 91st Congress, first Session (1970), p. 87.Hide Footnote It gave the president the authority to set the ceiling for refugees on an annual basis (in consultation with Congress) based on humanitarian concerns and national interests and regardless of whether they were seeking refuge from communism. Participants had to be refugees as defined by international law and not barred by some other feature of U.S. immigration law. Resettled refugees could become lawful permanent residents after one year, and acquire U.S. citizenship five years after that.[fn]See Refugee Act Summary at Appendix A.Hide Footnote

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 shattered America’s fleeting post-Cold War sense of safety.

The transition from a Cold War to a more global focus did not happen instantly.[fn]In 1990, the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights observed in a briefing paper that the allocation of resettlement slots ten years after the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980 “reflects the same ideological and geographic preferences that refugee admissions prior to the Refugee Act of 1980 reflected”. Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Briefing Paper, p. 29. Throughout the 1980s, Vietnamese refugees coming through the Orderly Departure Program formed the vast majority of admissions, with eastern Europeans fleeing the collapsing Soviet bloc a close second. Congress also put its thumb on the scale. In 1990, it enacted the Lautenberg Amendment, which lowered eligibility requirements for Jews and certain other minority populations from the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.Hide Footnote Well into the 1990s, former Soviets and South East Asians continued to be by far the leading beneficiaries of the U.S. resettlement program. After 1995, however, Vietnamese resettlements began to tail off, and non-Russian European resettlements (a consequence of the Balkans conflict) began to climb. So did African resettlements. The Clinton administration also used resettlement to help defuse regional and ethnic tensions in the Balkans in 1999. When a Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign forced tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian Kosovars to flee into fragile Macedonia, UNHCR looked to the U.S. and others to help share the burden. Operation Open Arms brought thousands of mainly Muslim refugees from Kosovo to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where they underwent medical and criminal background checks before being resettled as refugees.

This, then, was the hopeful landscape for U.S. refugee admissions in 2000. African admissions were finally on a par with former Soviet and European admissions.[fn]In 2000, the Program admitted 15,103 from the former Soviet Union, 22,561 from Europe and 17,561 from Africa. In 2001, admissions for those three regions were 15,978, 15,794 and 19,020, respectively. See Department of State, Refugee Processing Center, WRAPSNET website, “Historical Arrivals Broken Down by Region (1975-present), at http://www.wrapsnet.org/admissions-and-arrivals.Hide Footnote The program was proving a useful tool for helping address complex humanitarian and foreign policy crises. It was a promising, expansive foundation from which to build the program in the new century. And then the 11 September 2001 attacks changed everything.

C. 11 September and Its Aftermath

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 shattered America’s fleeting post-Cold War sense of safety, reoriented it to a whole new category of security threats and changed its tolerance for risk in ways that continue to reverberate throughout U.S. foreign policy, including in the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Throughout the Cold War, U.S. resettlement efforts were both buoyed and constrained by a common sense that they served a core strategic interest of the U.S. Political elites promoted, or at least tolerated, the admission of refugees fleeing communism who might otherwise (rightly or wrongly) have aroused security concerns and would certainly have been turned away under the restrictionist immigration rules of the period. The question that the 11 September attacks raised was whether these same elites would continue to support the program if it was not underwritten by a Cold War strategic logic. As one former senior official who worked in the Obama White House suggested:

Before the ’90s, the United States’ primary adversaries were all state actors, and resettlement was an easy tool to use to reinforce our foreign policy objectives. You took the persecuted from bad states, or you tried to relieve pressure on the countries we were trying to build relations with. Once we started focusing on non-state actors as the big threat, the foreign policy concept around resettlement became as complicated as our foreign policy goals.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote

But this new political vulnerability did not emerge right away. Indeed, the story of the U.S. refugee resettlement program in the period following the 11 September attacks is instead one of resilience.[fn]According to the WRAPS Admissions Summary, total admissions were 27,131 for fiscal year 2002 and 28,400 for fiscal year 2003. See WRAPSNET website at http://www.wrapsnet.org/admissions-and-arrivals/.Hide Footnote The program endured a complete shutdown in the months after the attacks.[fn]“Immigration after 9/11: The view from the United States”, remarks by Arthur E. Dewey, assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration to the American Society of International Law, 3 April 2003, at https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/prm/rls/2003/37906.htm.Hide Footnote It continued to operate despite the imposition of a cumbersome new requirement that the State Department obtain “security advisory opinions” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other agencies for applicants from certain countries.[fn]The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has described the Security Advisory Opinion as a “State-initiated biographic check conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence community partners. Security Advisory Opinion name checks are initiated at the time of pre-screening … for the groups and nationalities designated by the U.S. government as requiring this higher level check”. “Fact Sheet: Refugee Security Screening”, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 3 December 2015.Hide Footnote And it survived the enactment of laws that perversely disqualified refugees from entering the country because of “support” that terrorists had extorted from them at gunpoint or for providing assistance to the U.S. in its Cold War proxy fights.[fn]Starting in 1990, changes to U.S. immigration law created legal barriers to admitting persons who were deemed to have engaged in certain very broadly defined “terrorist activities”, including through the provision of “material support” to terrorist organisations. Initially, the latter term referred exclusively to a group formally designated by the U.S. government as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”, but following 11 September 2001, Congress expanded this category to include non-designated groups that met certain statutory criteria. In part because the provisions were so vague and sweeping, immigration authorities hesitated for some time before implementing them, but beginning around 2005 they started in earnest to apply them to the refugee and asylum programs. This broad area of barriers to immigration became known as the “Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds”. Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, August 2018. See also Melanie Nezer and Anwer Hughes, “Understanding the Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds: A Practitioner’s Guide”, Immigration and Nationality Lawyers Handbook (2009-2010 edition), p. 577; for discussion of the impact of the PATRIOT Act (2001), the REAL ID Act (2005) and related legislation on the admissibility of refugees. Because there was no “duress” exception in this body of law, people who were victims of terrorism – such as Colombian villagers forced to pay extortionate “vacuna” taxes to guerrillas – could find themselves suddenly barred from the refugee program on “material support” grounds. And because groups that engaged in political violence were deemed terrorist organisations, Burmese groups that the U.S. had long supported and groups that had fought alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War were suddenly branded terrorist organisations and their members and supporters barred from entry. Ibid.Hide Footnote

