Social development

Turkish immigration laws and the current situation of the Syrian crisis in Turkey: Syrian refugees or future Turkish citizens – Istanbul – survey


These research papers discuss the immigration laws in Turkey in addition to the current situation of the Syrian refugees who exceeded 3000000 people scattered all over Turkey, most of them are children and women.This research also clarifies the modern history of immigration to Turkey and how it changed and developed over the years since the 1930s until Geneva Convention in 1951 in addition to protocol 1967 until this time together with the establishment of the Directorate General for Migration Management end of 2014. This study, in addition, explores the Turkish legal background of the immigration policies and investigating their effectiveness. The most used expression to describe the huge existence of the Syrian refugees in Turkey is the word ‘guests’ rather than calling them ‘refugees’ explicitly. The linguistic barrier between the two sides makes communication more difficult. Despite this fact, any local community that receives large number of outsiders for any reason might feel threatened by those new comers accompanied by a state of social tension and fear of strangers among other things. On the other hand, there are positive consequences for the Turkish community, apart from the Syrian refugees’ crisis, especially in businesses, economy and the trade of export in the southern Turkish provinces, Hatay, Gaziantep, Kilis, Urfa and Mardin. No matter how much Turkey benefits, it loses a huge amount of money to cover hosting the refugees whether in the 23 camps in southeast Turkey or in setting up a local registration system to issue biometric IDs and building social, health and living centers. In the middle of the Turkish government efforts towards the Syrian refugees’ crisis, Turkey continues to develop immigration policies that accelerated since the Syrian crisis began mid of 2011 and since the start of the influx of thousands of migrants because of the Syrian civil war. What is worth mentioning here is the political dispute between Turkey and the EU concerning Turkey’s demand to join the EU a few years ago. Such an issue is eventually related to the Syrian refugees issue and to what extent Turkey can be a place to host refugees rather than a crossing point to the EU countries because in the past Turkey was a juncture to Europe for many refugees.

To understand the reactions and opinions of the Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees, a survey was conducted with a questionnaire to explore the feelings of each group towards the other and towards the government policies and the suggested solutions. Depending on the achieved results, this research will explain at a later stage the stances of the Turkish community and the opinions of the Syrian refugees.

The previous studies:

The Syrian refugee crisis was addressed in many reports and researches. Ahmet İçduygu, Director of the Migration Research Center at Koç University in Turkey, is one of the prominent researchers in this field who thinks of the importance of re-defining the Syrian refugees in Turkey. Soner Cagaptay, a researcher in The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, admits that Turkey controls the Syrian refugees well. In spite of this, he believes the future will be more difficult because of the increasing number of the Syrian refugees. There is a recent research published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and it explains a number of the rapid changes in the Turkish law, such as in work permit, the free use of healthcare centers and the movement of refugees inside and outside Turkey. In addition, there is encouragement of more international cooperation with the Turkish authorities at the financial level and through the exchange of expertise of the crisis management because Turkey alone cannot meet the needs of the Syrian refugees. In this research, the Syrian refugee is considered anyone who comes legally or illegally, the one who runs away from the war in Syria with no refugee status or residence permit. The refugee can be a new born if he is not awarded the nationality and he will be like the new born considered as stateless.

Economically, many reports explained how the Syrian crisis led to an increase in the Turkish economic output positively. There is a recent report issued by the Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2016-2017 which showed that Gaziantep exports to Syria increased three times in the last few years. Despite this, there were not many surveys during the research time about what Syrians opinions concerning what is happening or the solutions they think of. In fact, most surveys in the different studies showed the presence of negative opinions expressed by Turkish citizens towards the Syrian refugees.

This research explains the following points: First, it explores the Turkish immigration policy. Second, it provides an evaluation and information that are more accurate about the impact of the large number of the Syrian refugees on the host community at the economic, social, cultural and legislative level. Third, it introduces the result of the research method was implemented via a questionnaire given to both the Syrian refugees and the Turkish citizens to explore/compare the feelings of individuals towards social integration, fear of foreigners and the social tension within the community. Finally, this research discusses the recommendations special to politics and some issues related to the integration concept in addition to the crisis solutions and the future of the immigration scene.

The Syrian refugees issue in Turkey is worth attention for many reasons:


  • The increasing effect of refugees on the host societies:


As from December 2015, Turkey hosted the largest number of Syrian refugees in the world, 3100000 refugees. Therefore, there are inevitable effects, positive or negative that the host country might either resist or co-live with for many coming years. The difference between the migrants, especially those who flee the wars, and the members of the host society is fields such as education, economic situation, the linguistic barrier and the social classes changes as a result of marriage between the two sides which will affect the demographic structure of the host society. It will also increase the cost of living and create more competition in the job market, especially to those of low benchmark.


  • The Turkish immigration system:


Since the establishment of the republic in the last century, Turkey put some immigration laws which are still developing according to the regional events. For example, since the 30s, Turkey coined some legislations concerning immigration laws and they were biased in favor of the “Turkish background and dynasty”. This applied in particular to the immigration that started from the previous Ottoman lands to what is currently known as Eastern Europe such as the Balkan States.


  • The result for the area:


The large numbers of refugees coming from the war area influence Turkey and they will definitely influence all the neighboring countries especially those of a similar cultural background such as the Arab countries. There is a good example here which is Jordan that hosts more than 1000000 Syrian refugees (in addition to the Palestinian refugees) and Lebanon which hosts 1500000 and Egypt which hosts 130000 Syrian refugees. This will influence all the host countries whether at the economic level or at the political dispute concerning the legality and the period of the refugees residence.


  • The idea of burden-sharing:


Looking at the never-ending Middle East crisis and focusing more on the concept of refugees such as the Syrian refugees crisis in which 6000000 people crossed the borders and another 6000000 people are internally displaced might arise the idea of burden-sharing among the affected countries, such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

This might also apply to the border context such as international organizations, governmental and non-governmental organizations which might share the burden and offer assistance in the long or short run.

