The Brookings Institution-USAK - Turkey and Syrian Refugees: The Limits of Hospitality

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The Brookings Institution and USAK report; Turkey and Syrian Refugees: The Limits of Hospitality published in May 2014.

You can read the Introduction section below.

To read the full report in English, please click.


On April 29, 2011, the first Syrian refugees crossed the border into Turkey. Two years later, the country hosts some 600,000 Syrian refugees—200,000 of them living in 21 refugee camps with an additional 400,000 living outside of the camps (see charts 1 and 2 below). These estimates, reported by both the Turkish government and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are conservative.[1] Indeed, officials working directly with refugees on the ground suggest that the number living outside of the camps may be as high as 800,000.

These numbers are increasing: according to United Nations (UN) estimates, Turkey will be home to one million Syrians by the end of 2013.[2] Syrians have fled to Turkey in search of safety from a horrific conflict, leaving behind loved ones, jobs and property. Syrians from all walks of life - doctors and housewives, civil servants and farmers, the very old and the very young - have poured across the Turkish border. The Turkish people and the government, mainly through the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), responded generously to the refugees, offering them sanctuary and hospitality. But as the conflict intensifies – with no end in sight – and as the resources of the Turkish government and society are stretched thin, questions arise about the limits of Turkey's hospitality. The continued deterioration of the situation inside Syria is putting enormous pressures on Turkey’s ability to manage the refugee situation within its borders as well as its capacity to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian assistance into Syria.

This policy brief is the product of a strong collaborative effort between the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think-tank committed to quality, independence and impact and the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), a leading Turkish think-tank which seeks to encourage greater public awareness of national and international developments through research and expert analyses. For the Brookings Institution, this represents the second component of a three-part research project involving the collaboration of three scholars working in three different programs: Elizabeth Ferris (Brookings Institution-London School of Economics Project on Internal Displacement), Kemal Kirişci (Center for the US and Europe – Turkey Project) and Salman Shaikh (Brookings Doha Center). The project consists of three phases:

(i) The first part of the project was a substantive policy brief providing an overview of Syria's humanitarian crisis.[3]

(ii) The second part, represented here, is an in-depth examination of the implications of Syrian refugees for Turkey and will be followed by a longer report on Turkey, the European Union and Syrian displacement (to be published in early 2014 by Kemal Kirişci).

(iii) The third part will be a roundtable organized by the Brookings Doha Center (BDC), focused on strengthening coordination and cooperation between Gulf, regional and international actors working inside Syria. This will be followed by a BDC policy brief that examines humanitarian needs and emerging governance structures across the rebel-held north of the country. In a broad sense, this initiative seeks to complement the work of other scholars who concentrate on the military and political dimensions of the crisis. By focusing on humanitarian needs in Syria, a more comprehensive assessment of the present and future situation is possible.

USAK has been following the issue of Syrian refugees closely since the beginning of the crisis. It has recently published a comprehensive report entitled The Struggle for Life between Borders: Syrian Refugees based on a survey of Syrian refugees living in refugee camps in Turkey.[4] USAK’s monthly magazine Analist has also been regularly covering the Syrian humanitarian crisis, with a particular emphasis on examining the challenges that both the conflict and the refugees pose for Turkey.[5] In this vein, USAK continues to carry out research and to recommend actions which can be taken to address these challenges.

This policy brief is based on a joint Brookings-USAK research trip to the border region by Elizabeth Ferris, Kemal Kirişci, Vittoria Federici, Osman Bahadır Dinçer, Sema Karaca and Elif Özmenek Çarmıklı and interviews conducted in Istanbul, Ankara, Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay. It also draws from a joint Brookings-USAK seminar held in Ankara on 25 October 2013 which brought together some 45 participants from the Turkish government, civil society, national and international NGOs, international organizations and academic researchers.

Given that the seminar was held under the Chatham House Rule, there are no direct attributions to participants. The seminar included sessions on: the Syrian refugee and humanitarian situation in Turkey; the political and security dimension of the refugee and humanitarian crisis; and the international cooperation and burden-sharing dimension of the Syrian crisis on the Turkish border.

The authors hope that this policy brief will be helpful to both the Turkish government and civil society organizations and to international actors seeking to aid Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The impact of the Syrian refugee influx on Turkey is significant and deserves more attention from the international community. Most of all, the authors hope that political solutions are found that will bring an end to the massive displacement of the Syrian people.

  1. UNHCR, “Syria Regional Refugee Response Regional Overview,” Syria Regional Refugee Response, Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal, November 2013, These numbers are updated daily and are available on the AFAD website, see:
  2. UNHCR, Syria regional response plan – January to December 2013, June 2013,
  3. 3Elizabeth Ferris, Kemal Kirişci and Salman Sheikh, Syrian Crisis: Massive Displacement, Dire Needs and a Shortage of Solutions, 18 September 2013, Brookings Institution, Washington DC,; Kemal Kirişci, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey: The Limits of an Open Door Policy”, Brookings Institution, 27 June 2013,; Elizabeth Ferris, “The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis: Five Uncomfortable Questions for the International Community,” Brookings Institutions, July 8, 2013,;
  4. Mehmet Güçer, Sema Karaca and Osman Bahadır Dinçer, The Struggle for Life between Borders: Syrian Refugees, USAK Publications, Ankara, Report No13-04, May 2013,
  5. Osman Bahadır Dinçer, Sema Karaca and Hale Yavuz, “Göçün İkinci Yılında Suriyeli Savaş Mağdurları” [Syrian Victims of War in the Second Year of Refugee Crisis], Analist, March 2013, pp. 18-27,; Sema Karaca, “Kayıt Dışı Mülteciler, Kayda Değer Sorunlar” [Unregistered Refugees and Noteworthy Problems], Analist, September 2013, pp. 72-73,; İhsan Bal, “Suriyeli Mülteciler Krizinde Yeni Gerçek” [A New Reality in the Syrian Refugee Crisis], Analist, September 2013, pp. 36-37,


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