Syrian refugees in a camp in Nizip, Turkey

Impact of the conflict in Syria Turkey takes in millions of refugees

The crisis in Syria has been influencing Turkey's domestic and foreign policies for some time now. A number of terrorist attacks and violent incidents along the country's borders are evidence that the conflict is having a direct impact on Turkey's security. Since July 2015, the Turkish government under President Erdoğan has been conducting its own military operations in the border region with Syria.

Many people from Syria have sought refuge in the territory of their northern neighbour Turkey – or hope they will be able to travel on safely from there to the European Union. In the meantime, Turkey has closed its borders to people wanting to cross from Syria. Permission to enter Turkey is now granted only for humanitarian reasons, such as medical emergencies. No other country has taken in as many refugees from Syria: By February 2019, more than 3.7 million Syrians were officially registered in Turkey. But Turkey is also hosting an additional 320,000 refugees mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan. It must be said that Turkey is doing a tremendous job for these more than four million people. No other country in the region has been as open and generous in dealing with the Syrian refugees, or has given them such liberal access to state systems such as schools, the labour market and health care as Turkey has.

Re-homing refugees in local communities

Only a small percentage of Syrian refugees (less than two per cent) are still living in official refugee camps. Instead, most have been housed in local communities in the south and south-east of the country, or in large economic centres such as Istanbul and Ankara. The Turkish authorities provide the Syrian refugees with identity papers which give them the right to access services such as medical care. Since February 2016, refugees can, under certain circumstances, also request work permits. However, only around 130,000 such permits have been granted so far. It is therefore likely that the majority of refugees are working illegally, which means they are not entitled to the minimum wage or social insurance cover.

With support from the international community, non-governmental organisations and private initiatives, Turkey makes a huge effort to provide for the refugees. One of the challenges it faces in this respect is providing enough places for them in schools and other educational establishments. More than half of the Syrian refugees are children and young people of school age. More than 680,000 Syrian children are going to school in Turkey; that is roughly 63 per cent of the Syrian school-age children.

Risk of conflict is growing

The social and economic infrastructure in particular in the border region with Syria is coming under severe pressure because of the refugees. To date, there has been no significant social strife because of the influx of the refugees. The huge number of refugees has put, in particular, host communities in the south-eastern part of Turkey under massive pressure. Resentment towards refugees is growing among Turkish people, not least because of the challenging economic situation caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.