Had the Bush administration been intent on diminishing the program, mere bureaucratic inertia would have done considerable damage. But it was not. It kept its annual refugee ceilings close to normal levels – never lower than 70,000 per year – signalling its commitment to resettlement. Congress did not push back.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, July 2018. “U.S. Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings and Number of Refugees Admitted, 1980-Present”, Migration Policy Institute, at https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/us-annual-refugee-resettlement-ceilings-and-number-refugees-admitted-united. See the graph in Appendix B.Hide Footnote And senior leaders across the departments and agencies worked together on untying operational knots that had formed as the result of sudden changes affecting the program. The assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration brought inter-agency counterparts together in a joint task force to work on “refugee admissions problem solving”.[fn]Dewey, “Immigration after 9/11: The view from the United States”, op. cit.Hide Footnote The Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security used their newly-minted exemptive authorities to undo some of the perverse legal effects created by new terrorism laws.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, July 2018. As a response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Congress and the Bush administration worked together to reorganise U.S. government components focused on homeland security into a single agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Each of the secretary of homeland security and secretary of state, in consultation with the attorney general, has the power to exempt groups and individuals from certain legal bars that might otherwise prevent them from participation in the refugee resettlement program. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds Exemptions”, at https://www.uscis.gov/laws/terrorism-related-inadmissability-grounds/terrorism-related-inadmissibility-grounds-exemptions.Hide Footnote And the Pentagon threw its weight behind an expansion of the program to make it easier for Iraqis who had aided U.S. forces to participate, in part by sharing stories of individuals who had served alongside them in theatre.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, July 2018.Hide Footnote

Eight years after the 11 September attacks, the resettlement program had survived its biggest test to date. Even without a Cold War strategic narrative to buoy it, the White House and Congress stood by U.S. resettlement efforts. Certainly it still faced steep challenges – including a growing and haphazard matrix of security checks that one former U.S. official compared to a “Lego house”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote But a strong sense of the program’s humanitarian and strategic benefits was sufficient to sustain it in the face of headwinds generated by the 11 September events. Indeed, with the Bush administration’s quiet support, the resettlement program actually managed to grow, letting in fifteen hundred more refugees in 2009 than the Clinton administration had admitted in the year prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.[fn]The admission figures for 2000 and 2009 were 73,147 and 74,654, respectively. Because fiscal year 2009 began in the Bush administration and finished in the Obama administration, the 2009 figure can be regarded as a joint achievement, though the lion’s share of credit likely belongs to the outgoing administration, since, as a result of lengthy processing times, much of the work that goes into the program’s performance in any given fiscal year happens before the year actually begins. See Appendix B.Hide Footnote

III. Political Football Season: The Obama Years and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

During the Obama administration, the bipartisan support that had made the Refugee Act of 1980 possible, seen the resettlement program through its boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, and then sustained it through the aftermath of 11 September came apart at the seams.

For the first six years of the administration, resettlement efforts were much like they had been under Bush. The administration wanted to be successful at resettlement and put considerable resources into getting results. There were setbacks. In 2011, the FBI apprehended two Iraqi refugees in a highly publicised sting operation in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which caught the attention of some members of Congress.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. government official, May 2018.Hide Footnote Around the same time, mushrooming security checks created massive processing delays, which drove admissions down below the level of 60,000 in each of 2011 and 2012.[fn]Most significantly, these checks included the expansion of a new vetting procedure called the “Interagency Check” or “IAC”, which was layered on top of a vetting system that now included UNHCR screening interviews, USCIS screening interviews, Security Advisory Opinions (for certain individuals), a State Department consular database check, an FBI fingerprint check, biometric checks and a medical check. Crisis Group interview, U.S. government official, July 2018; written testimony of USCIS Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Refugee Affairs Division Chief Barbara Strack and USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Associate Director Matt Emrich for a Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest hearing titled “Oversight of the Administration’s FY 2016 Refugee Resettlement Program: Fiscal and Security Implications”, 1 October 2015. For the 2011-2012 numbers, see Migration Policy Institute, “Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings”, op. cit.Hide Footnote But as in the Bush administration, senior-level attention and intensive working-level troubleshooting were sufficient to keep the program on more or less an even keel. In the words of one former White House official: “We just managed it”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote

Starting in the middle of Obama’s second term, however, Syria presented an increasingly difficult challenge. As the civil war raged and the number of Syrian refugees ballooned from 1.5 million in mid-2013 to nearly four million in mid-2015, the U.S. government was pulled in two directions.[fn]UNHCR, “Operational Portal: Refugee Situations, Syria Regional Refugee Response”, at https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria.Hide Footnote On one hand, some senior officials felt that in the midst of a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude, the U.S. had both a moral responsibility and a strategic interest in opening its doors to at least some Syrians – particularly given the strong sense that Washington had done little to end the war.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote They argued that some admissions would be a way to show solidarity with both the countries adjoining Syria that were absorbing an enormous influx of refugees, and with the U.S.’s European allies, which were also beginning to see large numbers of refugees appearing on their shores.

The image of the lifeless body of a three-year-old Syrian refugee galvanised a massive sympathetic reaction, as well as pressure on the administration to do more.

