EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

Since March 2011, the Syrian civil war officially began, families have suffered under a brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, torn the nation apart. Because of the civil war, around 12 million people in the country need humanitarian assistance. About 6.7 million Syrians are now refugees, and another 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria. Half of the people affected are children[1].A large percentage of these displaced Syrians have moved to neighbouring countries and Europe as refugees since the conflict began.

As the Syrian conflict enters its ninth year, Turkey as a neighbouring country continues to host the highest number of refugees worldwide with 3,744,926 Syrian refugees and an estimated number of 400,000 from other countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq[2].

However, while Turkey, courtesy of the EU-Turkey agreement, maintains an open door policy towards refugees in large part due to EU-funds, questions remain over the country’s capacity not just to host but also integrate and accommodate asylum seekers in a sustainable manner; hosting refugees is much more than just opening the doors, and arrangements and regulations are needed to be made to ensure the proper integration of refugees.


Turkey has been undertaking legislative and institutional reforms to build an effective national asylum system in compliance with the international standards. In April 2013, Turkey adopted a comprehensive Law on Foreigners and International Protection, which establishes a dedicated legal framework for asylum in Turkey and affirms Turkey’s obligations towards all persons in need of international protection, regardless of country of origin[3].With the law, Turkey’s government not only created a different legal status under the name of “temporary protection” but also sets out the main pillars of Turkey’s national asylum system and also established the Directorate General of Migration Management as the main entity in charge of policy-making and proceedings for all foreigners in Turkey[4].However, under the Temporary Protection Regulation, Syrians need Turkish government-granted permits in order to work legally in the country. Although these “protected” Syrians enjoy basic public services like healthcare and education, their temporary status does not allow them to work legally in Turkey.[5]


According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, refugees have the right to work that is essentially equivalent to that of the host country’s citizens. In Turkey, however, because of the hardship in obtaining this permit and the regulations surrounding it, most Syrian workers are driven into the underground economy, leaving them open to exploitation[6]. Turkey’s government has put new regulations in order to eliminate this situation. As such, the innovative Regulation on Provision of Work Permits for People under Temporary Protection, as of January 2016, allows officially registered refugees under temporary protection to apply for work permits[7]. According to the Interior Minister of Turkey, since 2016 when the relevant law came into effect, around 65,000 work permits have been issued to Syrians. However, this has not significantly improved the situation as there are almost 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. According to Bookings, it is estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million Syrian refugees with protected status currently work in informal or irregular employment[8]. In addition, the United Nations estimates that over 64% of Syrian households in Turkish cities live close to or below the poverty line.

This situation is also because of the worsening economy of Turkey. The unemployment rate rose to 14.3% in July 2019[9]. Meanwhile, sharp increases in inflation and consumer prices have dramatically increased the cost of living for the average citizen. Unfortunately, according to the OECD and IMF estimates, the current growth – 2.6 % – of Turkey’s economy is not expected to recover any time soon. Under these conditions, although Turkey claims it has spent $ 45 billion supporting refugees[10], the situation is complicated for not only refugees but also for Turkish people. The number of jobless Turks has approximately doubled to 4.5 million since the government first began admitting Syrian refugees. Thus, Turks are blaming refugees for the country’s economic troubles irrespective of whether or not this is actually the case. There is, however, a case to be made for erosion of labour market standards due to many Syrians working for less than the minimum wage, leading to economic disruption.

Additionally, Syrian refugees are the most significant demographic change in Turkey. Only around 2 percent of Syrians live in the 13 official Temporary Accommodation Centres, while 98 percent reside among the host community in urban, peri-urban and rural areas. (Directorate General of Migration Management, October 2018).


As in many other countries, Turkish politics is becoming more polarized and sharply divided across opposition or support for President Erdogan’s policies. However, Turks’ dissatisfaction of the government’s decision to welcome Syrian refugees is a rare exception to that situation. Hosting around 4 million Syrian refugees is uniting some people across the traditional political divides. In Turkey, with the country’s growing political tensions, refugees are being blamed for the country’s economic and social troubles, resulting in hate speech, violence, and further pressure on the government to change the status quo in on border[11]. As another result, the growing anti-Syrian sentiment appears are eroding support for President Erdogan in Turkey. Well aware of this trend, Erdogan is trying to repatriate many refugees back to Syria, of which the attempt to create the controversial “safe-zone” in Syria is a piece of the puzzle. However, even if the region became stable and safe, it is expected that many Syrians will remain in Turkey forever; 9 years of civil war – and ongoing – make peace an unsustainable prospect to wait for.

From a domestic political perspective, Syrians are potentially also important to Erdogan; every vote which can come from the Islamist roots has great importance to ensuring the stability of his reign. According to Turkish Interior Minister Soylu, 76,443 Syrians had received Turkish citizenship by early January 2019, and the process of naturalization of skilled Syrians continues.

Ultimately, Turkey cannot provide for or contain numbers of this magnitude from a long-term perspective; regulation and capacity are simply too stretched, and prospects are simply too dire for all Syrians to remain in the country indefinitely. Thus, movement towards Europe by some refugees is inevitable. Given that climate change, regional instability, conflicts and more are likely to facilitate larger, stronger and more volatile migratory flows in the future; the European Union cannot keep externalizing the problems through financial aid to willing actors who can then use the threat of migratory flows politically. The EU needs to adopt a robust Common European Asylum System based on solidarity if the Union is to be able to sustainably face the challenges of tomorrow. Whether the V4 realizes this or will keep obstructing European solutions at every turn remains to be seen. As it is, the EU cannot keep externalising obligations to countries with different values, lower capacity, or dubious human rights track records, i.e. certain North African countries.

Tuba Nilüfer Uğur

[1]Huber, C., Reid, K., & Koenig, D. (2019, October 18). Syrian refugee crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help. Retrieved November 10, 2019, from World Vision:

[2]Ministry of Interior, Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), Migration Statistics, Temporary Protection, (

[3]Introduction to the Asylum Context in Turkey. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2018, from Asylum in Europe:

[4]Introduction to the Asylum Context in Turkey. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2018, from Asylum in Europe:

[5]Cagaptay, S., & Yuksel, D. (2019, August 5). Growing Anti-Syrian Sentiment in Turkey. Retrieved November 15, 2019, from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

[6]Makovsky, A. (2019, March 13). Turkey’s Refugee Dilemma. Retrieved November 15, 2019, from Center for American Progress:

[7]ILO’s Refugee Response. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2019, from International Labour Organization:–en/index.htm

[8]Uysal Kolasin, G., & Kirişci, K. (2019, July 18). Syrian refugees in Turkey need better access to formal jobs. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from Brookings:

[9]Turkey Unemployment Rate. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2019, from CEIC:

[10]Inglis, S. (2019, October 23). Syrian refugees in Turkey are there to stay, at least for now. Retrieved November 18, 2019, from The Conversation:

[11]Cagaptay, S., &Yuksel, D. (2019, August 5). Growing Anti-Syrian Sentiment in Turkey. Retrieved November 15, 2019, from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:





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