3-1. Reviewing the Turkish immigration policy:

The influx of migrants to the Turkey is not new or surprising because Turkey is the previous place of the Ottoman Empire that included large numbers of different races including the Turks, Arabs, Persians and different religious backgrounds as well. Despite this, the foundation of modern Turkey, known as the republic of Turkey, in 1922 has a special view of the international relations and the internal laws including the immigration policies. Since that time, the other parts of what was previously known as the Ottoman lands that included many people of Turkish background and Turkish origin started to return to modern Turkey. In 1934, the first Turkish legal document was the settlement law which was clearly biased in favor of settling anyone with a Turkish origin, giving him the Turkish nationality. This continued for years until Turkey became a member in the UN in 1945. Since then, Turkey started signing treaties and passing laws about the immigration policies. The second Turkish document was Geneva Convention that was signed in 1951 with its amended protocol in 1967 concerning refugees. The immigration policies were developed in Geneva Convention depending on the geographical borders and the European background as conditions to for accepting refugees.

Despite this, the arrival of people of non-Turkish origin was considered illegal. In the 1980s, Turkey started to integrate the foreigners in its legal system. This important change was due to many reasons such as globalism and a number of other economic and chaotic changes especially in the Middle East. In the beginning of the 1990s, Turkey received more than 5000000 illegal migrant coming from Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and African countries who were either trying to stay in Turkey or wanted to continue their way to Europe. In the period 1990-1991, because of violence north of Iraq, Turkey received more than 500000 Kurds fleeing the war. Therefore, in 1994, Turkey founded the immigration law that was replaced in 2013 with the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (Notice the difference of terms used in the two laws) but the geographical borders of Geneva Convention were preserved. That is why those non-European people who migrated to Turkey deserve temporary protection, not asylum, although those people are registered as refugees in UNHCR. The time of the temporary protection period has not been specified. In the 2000s, with Turkey plans to join the EU, one of the necessary things was to improve the system of migration and asylum in Turkey in a way that is in harmony of the EU bylaws. Therefore, Turkey passed the law of foreigners work permit (Law No. 4817) in 2003 to facilitate the entrance of foreigners who want to work in Turkey in a more organized way. In 2005, Turkey adopted a National Action Plan on Migration and Asylum which specified time schedules and steps to adopt EU Community legislation (Turkish National Action Plan for the Adoption of the EU Acquis in the field of Asylum and Migration).

Since the Syrian crisis started in 2011, thousands then hundreds of people started the immigration journey of either staying in Turkey or to continue to Europe. In 2013, Turkey specified the general guidelines of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection which more importantly included people of non-Turkish origins. Despite this, the influx of migrants was excessive in 2014 so that the camps were unable to accommodate any more refugees. In October 2014, Turkey established the only framework for any migrant or asylum seeker that is the Directorate General for Migration Management in addition to the new temporary protection law. The creation of the temporary protection was a temporal solution to deal with the large numbers that started coming in the beginnings of 2014 due to the worsening situation in Syria. With the temporary protection law, the procedure became clearer before the party dealing with the refugees documents and the right to reside legally in Turkey in addition to the possibility of using many social centers and healthcare centers and the biometric IDs.

3-2 Turkey of the refugee crisis management:

Despite wars and revolutions that never end in the Middle East and despite the 1300 KM (800 miles) border long that Turkey shares with Syria and Iraq, the borders that actually witnessed complete chaos in the past years, Syria was more connected to Turkey in the happy times as there were exports and imports (which will be detailed later) or in the hard times where the chaos led to the fleeing of millions to stay in Turkey or to use it as a crossing to reach Europe. The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey was established in 2009. Currently, it is responsible for about 23 refugee camps in southern Turkey with the help of two Turkish organizations, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation and the Turkish Red Crescent. Both IHH and the Turkish Red Crescent cooperate together with some aid from the international organizations to manage the registration of refugees and to provide the medical and social care in the camps to meet the urgent needs of the Syrian refugees. Later in 2014, Turkey founded the Directorate General for Migration Management which became the only governmental organization dealing with asylum seekers affairs.

Until mid 2015, Turkey alone was dealing with the Syrian refugees crisis in all aspects, inside and outside the camps with a cost exceeding 5 million dollars. The international community covers 3% of this cost only. Despite this, there are now 139 approved international NGOs in Turkey. All these NGOs work with the Turkish governmental organizations. In spite of this, the non-Turkish organizations still face some difficulties to reach the central refugees system managed by the Directorate General for Migration Management. Therefore, they need to contact the Directorate General for Migration Management to get future help for information about the refugees and their conditions. This means that the non-Turkish organizations don’t enjoy full independence inside Turkey. Despite this, these organizations started in the recent months to gain some freedom in performing their missions, such as building health centers, schools for children and improving service and awareness among the refugees inside and outside the camps. In January 2016, Turkey enacted a legislation that required a visa from all Syrians who want to enter Turkey by air or sea to enter the country legally. Despite this, the Syrians who come through the Turkish Syrian borders from the war zones can enter the country freely (although the borders are closed sometimes).

3-3 Immigration laws vs. what is happening in reality:

Law making is an easy process but it becomes difficult when applying it. Looking to the laws and policies of immigration compared to the current situation of the Syrian refugees in Turkey shows that the issue is more complicated. There were many laws and bylaws in Turkey since the republic was founded through Geneva Convention in 1951 until the last changes in the immigration policies, such as the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, were activated since April 2014 together with the Directorate General for Migration Management in the same year. Despite this, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection and the laws of temporary protection are now the legal concept to deal with the Syrian refugees crisis such as getting the needed documents and legal basis or the official procedures. Some of the laws and bylaws appear inapplicable (or meaningless). For example, Geneva Convention obliges Turkey with the geographical borders although this cannot be applied in the current situation as thousands of the non-Europeans are entering the country as refugees.