Other officials, however, worried that the U.S. had not fully thought through the implications of taking refugees from a country that was so full of armed non-state actors. While there was some precedent, in that the U.S. was already taking refugees from Syria’s neighbour, Iraq, the situations were different. The U.S. had invaded and occupied Iraq. This fact meant that the U.S. government felt both a sense of responsibility toward Iraqis who had helped it and held a deep repository of information about the Iraqi population and, more specifically, potential Iraqi threats.[fn]As one former White House official put it: “Syria was Iraq without the hook created by our involvement, and without the information that came with it”. Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, July 2018.Hide Footnote Neither factor was present in Syria. Officials who were hesitant about resettling Syrians did not necessarily think that the risk was unmanageable (though some were concerned, especially about information gaps) but they did express concern about the blowback they would get from Congress, the press and the public.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote

Torn between doing very little and doing something about Syrian resettlements, the Obama administration swerved between the two positions. Until September 2015, the cautious approach prevailed. When the UNHCR asked Washington to commit to take half of the Syrians that it was preparing to refer for resettlement (a commitment that might have been in the 6,000 to 8,000 person range), the White House declined to greenlight the request.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote Syrian admissions remained a mere trickle, and in 2015 the U.S. had resettled only about 1,500 Syrians by summer’s end.

But early that September, the administration changed course dramatically. That is when Human Rights Watch published a photo of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee who had drowned off Turkish shores en route to Europe.[fn]Bryan Walsh, “Alan Kurdi’s story: Behind the most heartbreaking photo of 2015”, Time, 29 December 2015.Hide Footnote The heartbreaking image galvanised a massive sympathetic reaction, as well as pressure on the administration to do more.[fn]Michele Kelemen, “Many question why the United States isn’t taking in more Syrian refugees”, National Public Radio, 9 September 2015.Hide Footnote Members of Congress, refugee advocates and former administration officials, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, pressed for huge resettlement increases. The U.S., they argued, should take 200,000 refugees overall (a number not seen since the aftermath of Vietnam) including 100,000 Syrian refugees.[fn]“National and local organizations send letter to President Obama urging action on the Syrian refugee crisis”, Refugee Council USA, 18 September 2015.Hide Footnote

The administration decided it had to do more. Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff and a strong supporter of resettlement (which he had first encountered through his church’s support for Vietnamese refugees as a boy growing up in Minnesota) was a particularly strong advocate, believing not just in the strategic and humanitarian benefits of the program, but that it has been “overwhelmingly successful” in bringing to the U.S. people who have made enormous contributions to American life.[fn]Explaining his support for resettlement, McDonough told Crisis Group that “refugees, from the Manhattan Project to the present, are a part of the United States’ story …. The refugees who come through the program are highly successful, and their cost to taxpayers is very small”. Crisis Group interview, former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, 25 May 2018.Hide Footnote Even with active support at the highest levels of the West Wing, however, the resettlement program ran up against practical limits. It lacked the staff to interview, vet and find welcoming new homes for more than 100,000 unexpected refugees in the given time. The White House pressed the State Department to consider a grand gesture like the Clinton-era airlift of thousands of Kosovars to Fort Dix but it became clear that this would not work in a post-11 September world. Security agencies would not risk bringing thousands of Syrians onto U.S. territory with checks still pending. So instead of a grand gesture, the Obama administration settled on a goal that seemed more within reach, raising overall admissions for 2016 from 70,000 to 85,000 and committing that at least 10,000 of these resettled people would be Syrians.

After September 2015, the program became politicised in an unprecedented way.

Several current and former officials interviewed by Crisis Group suggested that the September 2015 about-face on Syrian refugees hurt the resettlement program politically. One official noted that setting refugee targets in such a public way made the process seem politicised and opened the door to political attacks.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, June 2018.Hide Footnote Another former official said the very fact of the flip-flop was unhelpful because it raised questions about how an administration that had previously seemed worried about the security risks posed by Syrians could suddenly profess to be comfortable.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote The better approach, suggested one official, would have been to commit to take 7,000 or 8,000 Syrians – roughly the number that the UN was pressing the U.S. to accept earlier in the year and a volume the program was more prepared to handle. “That could have been done”, suggests the official, “without the announcement or the public pressure it created”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, June 2018.Hide Footnote

Whether that is true, however, is hard to know. Even at lower numbers, dissenting voices within the administration would likely have surfaced, such as when FBI Director James Comey shared his concerns about the lack of information about Syrian candidates for resettlement with Congress in October 2015.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, May 2018. Comey stated that “there’s good news and bad news. The good news is we have improved dramatically our ability as an inter-agency, all parts of the U.S. Government, to query and check people. The bad news is our ability to touch data with respect to people who may come from Syria may be limited. That is, if we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our database”. The full transcript of the hearing where Comey shares his testimony is available at https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/114-55_97262.pdf.Hide Footnote Moreover, even if the administration had managed the politics differently, the program’s plans for Syrian admissions would likely have hit headwinds after the ISIS-inspired terror attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, particularly because the assailants included individuals who were reported to have snuck into the European Union (EU) disguised as refugees.[fn]See Paul Cruickshank, “The inside story of the Paris and Brussels attacks”, CNN, 31 October 2017.Hide Footnote

Whether or not it might have been possible to blunt the criticism, the fact is that after September 2015, the program became politicised in an unprecedented way. Despite significant effort, the Obama administration was never fully able to bring the issue under its control. Texas and Indiana sued to keep Syrian refugees away. Members of Congress introduced legislation that would have crippled the program’s ability to resettle Iraqis and Syrians. Current and former U.S. officials recall difficult conversations with both Democrats and Republicans from very different parts of the country and with very different constituencies – members of Congress like Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, and Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat from Maryland, and governors like Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, current and former U.S. officials, May and June 2018.Hide Footnote Even some traditional supporters of resettlement warned the administration that their constituents could not understand why it was important to resettle Syrians and that it was “ruining the program”.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, current and former U.S. officials, May and June 2018.Hide Footnote On the campaign trail, candidate Trump began stumping on a platform that involved sending Syrian refugees home.[fn]“Donald Trump: ‘I would send Syrian refugees home’”, BBC, 1 October 2015.Hide Footnote

The administration’s second-term push to expand resettlement yielded some palpable benefits for the program.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. government official, June 2018.Hide Footnote Increasing overall intake by 15,000 refugees in a single year required innovation. The U.S. Digital Service – a team of information technology professionals working out of the White House – fanned out across the government to help make the process work better. They developed new algorithms and computerised archaic paper processes.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former U.S. government officials, May and August 2018.Hide Footnote For the first time, key offices from different agencies created a fusion cell where they sat together and untangled knotty problems.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote The Department of Homeland Security authorised a new airport to serve as a port of entry to handle all the flights that would be coming in and hired new staff for its “refugee corps” to interview candidates for admission.

