The Washington Institute - The Impact of Syria's Refugees on Southern Turkey

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The Washington Institute report, The Impact of Syria's Refufees on Southern Turkey was published in 2013 an updated and revised in July 2014. You can read the Introduction section of the report below.

To read the updated and revised 2014 version please click.
To read the 2013 please click
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Introduction

Since the Initial release of this study in October 2013, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has skyrocketed, although the precise numbers are difficult to obtain and even the official numbers fluctuate. As of June 2014, official Turkish government figures cite more than one million Syrian refugees, both registered and unregistered. A more conservative estimate by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put this number at 900,000, of which 747,000 are registered. This study will focus on the UNHCR figures.

From March 2011 to May 2011, when the Syrian demonstrations were mostly peaceful, only 252 Syrian refugees relocated to Turkey[1] By mid-January 2012, the regime violence had accelerated, Homs was bombarded for a month straight, and the number of refugees increased to 9,500. By the end of August 2012, with a full-scale civil war raging,the figure had climbed to 80,000.[2]

According to UNHCR, by May 2014, in addition to the 747,000 Syrians living in Turkey as refugees, some 100,000 to 150,000 had crossed the border with their passports and were illegally extending their stay.[3] This study will analyze the impact of the Syrian refugees in the five southern Turkish provinces bordering Syria—Gaziantep,Hatay, Kilis, Mardin, and Sanliurfa—where 622,864 of the 747,000 registered refugees are concentrated. In other words, these five provinces collectively host 83 percent of Turkey’s registered Syrian refugees. This study will refer only to registered refugees in these provinces, since estimates of unregistered refugees are unavailable.Relatedly, there is a strong sense that many, if not most, of the unregistered refugees have made their way to big cities in western Turkey where economic opportunities are significantly better than in southern Turkey.

At the time of this writing, Turkey has done a commendable job in welcoming the Syrian refugees, setting up entire cities equipped with clinics and schools at an overall cost that had risen to as much as $4 billion by June.[4] However, with prospects suggesting a further intensification of fighting, the number of Syrians in Turkey will likely increase, presenting Turkey with even further challenges.

Ankara’s move to provide safe haven to Syrians fleeing violence signaled a sharp shift away from the policy of rapprochement pursued by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) toward Syria over the preceding several years. The warming can be traced to 1998, when the Syrian regime ended its support for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) activities against Turkey. Subsequently, ties improved to such an extent that, by 2009, the two countries had lifted travel visa restrictions and, by 2010, the Turkish and Syrian cabinets were holding joint sessions, attended by key defense, interior, and justice ministers. Economic relations between the two countries likewise improved.

The Syrian uprising upended all these efforts. When the Syrian demonstrations began in early 2011, Ankara initially sought to provide counsel, urging the regime of Bashar al-Assad to enact reforms and refrain from violence against protestors. But when that policy proved ineffective, Ankara began to provide safe haven to the Syrian rebels, later opening its doors to civilian refugees. The demographic, economic, political, and social impact of the Syrian refugees on the southern Turkish provinces merits in-depth analysis.

Turkey has taken serious steps in the past year to improve conditions for the growing influx of Syrian refugees. And even though the New York Times Magazine referred to a Kilis refugee camp, one of twenty-two in Turkey, as the world’s best,[5] Turkey will nonetheless continue to face social, demographic, ethnic, and sectarian pressures created by the largest refugee flow in the country’s modern history.

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  1. Ceren Mutus, “Suriyeden Ilk ‘Multeci’ Grubu Geldi: Turkiye Ne Kadar Hazir?” Uluslararasi Stratejik Arastirmalar Kurumu (Turkish Weekly), May 2, 2011, http://www.usakgundem.com/yazar/2090/suriye-39-den-Ilkquot-multeci-quot-grubu-geldi-turkiye-ne-kadar-hazır.html.
  2. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “UNHCR Turkey Syrian Refugee Daily Sitrep,” as of May 22, 2014, https://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224
  3. Ibid.
  4. Source based on interview with U.S. officials.
  5. Mac McClelland, “How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp,” New York Times Magazine, February 13, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/magazine/how-to-build-a-perfect-refugee-camp.html.

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