The immigration laws derived from or similar to some international laws, especially the laws of immigration and asylum incline to link at the international level as if we were looking to Geneva Convention. Looking at the Turkish immigration policy, we find that it is between two directions. This makes it difficult to harmonize with the regional and international challenges. Since the 1930s, and with the settlement act (which is biased in favor of the people of Turkish origins) and with Geneva Convention 1951 (which shortened the commitment granted to the people of European origin), we find Turkey confined between the old immigration policy based on national heritage and the trend of the modern time based on international directions. Turkey should specify the immigration policy it will adopt to deal wisely with the current crisis.

Labor laws are still developing and they will be more organized in the future.  In January 2016, a new law was passed known as “Regulation on Work Permits of Foreigners under Temporary Protection” to allow Syrian refugees to apply for work permits. With this law, Syrian refugees who had stayed more than 6 months in Turkey can apply to get a work permit in the province they are registered in. despite this, employers must keep a 10% share for Syrians.

Despite this, there is an urgent need to study the application of these bylaws and laws especially from the Turkish citizen point of view and the possibility of activating them. This represents a major challenge and Turkey should deal with the situation of the situation of the labor of the Syrian refugees or those under the “temporary protection”.

The Turkish government is continuously reviewing its laws. Since January 2016, it granted all the Syrian refugees free healthcare in public hospitals, provided that the Syrian person is registered (a temporary protection) and that he is entitled to get free healthcare in the city where he is registered. For example, if someone is registered in Gaziantep and for any reason he was in Ankara, he cannot get free healthcare because he is not in the city in which he is registered. As for those who might find jobs or who have to move to other places for any reason, it is still difficult to amend their data. In most cases, those people cannot benefit from free healthcare or other medical discounts.

4-1 Reviewing the context of Syrian Refugees:

Since the turbulence started in Syria mid of 2011, 8000 Syrians were accommodated in the bordering Hatay Province in June. In the start of 2011, there were 15000 homeless and registered Syrians in Hatay. With the continuation of turbulence and with the collapse of ceasefire, in mid-2012, the southern area in Turkey started to receive 20000 Syrians every month fleeing the horrors of war. Most of those Syrians settled in areas south of Turkey. By the end of 2012, there were more than 170000 registered refugees (although there are many other thousands unregistered). This situation continued as turbulence and violence increased in 2013 until mid-2014 (as a result of the appearance of Isis and the start of the US led international coalition). In 2013, more than 400000 Syrians arrived and in 2014 more than one million arrived and in 2016, the total number of Syrians who entered Turkey reached 600000 Syrians. According to a recent report, the total number of the (registered) Syrians in Turkey until July 2016 exceeded three million refugees, 10% among them live in camps and 90% live out of the camps. The largest number of Syrians is in the southern part of Turkey especially in the bordering provinces: 1. Hatay, 2. Gaziantep, 3. Kilis, 4.Urfa, 5. Mardin. (the next part will explain this in more details). There is a small number of Syrians in camps compared to the number of Syrians living out of the camps. Until the time of writing this research, there are 23 camps in 10 provinces including Gaziantep, Kilis, Urfa, Hatay, Osmaniye, Mardin, Adana, Adıyaman and Maraş.

Looking at the numbers mentioned above, Turkey faces a new wave of immigration crisis although Turkey has a previous experience with 500000 refugees coming from Iraq in the 1990s. But the number of Syrian refugees was much larger compared to this number. Therefore, Turkey is still new to this kind of crises and now it has the biggest number of refugees in the world (most of them are Syrians).

4-3 Demographic and social structure of Syrians in Turkey:

Currently, Syrians represent 1% of the total number of the population in Turkey. But it is necessary to provide some information and numbers of people in Turkey now before we start reviewing the Syrian population structure. According to a recent report, Turkey’s population exceeds 76.6 million people. The number of Syrians compared to this number is small. But if we look at the divisions and the different races within the geography of Turkey, we find that the Turkish origins represent about 75%, followed by the Kurdish origins 18% and then the Arabic origins 1%. The remaining percent, that is 7%, consists of few ethnic minorities, such as those of Armenian, Sorani or Azerbaijani origins (before 2011, look at the pie chart below).

Pie chart 1: percentage of origins compared to the total number of the population in Turkey (76.6 millions)

Considering the fact that most Syrians reside in the provinces on the south borders, it is necessary to refer to the demographic structure of those provinces and the social and economic situation there. Hatay depends on trade and agriculture; Gaziantep and Kilis depend mainly on small factories and the trade of smuggling; Urfa has a prosperous economy and Mardin has several economic relations with Iraq. These provinces include 7.9% of the total population and 5% of the Turkish economic output.

Most Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey live near the Turkish Syrian borders. On the other hand, there are large numbers in big cities such as Istanbul in which there are more than 300000 Syrian refugees, in the city and its suburbs. The number of Syrians in the 5 bordering Turkish provinces increased a lot so that the number became more than the number of their original citizens. For example, 50% of Kilis population are Syrians, followed by Gaziantep where Syrians are 10%, followed by Urfa in which Syrians are 9.85% and finally Mardin in which Syrians are 6.07% of its population. Comparing the number of Syrians to the number of citizens, Kilis comes first because fewer people live in it compared to the other four Turkish provinces; Hatay, Gaziantep, Urfa and Mardin (please look at the following chart).

Chart 1: the percent of coming Syrian refugees to the local citizens in the five southern provinces.

The social structure in Syria with its governing authority is necessary to understand the Syrian people who prefer to stay in Turkey. Most Syrians are Muslim Sunnis, but the governing authority represented by Bashar Assad regime is Alawite that belongs to Muslim Shiites. Because of this, the Syrian Alawites found a safe haven in Syria, especially in Damascus where most Assad supporters live. Most of the people fleeing Syria go to Turkey. As a result, these groups consist mainly of Syrian Muslim Sunnis who oppose Assad and his Alawite followers politically and religiously. Alawites are not found in Syria only, but also in Turkey, mostly in Hatay province in which a big number of Syrian Sunni refugees settled in the last few years. As a result, tensions started among the citizens and the coming Syrians (this will be explained in the following section).