In all these ways, the Obama administration left the resettlement program operationally stronger than it had been when it came into office. The admissions ceiling it set for 2017 – 110,000 refugees – was ambitious but agencies and NGO partners were working hard to reach it.[fn]Crisis Group interviews and email exchanges, refugee resettlement NGO representatives and current and former U.S. officials, May-September 2018.Hide Footnote But those operational gains had been swamped by political setbacks. The program had been whipsawed between humanitarians who wanted to see Vietnam-era levels of generosity and security-centric immigration hawks with precisely the opposite impulse. As the thrashing increased the program’s visibility, it also increased its exposure. Refugee resettlement, which had for decades depended on the quiet support of political elites for its survival, was now in the crosshairs of a political movement that in November 2016 was elected to the White House.


Maher al-Mahasneh (Syria) left Deira in Syria in April 2013 and stayed for over three years in Jordan with his wife and their four children, before coming to the U.S in January 2017. Now he works as a cook in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “I feel very lucky”, he says. “In Jordan, it felt like three years without a purpose. I couldn’t work. You can’t even rent a house or get a car. Here, you have a future and you can prosper. After five years you can become a citizen. You can pursue your dreams. I want to open a shawarma shop. I want my kids to be highly educated. I have big dreams”.

IV. Bureaucratic Strangulation – Refugee Resettlement in the Age of Trump

Donald Trump’s election to the presidency created a once-in-a-generation opportunity for some of the most aggressive immigration restrictionists in American political life, like Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and his aide, Stephen Miller, to assume positions of power and advance legacy-defining changes in U.S. law and policy.

The administration’s immigration hardliners have been guided in their work by pundits and institutions once regarded as well outside the political mainstream, like the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies and the provocative political author Ann Coulter.[fn]The Center for Immigration Studies, which characterises itself as a “low immigration, pro-immigrant” think tank, has a mixed reputation in Washington policy circles. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled it a “hate group” (a label that the Center vehemently disputes as an effort to silence its expression of political opinions), citing among other things its historical ties to John Tanton (a controversial anti-immigrant activist who in 1975 authored a paper called “The case for passive eugenics”), its occasional circulation of writings by racist and anti-Semitic authors (which it subsequently disclaimed as inadvertent) and its hiring of a researcher whose work seeks to demonstrate that immigrants have a lower IQ than the general population. For a discussion of the debate surrounding this label, see Amy Sherman, “Is the Center for Immigration Studies a hate group, as the Southern Poverty Law Center says?”, Politifact, 22 March 2017; Mark Krikorian, “How labeling my organization a hate group shuts down public debate”, The Washington Post, 17 March 2017; and Southern Poverty Law Center, “Center for Immigration Studies”, at https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/center-immigration-studies.Hide Footnote Their objectives go beyond the draconian policing of illegal immigration and dramatic tightening of channels for legal immigration. They also seek to address the effects of what they regard as the flawed core of modern immigration law and policy, namely the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.[fn]In 2015, Coulter and Miller reportedly collaborated with Steve Bannon on an immigration white paper that became the foundation for many of candidate Trump’s positions (and which Coulter publicly described as the “greatest political document since the Magna Carta”). See Asawin Suebsaeng, “Ann Coulter, Stephen Miller helped write Trump immigration plan”, The Daily Beast (undated), https://www.thedailybeast.com/ann-coulter-stephen-miller-helped-write-trump-immigration-plan; Joshua Green, “Attack, attack, attack”, New York Magazine, 10 July 2017. Regarding the 1965 Act, see, for example, Ann Coulter, Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole (Washington, 2015); “Panel transcript: 1965 Immigration Act 50 years later”, Center for Immigration Studies, 3 October 2015; Mark Krikorian, The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal (New York, 2008).Hide Footnote That legislation ended the national-origin quota system that governed immigration to the U.S. since the early 1920s, ending preferences for northern and western Europeans, and opening immigration channels to a much broader and more diverse population. Restrictionist opinion leaders like Coulter see the 1965 Act as a mistake that upset the country’s traditional Anglo-Saxon ethnic and cultural makeup.[fn]See, generally, Coulter, Adios, America, op. cit, and “Panel transcript:1965 Immigration Act 50 years later”, op. cit.Hide Footnote Some seek to stem the tide by changing the law to emphasise “skill-based migration” and ending certain preferences for prospective migrants with family members already in the country.[fn]Christopher Wallace, “Immigration: Why Trump wants to change the act that led to decades of unintended consequences”, Fox News, 3 August 2017.Hide Footnote Coulter expresses her anti-diversity sentiment this way:

Even when Third World immigrants aren’t trying to blow up the First World, as in Boston, ethnic “diversity” is all downside. Members of the same ethnic group know each other, care about each other, help each other. Leaving aside the exciting parts of diversity, such as terrorism, civil wars and ethnic cleansing, the greater the diversity, the higher the transaction costs. Even after almost four centuries together, blacks and whites haven’t yet achieved what anyone would regard as perfect harmony.[fn]Coulter, Adios, America, op. cit., p. 64.Hide Footnote

Critics of the administration’s approach to immigration have seen in these positions the echoes of a racist past, and noted that restrictionist rules overturned by the 1965 legislation might well have blocked the immigration of some leading hardliners’ own families.[fn]See David S. Glosser, “Stephen Miller is an immigration hypocrite. I know because I’m his uncle”, Politico, 13 August 2018. Glosser suggests that Trump and Miller have, in their rhetoric, echoed “the insults and false accusations of earlier generations against these refugees to make them seem less than human”.Hide Footnote

Nevertheless, these views clearly animate President Trump’s own thinking about immigration. They also help explain the administration’s antipathy to the refugee resettlement program, which emerged in the post-1965 period of immigration law, and was designed to project a welcoming message to vulnerable people from every region of the world. The administration has on occasion spoken bluntly about the motivation behind its restrictionist policies (for example, when Trump simultaneously embraced the idea of taking immigrants from Norway and derided the idea of taking them from what he described as “shithole” countries in the global south).[fn]Josh Dawsey, “Trump derides protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries”, The Washington Post, 12 January 2018.Hide Footnote But it has generally tried to couch its justifications for shrinking the resettlement program in more conventional arguments that may have a better chance of capturing popular support. It has argued that refugees pose an outsize security risk and an economic burden, and contended that program officers are desperately needed for other purposes. Generally, these claims have been based on incomplete or misleading information.

