The Arab Spring uprisings that arose in Tunisia in 2010 spread to Syria in 2011. This situation, which turned into a civil war in Syria over time, brought about the world’s biggest refugee crisis after a while. Because of the ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic conditions that occurred, almost 6 million Syrians had to leave their homes and their country and take refuge in neighboring state lands that they consider safe. Turkey has been one of the most affected, receiving most of the refugees in this process.
Turkey has become a destination country for asylum seekers due to both its geographical location and being in a transit zone for those who want to go to the western and northern countries, close to Syria and offers a more comfortable environment and living conditions compared to other countries (Nurdoğan, Dur, and Öztürk, 2017: 218). Already, throughout history, individuals who had to leave their countries due to political or economic reasons in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa tried to use Turkey’s land and sea borders to make the transition to European countries. During recent years, especially the land and sea borders between Turkey and Greece has become an important route for these asylum seekers and immigrants (Nurdoğan, Dur, and Öztürk, 2017: 222). Turkey’s “open-door policy” implemented during the civil war in Syria was another important reason for the Syrians their arrival in Turkey. The ongoing civil war in the country and this policy has been implemented by Turkey increased the number of refugees coming from Syria. While some states did not provide the necessary support to these people who had to leave their countries and neglected their obligations arising from international law on some grounds, Turkey has opened the borders to a number of asylum seekers corresponding to approximately 2% of its population (Dulkadir, 2017: 22). While some of these asylum seekers staying in tents near Turkey’s border with Syria, a great majority of them have settled in provinces across the country.
In Turkey, as shown in Table 1, the number of Syrians under “temporary protection” reached 3 million 645 thousand 557 people as of January 13, 2021. According to the research data of the same date (Table 2), while the city with the highest number of refugees in the country was Istanbul with 519 thousand 171 people, the other 4 cities were Gaziantep with 450 thousand 325, Hatay with 434 thousand 420, Şanlıurfa with 421 thousand 955 and Adana with 252 thousand 462 due to their proximity to the border (Refugees Association, 01.03.2021).
Table 1: The number of Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey according to the age range
Table 2: Number of Syrian refugees by provinces
Legal status in the country of Syrian citizens who took refuge in Turkey is one of the most discussed aspects of the subject. Turkey, those people who come to the country are given “asylum seeker” status, instead of the refugee. Increasing immigration after the Second World War is created major problems from different perspectives, especially for countries receiving immigrants. In order to find solutions to these problems and to guarantee the rights of refugees, in 1950, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been established.
Later, in 1951, the United Nations Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was accepted in order to ensure that refugees have the right to both safety and basic needs, to benefit from health services, to work, and to shelter. According to the Convention, the concept of “refugee” has a special meaning and some special rights brought about by this status (Nurdoğan, Dur, and Öztürk, 2017: 224). In the Convention, the concept of a refugee is defined as “As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” (Geneva Convention, 1951). In the early years, the Convention only covered the European borders and did not address the problems of citizens seeking asylum from countries outside of Europe. However, with the increase of conflicts in the world, an additional protocol was added to the agreement in 1967, which includes the acceptance of the refugee status without any time and geographical limitation of people who had to leave their country of residence. Turkey is one of the contracting parties to the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, however, while signing the additional protocol in 1967, Turkey, revealed a reservation to not accept refugees from outside Europe, removing the time restriction. (Nurdoğan, Dur and Öztürk, 2017: 224,225). In this context, Turkey has not given “refugee status” to people from Syria, they were accepted to the country as “asylum seekers” provided with only temporary protection. These people, who are accepted as asylum seekers, are also taken under protection against being sent by force. The concept of asylum, which has a different meaning from the concept of refugee, refers to people who have the necessary qualifications to become a refugee but are not given this status by the official authority. Being an asylum seeker means a short-term accommodation rather than having a legal status.
The language, culture, lifestyle, and socio-economic status of refugees, who take refuge in a country all over the world are different from the country they took refuge in. In general, women and children are in the majority and the education level of these people is not the same with the country they took refuge in. The point of view of the peoples of the country to these people is also quite distant, and local people think that these people are a burden to their country, both socially and economically. As the Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey have similar profiles with the local, the social acceptance of these refugees was faster. The biggest factor in this situation is the fact that some provinces are neighbors with Syria and for this reason, they have similar ethnic origins and affinity.
As a result, the Syrian people have become victims of a civil war that they did not start and they have become asylum seekers and refugees in 2011. For this reason, they took refuge in various countries, especially Turkey. With the outbreak of the war, the refugee flow has never stopped to Turkey, on the contrary, it has increased rapidly with each passing day and according to the latest data presented by the Directorate General of Migration Management, The number of Syrians in Turkey has exceeded the limits of 3 and a half million. Turkey provided temporary protection by granting only asylum seekers status, not refugees to these people whose number is constantly increasing. Increasing numbers have begun to create both social and economic problems for Turkey, although people’s attitude towards asylum seekers is more positive compared to other countries receiving immigration.
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About the author:
Ms. Erva Nur KÖK is a final year student at the International Relations Department at Eskişehir Osmangazi University, Turkey. Erva’s academic interests are the Middle East region, war studies, human rights, and international law. She wants to study for a master's degree in the field of International Law and Human rights. She is a junior researcher at the Middle East Research Center of Ariel University. Erva has also been writing and managing EU projects for a few years, performing volunteer works at various foundations and associations.