4-3 Focusing on the five southern provinces in Turkey:

Until the year 1938, there were many Arabs, Armenians and Alawites in some southern parts of Turkey, especially Hatay province. Despite this, the Turkish army seized this area in the aftermath of the new Turkish government. The French mandate for Syria (the western and southern and the remaining area that were under the British mandate) did not object. The Arabs (mostly Alawites) existed in the southern areas of Turkey and most of them reside in Hatay province. The percentage of the Turkish Alawites (and the Kurds) and Arabs in Turkey is about 15%.

The Turkish Statistical Institute that conducted a survey in 2007 about the number of Arabs in Turkey (defined as those whose mother tongue is Arabic) found that Arabs represent 1.25 from the population of Turkey and that the Syrian refugees in Turkey somehow have an increasing effect. The structure of Turkey southern provinces is now undergoing changes in the demographic and social structure. In what follows, there is an estimation of the number of the Arabs before and after the influx of the Syrian refugees. According to a recent estimation, the percentage of the Arabs in Hatay is 34% and it might have increased to 38%. Mardin which includes 21% of Arabs comes second after Hatay where the percent might have reached 24%. The third province is Urfa which includes 13% Arabs and the percentage might have reached 21%. In Gaziantep, which is considered the 6th biggest province in Turkey and which contains the most of the population of the southern area, includes 1% Arabs. The percentage might be 9% now. In the final place comes Kilis province that witnessed the biggest change in the demographic structure as the percentage of Arabs jumped from 1% to 37%.

Chart 2: the estimated percent of Arabs after the Syrian refugees crisis.

The Syrian influx started reaching these south provinces created some tensions especially in Hatay (in which there are some Arab Alawites). This influx of Arab Sunnis from Syria changes the political and religious balance in Hatay province as the big part of Hatay includes Turks, Kurds and Arab Alawites who sympathize with Assad regime and who support it explicitly. The matter does not stop here: Hatay is a stronghold of the opponents of the ruling party, Justice and Development Party (AKP), those who oppose the party’s policies and stances towards the Syrian cause. Despite this, Hatay strongly supports the opposing Republican People’s Party. Because of the many incidents that occurred since the Syrian refugees came to the five southern provinces, especially Hatay, there were many attacks and a case of instability that started to be of concern to the Turkish government in Ankara. As Hatay population exceeded 1.5 million people, there are 400000 to 700000 Alawites- and the number of the coming Syrians was about 1333321, most of them are Sunnis, this caused tension more than any other time. One example of these tensions was in April 2013 when the attackers tried to storm Ali Yeral’s home, head of Ahl El Bayt association of culture and solidarity which is in Alawite NGO. Another incident occurred in Antakya, a city within Hatay province, when an Alawite was verbally abused in January 2014. As Hatay has this special case as it is controlled by Alawites and as it is a political opponent to the government stances especially towards the Syrian case, let alone its explicit support of Assad regime, as well as its involvement in the recent Sunni issues, this affected Ankara and made it take different procedures. That is why the Syrians who were given residence could settle down in all Turkey provinces except Hatay and Şırnak (as the PKK and the security fears in addition to poverty might reduce the possibility of integration).

4-4 The situation of the Syrian refugees vs. the Turkish community stance:

After reviewing the historical and legal side of the official procedures regarding immigration in Turkey towards the crisis of the Syrian refugees and the details of the demographic and political structure in addition to the social changes, it is necessary to present a clear image of the Syrian refugees in Turkey which is characterized by complexity and an image of their living conditions. It is also necessary to observe the reactions of the Turkish community to the Syrian cause and the effect of Syrians on the Turkish citizens. As we mentioned earlier, 10% of the three million Syrians in Turkey decided to stay in camps and the other 90% chose to be out of the camps (urban refugees). According to a recent estimation, more than 53% of the Syrian refugees are under 18 years old and the number of children who were born in Turkey since the start of the crisis is about 60000 children. In any society where two million people intrude, it is expected that both will face difficulties; the host and the visitors. These potential difficulties might appear in settling the new comers and their living conditions, such as finding jobs to settle financially let alone the other necessities of life such as education, the cultural belonging and the future expectations. The presence of Syrians in Turkey might also affect the structure of the Turkish family and its local community in culture, traditions and marriage to foreigners.

The current situation of the Syrian people and their clear competitions as well as their economic share in the Turkish community might increase tension and the hostile feelings towards Syrians. The large number of Syrians that exceeds three million people now certainly has positive and negative effects that could be clear or could need research. In the following part, we explain the reactions of the Turkish citizens and the effects of the Syrian citizens on Turkey from the view of employment and the situation of women and children.

4-1 Employment:

Looking at employment sectors in Turkey as mentioned earlier, Turkey issued a new legislation in January 2016 regarding work permits to the refugees, but there is a need to further clarification of the application and activation of the laws. One of the most affected sectors is the sector of hard labor and the labors that don’t require skills. The area most affected is that of north Turkey, the five provinces where most Syrians reside. Comparing the Syrian workers with their Turkish counterparts, it is clear that Syrians are paid less. Therefore, employers benefit more in appointing them instead of the local workers. The Syrian worker is ready to work for 300 Turkish Liras (79 US$) a month, while the Turkish citizen will ask for 1000 Turkish Liras (325 US$) a month. On the other hand, the Turkish workers might be bothered when Syrians work in certain jobs such as restaurants, trade and hard labors. Despite this, the average payment in Turkey is not enough to the Turkish citizens according to a recent estimation. The average pay in Turkey is 1512 Turkish liras (500 US$). This is considered a pay for the lucky citizen as seen by the unemployed citizens. Some economy experts believe that not only Syrians need support, but the Turkish citizens need some attention as well. The unemployment average reaches 9.4 and it started to cause some problems especially for the Turkish youths who found themselves in a competition with the Syrians at least in the jobs that don’t require skills and in the hard labor. Turkey is not a rich country. So, its citizens need some support. As a result, the Turkish citizens opinions towards Syrians are clearly negative. According to a recent questionnaire about their visions of Syrians in south east Turkey, 69% of the Turks agreed with the phrase “Syrians get jobs” and only 44% agreed with ‘Syrians should not be given work permit”.  Syrians in Turkey cannot get a job officially and many of them work illegally and many of them are under 18. Certainly, the illegality of getting a job and the bad conditions at work for Syrians increased the risk of exploiting them, especially women and children. Therefore, integrating Syrians in the Turkish society is hard and needs more serious and effective efforts.