A. Cut, Freeze, Delay, Ignore

The Trump administration’s first big swing at the refugee resettlement program came in the form of a 27 January 2017 executive order.

The Trump administration’s first big swing at the refugee resettlement program came in the form of a 27 January 2017 executive order. The order (a somewhat sanitised version of the odious “Muslim ban” that candidate Trump had promised on the campaign trail) slashed the 2017 refugee admissions ceiling from 110,000 to 50,000, barred nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., suspended all refugee admissions pending a 120-day review of security procedures and singled out Syrian refugee admissions for indefinite suspension.[fn]Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, 27 January 2017. Because of a Supreme Court order that preserved the ability for relatives with a “bona fide” relationship with previously settled refugees to access the Program, notwithstanding the slashed cap, the actual intake for fiscal year 2017 slightly exceeded 50,000. The total number for the fiscal year was 53,716. See http://www.wrapsnet.org/admissions-and-arrivals/.Hide Footnote Although litigation forced some modifications, and delayed the freeze and review until June 2017, the January order set forth the basic contours of the Trump administration’s approach to refugee resettlement.

Officials interviewed for this report who participated in the review process saw it as politically motivated and believed that its purpose was to throw sand in the gears of the resettlement process.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former and current U.S. officials, May 2018.Hide Footnote In that respect, the effort was largely successful. Just the fact of the 120-day freeze was enough to cause major delays. Because the medical checks that a refugee requires in order to travel to the U.S. are good only for two or three months, many candidates in the approval “pipeline” had to go back and redo major parts of their applications when the four-month freeze lifted, virtually guaranteeing that admissions would be affected well into 2018. Indeed, the freeze was so effective in causing widespread, rippling dysfunction across the program that advocates wondered whether the administration had purposefully chosen a 120-day period with this outcome in mind.[fn]Crisis Group interview, NGO representative, May 2018.Hide Footnote

But the freeze was only the beginning of the story, because the review produced recommendations that then needed to be followed. While the administration never published the review’s full findings and recommendations, a partial picture has emerged through interviews and court filings. It is clear that the recommendations were wide-ranging and applied to every phase of the refugee processing pipeline.[fn]John Doe v. Trump and Jewish Family Service of Seattle v. Trump, Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-00178JLR and No. 2:17-cv-01707JLR (copy of filings on file with Crisis Group). As part of its filing, the government included sworn declarations from Kelly Gauger, the acting director of the Admissions Office in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration at the Department of State and Jennifer Higgins, the associate director of the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate at USCIS. Exhibit two of the Higgins Declaration itemises recommendations that have been implemented in the application process, the interview and adjudication process, and the vetting and systems checks process.Hide Footnote It is also reported that the first round of recommendations did not go far enough for the White House. Briefed just days before they were to be finalised, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Stephen Miller reportedly reacted with frustration, and pressed agencies to develop more stringent suggestions that would (in the words of a former official) “placate” what appeared to be a West Wing desire to make vetting more “extreme”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote And, finally, it appears that the West Wing apparently was not fully mollified. Shortly after the 120-day review wrapped, the administration announced a 90-day supplementary review that looked at eleven countries in particular, and that resulted in an additional expansion of security advisory opinion requirements.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote

The net effect of imposing all these new requirements was, predictably, additional delay and confusion.[fn]See the Higgins Declaration, op. cit., noting that “these reviews and enhancements have lengthened processing times for some cases and slowed admissions”. The Higgins affidavit also states that “relatively few approval refugee cases have received cleared results under the new Security Advisory Opinion procedures”.Hide Footnote At similar moments during the Bush and Obama administrations, the State Department’s refugee bureau had sounded the alarm, and the White House had become involved to get the program back on track. Under the Trump administration, however, the opposite was true. Rather than engage to unclog the system, hardliners in the White House and across the agencies assumed a pose of exaggerated deference to the sources of delay.

The FBI reportedly became a particular problem. Two officials familiar with the program suggested that, as of May 2018, the FBI was processing, on average, about five security advisory opinions a week, contributing to a backlog of roughly 95,000 cases.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, June 2018.Hide Footnote Part of the problem is likely linked to a relatively recent operational requirement that the FBI review 300 databases – only two of which are its own.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, May 2018. Note that the FBI’s expanded database search protocol dates back to the end of the Obama administration, though problems with exaggerated processing delays emerged only during the Trump administration.Hide Footnote But another problem seems to be that no one is pushing the FBI to move more quickly. When NGO representatives raised a concern about the FBI’s slow throughput with Andrew Veprek, the Miller protégé recently installed as a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s refugee bureau, he reportedly suggested that it was not the State Department’s place to question the vetting agencies about their work. “I couldn’t believe it”, said one of the representatives. “I’ve been in a million meetings with State Department staff where they could and did question vetting agencies about the process and why they weren’t moving fast enough”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, NGO representative, May 2018.Hide Footnote

Another U.S. official with first-hand knowledge of the vetting process confirms that the sclerotic pace is a feature rather than a bug as far as the administration’s immigration hawks are concerned. “Whenever problems arise, there’s no interest in resolving them”, said this official. “They’re tickled pink”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, July 2018.Hide Footnote

B. Lowering the Ceiling

Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president annually determines the admissions ceiling for the coming fiscal year, which begins on 1 October. Consistent with this schedule, the Trump White House began in the late spring of 2017 a process of determining its ceiling for 2018. It was clear from the outset that hardliners like Stephen Miller wanted to lower the ceiling considerably, but the process did not go smoothly.

