Refugee Protection in Turkey: Evaluating Needs and Challenges

Since the beginning of the civil conflict in Syria, 2.7 million refugees have fled to Turkey, which hosts the greatest number of Syrian refugees in the world. Despite Turkey’s support hosting Syrian refugees, long-term integration efforts still need to be developed to ensure the successful resettlement of refugees.

In a report published by the Migration Policy Institute, Metin Corabatir provides a comprehensive look at the legal and policy framework through which Turkey manages its refugee populations. Çorabatir argues that Turkey must close the gap between the variable rights granted to different groups of refugees by reforming the legal frameworks that govern refugees. In addition, policymakers should aim to provide long-term measures to enhance prospects for Syrian refugees by moving away from a camp-centered approach that focuses merely on the provision of short-term needs to developing strategies for stable resettlement. 

In 2015, the Turkish government estimated that it spent over 450 million euros per month to cover refugees’ basic needs, such as education facilities, health centers, and medical services. Although the Turkish response has focused on creating and maintaining camps, evidence shows that the Syrian refugee population living outside of the camps has increased substantially. The population movements can be attributed to a number of factors including the lack of space in camps, the restrictions on movement, and the ability to work in camps. This has led to refugee population movements from border cities to large urban areas such as Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir.

Presently, Turkish government policies have created legal protection gaps and impediments to the provision of the needs of Syrian refugees. In 1951, Turkey agreed to ratify the Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees but imposed a qualification that only maintains legal responsibility for refugees originating from European countries. Asylum seekers from countries outside of Europe, such as Syrians, are only entitled to receive temporary protection. This policy is problematic given that the majority of asylum seekers in Turkey are fleeing non-European countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq.

Asylum seekers from non-European countries are given the legal status of “conditional refugees.” Their only option is to go through individual refugee status determination (RSD)—a process that is implemented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If the RSD process determines an individual asylum claim is legitimate, the UNHCR will begin a process to resettle the refugee in a third country. However, there are significant limitations on the number of refugees who can be resettled. These limitations are contingent on quotas and agreements with host countries. For example, in 2014 and 2015, UNHCR assigned quotas of 4,923 and 8,040 Syrian refugees respectively for resettlement in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, and Australia. Actual resettlements were substantially lower at just 883 in 2014 and 253 in 2015.

Additionally, non-European refugees are subject to two parallel asylum systems, one for individual arrivals (the individual RSD process) and another for when there is a mass influx of refugees. Turkey’s 2014 Law on Foreigners and International Protection prevents large influxes of refugees from resettling permanently in Turkey or the engaging in the UNHCR resettlement process. Therefore, approximately 2.7 million refugees are left in limbo—facing difficult conditions as urban refugees, enduring life in refugee camps, or taking a risk and migrating to the European Union.

The current system of temporary protection grants conditional refugees access to some social services, but it does not recognize their right to work. As a result, while the law provisionally improves refugees’ material conditions by granting them temporary protection in refugee camps, it is not intended to provide a long-term integration solution for refugees.

Reforming the Law on Foreigners and International Practice to recognize the rights of refugees regardless of their country of origin would benefit refugees and Turkey by establishing the legal framework necessary to pursue resettlement in other countries, as well as long-term integration in Turkey. However, given the relatively low number of international resettlement pledges, any asylum system centered on the belief that all individuals granted refugee status must be resettled will not operate efficiently.  

While Turkey has been able to effectively manage meeting the basic needs of refugees in camps, the government’s focus must shift towards establishing policies and a legal framework that ensure durable protection for refugees in the long-term, pathways to settlement, and full integration into society.

Article source: Çorabatir, Metin. “The Evolving Approach to Refugee Protection in Turkey: Assessing the Practical and Political Needs.” Migration Policy Institute: 2016.

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Vicky Stavropoulos

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