4-2 Children:

Considering the work conditions of Syrians in Turkey, child labor is considered another important point where Syrians integration faces a major challenge. Children are supposed to school, but they need to learn Turkish to join official schools and this makes the matter more difficult. There is no accurate number of Syrian children. According to recent estimations, the number of Syrian refugees in November 2015 was 2181293, including 1.2 million children under 18. Another estimation shows that there are 400000 out of 663138 children in Turkey (6-17 years) unregistered in schools and don’t receive official education. Despite this, Turkey is still receiving new influxes of Syrians (registered or not). This means the number of children is likely to increase. On the other hand, the ministry of education, as it stated, registered more than 215000 Syrian children in the elementary and secondary schools. By the end of 2016, the children who were at school age were estimated to be 990000. Despite this, they Syrian youths (18+) in Turkey are still facing some difficulties in continuing their study. Despite the good initiative the Turkish authorities did in 2012 to exempt Syrians who want to study in public universities from the fees of the University, masters and PhD levels, it is difficult for Syrians to benefit from this. The reason is the linguistic barrier. Students must learn Turkish before they think of applying to universities. There could be another barrier: some universities allocate a limited number of seats to non-Turkish students. The total number of Syrian university students is about 4500, but this is considered a small number compared to the large number of Syrians.

4-3 Women

The situation of Syrian women is not better; out of the total number of Syrians in Turkey, there are 25% women and 4% of pregnant women in addition to 15% of giving birth cases that require urgent medical interference. Despite the lack of financial evaluation, the survey done by the disaster and emergency management on Syrian women in Turkey including 1500 families residing in camps and 1200 families not in camps end of 2014, the following information was given: 97% of Syrian women out of the camps were not able to earn any money in the month before the survey and 78% didn’t have enough money to buy food for the next 7 days. There was another problem Syrian women in Turkey underwent, which is becoming a second wife. Although this kind of marriage can be a solution especially for poor Syrian families that might not find a home to stay in or food for the coming days, Turkey outlaws it; therefore Syrian women cannot get the Turkish nationality. On the other hand, this false marriage might harm the Syrian women. When any problem occurs, the woman cannot file any complaint or go to court because this marriage is not official. Turkey as a secular country outlawed polygamy (it is criminalized in the Turkish law). But most of the Turks are Muslims and polygamy for them is something acceptable. This issue creates hostile feelings towards Syrians by some Turks (including the Muslim Turks, especially the women). According to Kilis platform, a non-governmental platform, there are more than 4000 cases where a Syrian woman became a second wife since 2012, most of them were south of Turkey. The spread of polygamy in Turkey created some hostile feelings especially among the women who found that their husbands marrying a poor Syrian woman, as a second wife.

4-4 Syrian ways to gain the Turkish nationality:

There are three ways non-Turks can obtain the Turkish nationality. According to Turkish regulations, anyone can obtain the Turkish nationality either by birth or after spending 5 years of legal residence or via marriage to a Turkish citizen. According to Muammer Güler, the previous minister of interior, the total number of Syrians who obtained the Turkish nationality was 2543 people between 2008 and 2013. There is another easy way for non-Turks which is to marry a Turkish citizen, a solution that looks good to many Syrians. Despite this, there are some serious effects of the current nationality regulations. First, there laws existed before having a crisis of large number of refugees, such as the current one in neighboring countries such as Syria and Iraq. Second, the Syrian refugees appear as a complex case as many Syrians come because there is no solution for the war in Syria. Finally, according to the law of five years of legal residence, there will be about 2000 Syrians who entered Turkey in 2011 who deserve obtaining the nationality by 2016. The number of Syrians entitled to receive the nationality by 2018 could be a million Syrian and this number might double later in 2019. No doubt, the Turkish government is aware of these challenges and it is expected to have new laws in the coming months.

8-1 The research method:

To discover what the Turkish citizens and the Syrian refugees believe about my study, a questionnaire was given to both groups. This questionnaire explores the societal context and it compares between the two groups in terms of positive and negative responses to the questions in the questionnaire.

8-2 The material:

There are two different questionnaires. Each of them was designed to explore and know the opinions of the Turkish citizens and those of the Syrian refugees regarding the case study. The first questionnaire that was prepared for the Turkish citizens contains 14 questions written in Turkish and the other questionnaire was prepared for the Syrian refugees and it consists of 17 questions written in Arabic.

8-3 The participants:

The total number of participants is 60 participants, 30 Turkish citizens and 30 Syrians. Each group was divided into equal numbers of males and females. The average age of all participants in both questionnaires was between 18 and 25. There were three personal questions (gender, age and income) and one question about political belonging.

8-4 The method:

Participants were chosen at random to volunteer to participate in this study. Each questionnaire is one page with a short introduction that explains the need of their participation. The questionnaires were given to the participants in places such as public transportation, schools and trade centers. The participants were informed about the research study and the top confidentiality. That is why participants were not asked about their names or how they can be contacted.

8-5 Measures of the Turkish specimen:

To understand some of the general stances of the Turkish specimen regarding the importance of the research and the open door policy Turkey adopts towards the Syrian crisis, participants were asked to evaluate their opinions at a scale of agree- disagree consisting of five points: (strongly agree- agree- neutral- disagree- strongly disagree) for the following two questions: “do you think the research addresses one of the challenges Turkey is currently facing?” and “do you agree with the open door policy towards the Syrian refugees?”