Within the White House, refugee admissions had traditionally been considered a humanitarian and foreign policy issue. The National Security Council thus took the lead in the ceiling determination process, relying on the State Department’s refugee bureau to do most of the work. But in what one official called a “hostile takeover”, Miller moved responsibility in the spring of 2017 to the Domestic Policy Council, which he helped chair, and asked the Department of Homeland Security to take the lead over from the State Department.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote

The Department of Homeland Security, however, was ill equipped for the task. Part of the problem seemed to be political: there was apparent distance between hardliners who were charged with developing the number like Gene Hamilton (a former colleague of Miller’s from Sessions’ office) and the more moderate Elaine Duke, who moved from deputy to acting secretary when John Kelly became the White House chief of staff at the end of July.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote At meeting after meeting, Homeland Security representatives struggled to produce a number. They floated ideas, retracted them and broached others.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote An official who tracked the process over the course of roughly three months said the department ventured the number 40,000, retracted and replaced it with a proposal of 25,000, appeared to suggest (through a White House staffer) a range between 15,000 and 20,000, and finally arrived back at 40,000. Conveniently, the last figure was within close reach of the 50,000 that the State Department and Pentagon had recommended in an apparent effort to keep the program stable at the number Trump had himself set in January 2017. The agencies split the difference to arrive at the figure of 45,000, which the president adopted.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

The Pentagon is reportedly concerned about a steep dropoff in resettling Iraqi refugees who have helped U.S. forces.

That number, however, turned out to be an illusion. While administrations have generally set ceilings with the idea of reaching them, and have historically come close to doing so (except in exceptional circumstances, such as the years after the 11 September 2001 attacks), the Trump administration made no such effort.[fn]See Appendix B.Hide Footnote The effects of the 120-day freeze and the new vetting requirements piled up. And by the summer of 2018 it appeared that refugee admissions for that year would fall well short of 25,000 refugees – several thousand below the number admitted in the year following the 11 September attacks and the lowest in the history of the resettlement program.[fn]Nahal Toosi, “Trump’s refugee crackdown plans put Pompeo on the spot”, Politico, 8 August 2018.Hide Footnote

A looming question now is what the ceiling will be for the coming year. For some time, watchers of U.S. resettlement have speculated that Miller and his allies would use the program’s woeful 2018 performance as a reason to lower the ceiling further in 2019. And yet there are reports that the hardliners are facing resistance from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has reportedly supported a cap of 45,000. Mattis’s position may in part reflect a traditional perspective that resettlement serves U.S. humanitarian and strategic interests, but it also likely reflects the Pentagon’s view that the promise of resettlement enhances its ability to recruit local partners.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, August 2018.Hide Footnote The Pentagon is reportedly especially concerned about a steep dropoff in resettling Iraqi refugees who have helped U.S. forces. So far, Mattis was reported to be backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The arrest of Omar Ameen, a suspected ISIS fighter who appears to have slipped through vetting procedures in 2014 to enter the country as an Iraqi refugee and was arrested in August, will likely make Mattis’s advocacy more challenging.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, August 2018. For background on Ameen case, see Zusha Elinson, “Iraqi refugee accused of being former ISIS fighter”, Wall Street Journal, 17 August 2018. Iraq has sought Ameen’s extradition. There are no reported allegations that he has committed a violent crime in the U.S.Hide Footnote

C. Incomplete or Misleading Justifications

Security justification. One way the White House has sought to justify its restrictive approach to resettlement has been to suggest that refugees pose an outsize security risk.

It set the tone for this line of argument in a 6 March 2017 executive order, which stated that the attorney general counted “more than 300 persons” who had entered the U.S. as refugees and were the subject of FBI terrorism investigations.[fn]Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, 6 March 2017.Hide Footnote A U.S. official with a deep counter-terrorism background describes the use of this statistic as highly deceptive and intended to frighten. This official noted that the administration did not provide the information that would be required to assess it meaningfully, observing that it “didn’t talk about the total number of counter-terrorism investigations the FBI has open; nor did it put the figure in the context of the total number of refugee admissions; nor did it mention that the vast majority of investigations are closed with no further action”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote This official estimated that if there were 300 investigations, between ten and twenty might lead to a deportation and roughly three might result in prosecution. A piece published by the libertarian (and generally pro-immigration) Cato Institute offered a similar analysis and estimated that 300 investigations might result in a single conviction.[fn]David Bier, “Supposed FBI investigations into refugees shouldn’t scare you”, CATO at Liberty, Cato Institute, 8 March 2017, at www.cato.org/blog/supposed-fbi-investigations-refugees-shouldnt-scare-you.Hide Footnote

In fact, the administration’s own analysis suggested that its alarmism about security risks was over-cranked. A former White House official describes a meeting of senior national security officials at the White House in 2017 at which the National Counterterrorism Center began to present a report it had prepared about why terrorists are unlikely to use refugee admissions as a channel for gaining access to the U.S.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote According to this account, as the Counterterrorism Center shared its findings, a senior Department of Justice official jumped in to say that the attorney general disagreed. When reminded that the FBI (a part of the Justice Department) had participated in the process that produced the report, she simply restated the attorney general’s objection, offering no meaningful analysis.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote At that point, the exchange scuttled the presentation. The message coming out of the meeting, said the former official who shared this account, was that when working on refugee resettlement policy, “facts weren’t going to matter”.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote

While the asylum backlog is a legitimate problem, current and former officials agree that it is not a legitimate justification for cutting the refugee ceiling.

Economic justification. The administration has also tried to portray resettled refugees as an economic burden.

In the spring of 2017, the White House commissioned a report by the Department of Health and Human Services in March to study refugee-related costs.[fn]Presidential Memorandum, “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and Other Immigration Benefits, Ensuring Enforcement of All Laws for Entry into the United States, and Increasing Transparency among Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government and for the American People”, 6 March 2017.Hide Footnote To make clear what the White House wanted the report’s authors to conclude, Stephen Miller convened a meeting in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room where, according to a former White House official, he told representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department: “The president believes that refugees are too expensive, so we’re going to talk about the process around this report. This report shall not embarrass the president”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote

During the course of the meeting, however, a senior representative of the State Department’s refugee bureau argued that in order to present a balanced and credible picture the study should look at both costs and economic benefits created by refugees. It was not well received. After the meeting, Miller reportedly asked White House officials, “Who was that? He’s clearly not on our page”.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote Although not immediately following this meeting, this State Department official was subsequently relieved of refugee-related responsibilities and assigned to review Freedom of Information Act requests before receiving an onward assignment.[fn]Ibid. Hide Footnote

Ultimately, the Department of Health and Human Services prepared a draft report that weighed the costs of its resettlement support programs against the benefits that refugees produced for the economy, and found a net benefit to the economy of $63 billion over the period 2005-2014.[fn]Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Somini Sengupta, “Trump administration rejects study showing positive impact of refugees”, The New York Times, 18 September 2017.Hide Footnote The administration pulled the plug on the report before it could be conclusively debated, leaving restrictionist allies outside government to attack a leaked copy in the press.[fn]Steven Camarota, “Leaked report suffers significant flaws”, National Review (online), 21 September 2017.Hide Footnote It then pushed Health and Human Services to replace it with a one-sided report that looked exclusively at its expenditures on refugees without considering their economic contributions.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote The department complied.

Personnel justification. A third White House justification for slashing the refugee program concerns Department of Homeland Security personnel.

By way of background, the Department of Homeland Security faces a huge backlog of claims from individuals who crossed into the U.S. and asked for asylum. Hundreds of thousands of claims have reportedly piled up and need to be adjudicated.[fn]The New York Times has reported an administration source pegging the backlog number at 700,000 cases. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “White House weighs another reduction in refugees admitted to U.S.”, The New York Times, 1 August 2018. A former U.S. official suggests that the backlog can be attributed to 1) soaring receipts of new asylum applications; 2) the need to assign asylum staff to time-sensitive “credible fear” screenings for border crossers, in lieu of handling affirmative asylum applications; and 3) the diversion of asylum officers to assist with overseas refugee processing to meet the ambitious resettlement goals in the last two years of the Obama administration. Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, August 2018.Hide Footnote In order to start getting rid of the backlog, the department moved 100 personnel from Homeland Security’s “refugee corps”, which interviews refugee applicants overseas to assess their eligibility for resettlement, and assigned them to the asylum beat.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former U.S. official, May and August 2018.Hide Footnote The administration has suggested that this personnel issue is weighing heavily on its assessment of the refugee ceiling.[fn]See, for example, Davis, “White House weighs another reduction in refugees admitted to U.S.”, op. cit.Hide Footnote

But while the asylum backlog is a legitimate problem, current and former officials agree that it is not a legitimate justification for cutting the refugee ceiling.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, current and former officials, spring and summer 2018.Hide Footnote A former official notes that the decision to move the refugee corps personnel came after the administration had already decided to lower the refugee ceiling, at which point having a refugee corps capable of handling 110,000 admissions did not make sense. Moreover, this official notes that these 100 employees cannot by themselves eliminate the asylum backlog, a task that would require exponentially more new personnel.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, August 2018.Hide Footnote Another official reported hearing that the Office of Management and Budget had tried to point Homeland Security toward funding it could use or obtain to hire more personnel for asylum adjudication without diverting employees from the refugee corps but that the department declined.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, May 2018.Hide Footnote

The bottom line is that the shifting of refugee personnel to address the asylum backlog was neither necessary nor sufficient to that task, and could be reversed to meet the needs of the refugee resettlement program if the administration were interested in boosting admissions.

V. Reconstructing the Program

The U.S. refugee resettlement program is down but not out. It can be saved. The Refugee Act of 1980 is stable so the legal architecture is secure.[fn]Crisis Group email exchanges, senior Democratic congressional staffers, August 2018.Hide Footnote There remains enough expertise inside the government to run the program. The rationales for keeping it healthy have not changed. The question is one of political will: can the Trump administration be persuaded to pull back from its destructive agenda with respect to the program? Or will a future administration have to revive refugee resettlement?

The current administration should and, if it so desired, could still step up. Instead of striving so mightily to strangle refugee resettlement, it should set a ceiling that is closer to the norm, certainly not lower than the 45,000 figure it chose for 2018. Then it should put in the effort required to achieve it. It should empower the National Security Council staff to run inter-agency meetings to troubleshoot, identify redundancies among the vetting requirements, ensure adequate staffing of the program and push agencies like the FBI to move through their caseload more quickly. And the White House should recommission the reports and presentations that it stifled in 2017 about the economic benefits of refugee resettlement and the relative security of the refugee resettlement program and fairly reflect these perspectives in its public communications.

The Cold War rationale for resettlement, which for years won the cooperation of political elites in resettling communist defectors, is long gone.

In any other recent administration, these recommendations would be controversial only for their lack of ambition. After all, admissions at the level of 45,000 would be the fourth worst showing since 1980 (the worst being 2018 and the second and third worst being the two years following 11 September 2001). But under the political circumstances that may be a necessary feature. It would allow President Trump credibly to tell his base that he shrunk the program while pointing out to progressive critics that the difference between 45,000 and the numbers Obama achieved during several of his years in office is not that great.[fn]See Appendix B.Hide Footnote While it seems unlikely that an administration that has poured such extraordinary effort into diminishing refugee resettlement will reverse course even modestly, civil society and members of Congress should not let the government off the hook. They should remind the public that such goals are both reasonable and achievable and should work to prevent the often outlandish claims about resettlement from the administration and its allies outside government from settling into received wisdom.