To know what the Turkish citizens believe about Turkey use of the refugees paper in its negotiations for EU membership, the following question was asked to the participants: “can the Syrian refugees crisis a card that Turkey can use in its membership negotiations with the EU?”. Three options were given: “yes”, “No” and “I don’t know”. To know the general knowledge about the number of Syrian refugees, the participants were asked: ”how many Syrian refugees are there in Turkey?”. They had to choose among many numbers in millions.

In addition, to know more about the feelings of the Turkish citizens towards Syrians and about the cultural acceptance, the social interaction and the knowledge of the Arabic language, a group of four questions was prepared. First “Do you have Syria friends?” and certain possible numbers were given. Second, “Do you have a Syrian neighbor in the opposite house or in the same building?” Choices were “yes”, “No” and “I don’t know”. The third question, “In the last week, did you pass through any negative stance or a discomfort towards any Syrian citizen?” (i.e. those who beg in the streets), the two choices were “yes” or “no”. The fourth question, “Do you speak Arabic?” The participants were given four choices: “Excellent (I speak like native speakers of Arabic)”, “medium (I can express my daily needs”, “and weak (I face some difficulties), and “I don’t speak Arabic”.

To discover what the Turkish citizens believe towards the main barrier in Syrians integration in the Turkish community, the following question was asked to the participants: “From your point of view, what is the main barrier Syrians face in integrating with the Turkish community?” Four choices were given: “the linguistic barrier”, “the immigration laws”, “cultural differences” or “other reasons”.

8-6 Measures of the Syrian specimen:

To know some general information such as the situation of registration and the source of income and the legality of employing the Syrian refugee, the following questions were asked: (1): “Are you a registered refugee?”. Three choices were given: “yes”, “No” and “I don’t know”. (2): ”Do you earn a monthly income?” five choices were given: “job”, “family”, “international organization”, “other”, “I have no income”. (3): “what is the legal condition of your job?” Four choices were given: “legal”, “illegal”, “I don’t know”, “I don’t work”.

To measure the future expectations and the social interaction and the linguistic skills of the Syrian refugees, the following three questions were asked: “are you planning to be a Turkish citizen in the future?” Three choices were given: “yes”, “No” and “I don’t know”. And, “Do you have Turkish friends?” If you answer “yes, how many people you know?” and the range given was 1-2 to 9+. The next question: “Do you have a Turkish neighbor in the opposite house or in the same building?” Three choices were given: “yes”, “No” and “I don’t know”. The next question was “how is your Turkish language?” Four choices were given: “Excellent (I speak like native speakers of Turkish)”, “medium (I can express my daily needs”, “and weak (I face some difficulties), and “I don’t speak Turkish”.

To know how much discrimination Syrian refugees suffer and the places where discrimination mostly happens, the participants were asked: “in the last week, did you feel any discrimination or did you face any racist stance from a Turkish citizen (i.e. in public transportations, government offices or neighbors)?”. Two choices were given: “Yes” and “No”. the next question: “from your point of view, where do discrimination and racism mostly happen?” a number of choices were given: “public transportation”, “streets”, “hospitals” and “other places”.

Finally, to know the sources Syrians turn to for news and in which language and what can help Syrians in the process of integration, the participants were asked: “in which language do you know the news?” Four choices were given: “Arabic”, Turkish”, “English” and “other”. And then, “what source do you turn to for news?” Four choices were given: “newspapers”, “TV”, “internet”, “nothing”. Another question was asked to the participants: “from your point of view, what is the main barrier Syrians face in integrating in the Turkish community?” Four choices were given: “the linguistic barrier”, “the immigration laws”, “cultural differences”, and “other reasons”.

8-7 The conclusion:

The average age of the participants in both specimens was between 18 and 25. Those participants between 26 and 45 represent 30% of the Turkish specimen while they represent 24% in the Arabic specimen. The percent of ages between 36 and 50 is equal in both specimens although the Syrian specimen contains older ages that reach 10.45% (please look at the following shapes).

(Pie chart 2: the Turkish Specimen (Age average))

(Pie chart 2: the Syrian Specimen (Age average))

Average income is considered an important demographic factor to know the economic background of all participants. Therefore, each group is given different numbers that represent wages with the expectations that the Turkish citizens receive an average income higher than the Syrian refugees. As for the Turkish specimen, a scale between 900 Turkish Liras (293 US$) to more than 3000 Turkish Liras (976 US$). It was found that more than 66% of the females receive an income between 900-1400 Turkish Liras (293-455 US$). In comparison, males receive a higher income as 40% of them receive between 1500-2100 Turkish Liras (488-683 US$) and 20% of them receive 2200-2900 Turkish Liras (716-944 US$).

The Syrian participants are more likely to earn a low income compared to the Turkish citizens. Despite this, the female participants get a higher income than the males. For example, via a scale between 100 Turkish Liras (32 US$) to more than 1600 Turkish Liras (520US$), it was found that the average income of Syrians, males and females, was between 1000-1500 Turkish Liras (325-488 US$). Despite this, more than a half of he female participants (53%) receive an income between 1000-1500 Turkish Liras (325-488 US$) compared to 40% of the male participants (Please look at the charts below).


What is your gender Total
Male Female
How much is your income in Turkish Liras?

900- 1400

1500- 2100

2200- 2900

+ 3000









Total 100% 100% 100%

                                         Chart 1: the Turkish specimen (average income)

What is your gender Total
Male Female
How much is your income in Turkish Liras?