In the event that it falls to a future administration to restore refugee resettlement, however, there are some broader lessons to be learned that could help put resettlement on a more sustainable footing for the future. One is the political lesson learned by the Obama administration as it grappled with Syria, which is that Congressional and public support for resettlement are both important and cannot be taken for granted. Part of the challenge is that the Cold War rationale for resettlement, which for years won the cooperation of political elites in resettling communist defectors, is long gone and has never been replaced by a driving strategic rationale of similar force. Another is that risk tolerance has shifted in the post-11 September era. While there may be no reliable playbook for securing public support for admitting a population like Syrians, the Obama experience at least offers some guideposts. Easing into Syrian admissions gradually, and in measured consultation with Congress, might have put the administration on a better path toward success than pivoting from a trickle to a highly publicised commitment to admit 10,000.

Second, a new administration seeking to get the program back up on its feet is going to have to pay attention to the operational side of the house. In its current form, the vetting pipeline is simply too cumbersome, duplicative and demanding of senior-level attention. The agencies that run the process – the State and Homeland Security Departments, along with multiple vetting agencies – all have different missions and authorities. They duplicate efforts, struggle to communicate and can be effectively coordinated only through very senior-level White House engagement, which is difficult to sustain over long periods of time.

Current and former officials offered several ideas for improving the system that could make a significant difference. One that had strong support was to bring the different U.S. government components that work on refugee admissions together in a single building – a fusion centre – so that they could collaborate, share information, develop informed judgments about cases and in general keep problems from mounting. A former senior White House official emphasized the importance of having vetting officials and intelligence agency representatives in the same physical space to unscramble questions as they arise. The same former official suggested empowering a senior civil servant – someone outside the White House – to oversee the process. “There are ten agencies in the mix and if any one of them goes off kilter the whole process goes off kilter”, said this former senior official. “If you really want the program to work, then put someone at the helm over all of them and give them the power to sort things out”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote

Because the Digital Service was seen as belonging to no one agency, it was an unusually effective broker of compromises.

The process itself also needs revision. A former official noted that multiple agencies often review the same database for no apparent reason. It “just slows the whole thing down”, said this former official, who also lamented that there was no person with the judgment and authority to say, “FBI, you check only against this”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former U.S. official, August 2018.Hide Footnote Another former official said the deeper problem is that “we haven’t built a refugee review process. We’ve grafted onto intelligence and law enforcement processes that already exist and say that we have a refugee process. We should figure out what we’re looking for and build a system that does that”.[fn]Crisis Group interview, former senior White House official, August 2018.Hide Footnote Whether or not a full system redesign is realistic, a new administration serious about revitalising the program should take a hard look at the possibility.

Finally, former officials had only praise for the work of the U.S. Digital Service in helping the program reach its goals in 2016. Because the Digital Service was seen as belonging to no one agency, it was an unusually effective broker of compromises. More importantly, it brought expertise that U.S. officials simply did not have. Its employees developed throughput models, figured out how to sequence cases more efficiently and came up with ways to transfer information inside the hydra-headed vetting apparatus more quickly. The Service or its successor should be involved with refugee admissions every year – mapping out how to achieve the program’s goals from day one and working to troubleshoot problems throughout the year.

VI. Conclusion

The architects of the U.S. refugee resettlement program wanted a way for the U.S. to bear its fair share of a refugee burden that fell disproportionately on less fortunate states, straining scarce resources and sometimes creating a risk of conflict or violence. Over time, the program they created has helped more than three million people start new lives in the U.S. and has won the support of successive Republican and Democratic administrations, which saw its overlapping humanitarian and strategic benefits. It has succeeded and even thrived despite some very significant challenges. Until now.

The welcoming message that the refugee resettlement program sends to vulnerable people all around the world – and that for years U.S. political leaders, diplomats and soldiers have seen as an asset – appears in the minds of the Trump administration to be a liability. This administration clearly prefers the message that President Trump sent when he spoke disparagingly of countries in Africa and Latin America while extolling Norway and when his administration brutally caused parents to be separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a message of standoffishness and hostility toward all but the small handful of countries that were favoured by the defunct national-origin quota system of the mid-20th century.

For proponents of refugee resettlement this set of facts is daunting. But there is still good reason to insist that the administration set serious and responsible resettlement goals that are consistent with historical norms, explain why these are achievable and in U.S. interests to pursue, and rebut the false and misleading information that the White House and its allies are using to discredit the program. If not now, then in a future administration, there will be an opportunity to restore the program, and it is not too early to shore up congressional and public support. A bright future may still be in the cards for the U.S. refugee resettlement program. It cannot begin soon enough.

Washington/Brussels, 12 September 2018

Appendix A: Key Aspects of the Refugee Act of 1980 relating to Refugee Resettlement – What Does It Do?

  1. Declares that it is the “historic policy of the United States” to respond to the urgent needs of refugees through:
  • humanitarian assistance for their care and maintenance in asylum areas,
  • efforts to promote opportunities for resettlement or voluntary repatriation, and
  • aid for necessary transportation and processing, admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the U.S., and transitional assistance to refugees in the U.S.
  1. Defines as its objective to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the U.S. and for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.
  2. Consistent with 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol defines “refugee” as a person who has fled his or her country of nationality (or if the president so determines, in consultation with Congress, a person still inside said country) who has been persecuted or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
  3. Provides for the annual refugee admissions ceiling to be a number determined in advance of each fiscal year by the president in “appropriate consultation” with Congress that is justified by humanitarian concerns or otherwise in the national interest.
  4. Provides for the president to determine that emergency admissions above and beyond the annual ceiling are required (and fix a twelve-month ceiling for such admissions) following appropriate consultations.
  5. Permits refugee spouses and children to participate in the program even if they do not themselves meet the definition of “refugee” – but requires that they be charged against the annual ceiling.
  6. Establishes the position of U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs (a role recently played by the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services – and created mechanisms for providing transitional support to refugees upon arrival in the U.S.

Appendix B: U.S. Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings and Admissions

Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Data hub. http://migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub
A market street in Kemeraltı, a populous district of Izmir, Turkey, where Turkish and Syrian shoppers often mix, in 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.

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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, in 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

A. 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

B. 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, in 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.

A. 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

B. 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.

A. 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

B. 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.

A. 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

B. 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

C. 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

D. 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, in 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.

A. 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.

B. 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.

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