100- 500

600- 900

1000- 1500











Total 100% 100% 100%

                                         Chart 2: the Syrian specimen (average income)

The interaction between the Turkish citizens and the Syrian refugees shows some exciting results. It was found that 66.7% of the Syrian participants have a Turkish neighbor and 26.7% don’t have a Turkish neighbor, and 6.7% said they don’t know. To know the possibility of a friendship between the Syrians and the Turks and the opposite, 56% if the Turkish participants said they don’t have any Syrian friends and despite this the males are more likely to have Syrian friends more than the females. 40% of males have 1-2 Syrian friends and 26.7% have 3-5 Syrian friends. In comparison, 86% of females say they don’t have any Syrian friends. The Syrian participants have a better level of social interaction with the Turkish citizens. 26.7% of all the Syrian participants don’t have any Turkish friends and 26.7% have 1-2 friends and 205 have 3-5 friends and 10% only have more than 9 Turkish friends. Language is considered an essential factor in any communication process and according to the results, 70% of the Turkish participants do not know Arabic (Males 60% and females 80%). In comparison, 13.3% of Syrians (6.7% males and 20% females) don’t know Turkish. Despite this, 50% of them have medium knowledge of Turkish (Please look at the below charts).

The comparison of mastering the Turkish and the Arabic Languages.

Chart 3: the Turkish Specimen (Mastering the language)

Chart 4: the Turkish Specimen (Mastering the language)

With more concentration on the conditions of Syrians, it was found that the situation of many of them in Turkey is non-statutory. According to all the Syrian participants, 55.2% of them say they are not formally registered. Despite this, the percentage of the male participants who are not registered is higher than that of the female participants. The condition of employment and the source of income are considered ones of the other important criteria as 60% of all the Syrian participants earn their income from working, 73.3% males and 46.7% females. As for the family support, 33% of the Syrian female participants receive family support compared to 20% of males. There is another important question related to the legal situation of Syrian employees. According to the specimen result, it was found that 27.6% of the participants are working legally while 24.1% say that they don’t know. Despite this, the males’ percent who are working legally is 46% and that of females is 14.3%.

As for the Syrians future expectations and the possibilities of discrimination, 40% of the Syrian participants say they are not planning to obtain the Turkish nationality, while 33.3 are planning to obtain it and 26.7 don’t know. As for discrimination, 73% of all Syrian participants say they were not exposed to any racism in the last week while 27% say they were exposed. The places in which Syrians were exposed to discrimination were as follows: 31% government offices, 27% streets, 13.8% public transportation, 24% other places and 4.2% hospitals.

It is necessary to explain the media source Syrian refugees turn to for information and which political entity they feel they belong to. According to the results, it was found that 70% of all Syrian participants use the internet as a source of information and 16.7% use TV while 10% are not interested. The language mostly used in following the news and the media for all Syrian participants was Arabic with a 55.2% although males say they get their information in Turkish more than the females (33.3% males and 7.1 % females). 13.8% say they are not interested with an equal percent of males and females. As for the political belonging, 31.1% mentioned Justice and Development Party/AKP/ while 55.2% say they have no political belonging and the remaining percent chose “other belongings”.

Finally, what are the barriers that prevent Syrians from social integrating and what are the opinions and what negative experiences the Turkish citizens underwent regarding social integration? According to the results, 53.3% of all Turkish participants say they passed through a negative experience with Syrians and 46.7% say they didn’t pass through any negative experience with any Syrian. Despite this, when any group was asked about the barriers the success of the social integration might encounter, the participants pointed out some important factors. 41.1% of all Turkish participants believe that the main barrier is language followed by cultural reasons with a 41.1% and other reasons with a 17%. When Syrians were asked the same question, 72.4% say it is the language barrier followed by the immigration laws with a 24% and then 3.4% cultural reasons. (Please look at the charts below).

Chart 5: the Turkish specimen (the integration barrier)

Chart 6: the Syrian specimen (the integration barrier)

8-8 The discussion:

Looking at the average age of all the participants, it is clear that the number of those who participated in this study who are between 18 and 25 are more than those who are more than 25. The reason behind this is that the participation in this study was voluntary and the researcher had to search for volunteers in public places such as schools, trade centers and streets. Despite this, the average income of all the participants, Syrians and Turkish was similar. For example, 46.6% of all the participants earn 900-1500 Turkish Liras. That is why it is necessary to know the different contexts for each of the Syrians and the Turkish citizens regarding who spends on them, their legal status and the number of working hours. In other words, the average income of Turkish citizens starts from 900 to more than 3000 Turkish Liras while the average income of the Syrian refugees is between 100 and 1500 Turkish Liras. Syrians income appears low compared to the Turkish people income. 35% of the Syrian participants said that they their income is between 100-900 Turkish Liras, while none of the Turkish participants earns less than 900 Turkish Liras in a month. As for social interaction and social communication between the Turks and the Syrians, 66% of the participants have neighbors from the other nationality in the next house or in the same building. As for friendships, more than 70% of Syrians have Turkish friends compared to 40% of Turks who have Syrian friends. It seems that the reason is the need of Syrians to know the Turkish culture and their attempt to learn the Turkish language. That is why a Syrian individual will need Turkish friends, while the Turkish people do not have the same motive. There is no need to say that they don’t need to learn the Arab or the Syrian culture. Despite this, considering gender, we find that females have less friends than their Syrian counterparts. For example, according to the results of the questionnaire, 80% of the Turkish females don’t have Syrian female friends. As for language skills, there is a higher percentage of Turks who don’t know Arabic compared to the Syrians who can speak Turkish. Syrian have to lean the Turkish language to communicate with the society in which they live. Despite this, learning Turkish is not obligatory. There are still few percentages of Turks who still speak Arabic and mostly they are those who have academic, linguistic or religious skill.

The exact total number of Syrians is not known so far and any number specified by a research institution or by the Turkish government is no more than estimations. According to the results of the questionnaire, more than half of the Syrians are nor registered. Not knowing the number of the Syrian refugees might be a big problem to the Turkish authorities and the other concerned institutions. The legal status of the employed Syrian refugees represents another challenge. More than 30% of Syrians said that their status at work is illegal and more than 25% said they don’t know.

It seems that expecting the future for Syrians is so complicated especially with the war that does not seem to end in Syria. It is expected that most Syrians expect to stay in Turkey and then get the Turkish nationality. Despite this and according to the questionnaires, 40% of the participants said they were not planning to obtain the Turkish nationality.

As for social integration between the Turks and the Syrians, there is less discrimination than some people expect. More than 73% said they were not subject to discrimination while 27% confirmed that they suffered discrimination. It is necessary to mention that Syrians owe Turkey because it is the only country in the world that contains the largest number of the Syrian refugees. It is not strange to find that most Syrians have political affiliation to Justice and Development Party/AKP/ because of the latter’s support of the Syrian revolution. On the other hand, more than 50% of the Turkish participants said they underwent negative experiences with Syrians. In comparison, it is necessary to explain the social and economic difference between the Kurds and the Syrians and to know the reason of the increasing complaint of one side than the other; Syrians owe Turkey; so they might not talk about certain negative stances.

Although there is a good percentage of Syrians who speak Turkish, more than a half of the Syrian participants follow the news in Arabic. This is another way to measure the extent of Syrians integration in the Turkish society. When Syrians read the news and follow it in Turkish, this will be an evidence of their linguistic abilities as well as their social integration. The most favorite method for Syrians to read and follow the news is the internet. More than 70% of the Syrian participants say they use the internet followed by 17% who watch TV. It is clear that the Syrian youths use the internet to communicate and follow the news more than any other means.

The big barrier before Syrians integration in the Turkish community is language. The similar percentage among the Syrian and Turkish participants show the fact that mastering the language is necessary for social communication. Despite this, many Syrians believe that the immigration politics are one of the barriers that face the integration process.

While conducting this study, there were some points of strength and others of weakness that must be mentioned. As for points of strength, it was useful for the researcher not to be either Syrian or Turkish because the objective of this study targets both Turks and Syrians. In addition, the ability to speak both languages, Turkish and Arabic, gave the participants kind of comfort and confidence. As for points of weakness, they are represented in that the study was conducted in Istanbul where the average income is 1922 Turkish Liras (625 US$) compared to the local average which is 1512 Turkish Liras (492 US$). It is necessary to notice the difference in the income average within the two groups and this shows that most of the participants earn a relatively high income. This study did not investigate the types of jobs Syrians have and the period of their employment there. This can explain why some participants speak Turkish while others cannot.


It seems that the situation of the Syrian refugees in Turkey will last more than it is expected. The future looks mysterious due to the wars and the state of instability in the area with which Turkey has long borders with Syria and Iraq. So far, the official number of Syrians who entered Turkey exceeds 3000000 and this number includes the registered refugees only (the number of unregistered refugees cannot be estimated). Turkey is still reviewing its laws and it is likely that many regulatory legislations will be issued according to a recent statement by the Turkish President Erdogan as he said: “Syrian refugees could become Turkish citizens”. The main immigration laws in Turkey which regulate the legal situation of the refugees and asylum seekers are built on two laws: the settlement law and Geneva Convention in addition to 1967 protocol. The current new laws that were issued in 2014 explain how Turkey is amending its laws according to the new current situations.

As for Syrians integration in the Turkish community, most Syrians can speak Turkish and despite this fact most Turkish citizens don’t know Arabic. On the other hand, we find that most of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are not registered. Despite this, they are earning a humble income by working illegally and this in turn causes some harm to both the Syrian workers and the Turkish economy. Although most Syrians can speak Turkish, they still prefer to read the news in Arabic. Syrians still maintain their IDs, but at the same time they can move to use the Turkish language. The area that is most affected in Turkey is the five southern provinces, Kilis, Gaziantep, Urfa, Hatay and Mardin. As for the demographic structure, the large number of Syrians in these provinces might have great effect. For example, we find that Arabic language is more prosperous than the Turkish language and in Kilis we find that the number of Syrians became more than the number of the Turkish citizens. The political and religious situation in Hatay shows that the social integration there is more difficult than in any part of Turkey.

Recommendations related to politics:

As Turkey is in negotiations with EU regarding its membership, the Turkish immigration policies began to change gradually since mid of year 2000 to become similar to the policies of the EU. Despite this, Turkey started to review its immigration policies seriously since the start of the Syrian refugee crisis and it set up new governmental directorates such as The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. Despite all this, following is a list of the recommendations related to politics:

  1. Redefining the status of the Syrian refugees: so far there are millions of Syrians who don’t have any legal situation but they have a biometric temporary ID only. those Syrians cannot return to their country because of the ongoing war. Turkey must take decisions concerning those millions, not only on the short run but on the long run as well.
  2. The process of registering refugees: the early preparation for more influxes of Syrian refugees is better than taking late steps. As the war appears to continue in the few coming years, at least knowing the exact numbers of Syrians does not only help Turkey, but also helps the concerned humanitarian organizations. This will make the Turkish authorities familiar with the number of refugees and their social, economic and health conditions.
  3. Preparing more effective integration plans: putting long term plans is important to find effective solutions for the Syrian refugees in Turkey. Language is considered an important factor in the integration process. Therefore, the Turkish authorities and the NGOs will focus more on offering courses to teach the Turkish language especially for the new Syrian comers, supported by the Turkish government to allow the universities and the charter schools to offer the Turkish language courses.
  4. Reviewing the immigration policies: Turkey needs to review Geneva Convention treaty because it is not in line with the challenge of the current Syrian influxes to Turkey.
  5. Sharing the burden: there are other countries that can provide help, such as Jordan and Lebanon which received millions of Syrians. The NGOs also can provide assistance by supporting these countries and supporting the idea of sharing the burden. Turkey should not be alone because cooperation with others, especially with the neighboring countries is necessary.
  6. Improving resettlement: Turkey and the other countries that shared the burden with Turkey and which have a large number of Syrians ought to look at the resettlement strategies between them and other countries. The family ties are necessary for Syrians to go on living as many Syrian family members are scattered in more than one country.
  7. At the end, it is necessary for us to respect Turkey humanitarian behavior towards the Syrian refugees and also that of the other countries that received them. Turkey cannot bear the responsibility alone and therefore the NGOs and the other concerned humanitarian organizations will cooperate with Turkey together with the international support of the cause of all refugees.


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