Refugees: the big challenge for Turkey

If you followed the news in the last years, you would know Turkey hosts a lot of refugees. Not only millions from Syria, but also former inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan try to establish a new life in Turkey. But how does Turkey tackle such a big stream of asylum seekers? And is it true that migrants are now being deported from Istanbul to the Turkish country side?

By Geert Braam

When it comes to migrant questions, Gizem Külekçioğlu is the right person to answer them. She is working as Project Executive at the Istanbul Bilgi University Centre for Migration Research. She knows a lot about the complicated refugee management in Turkey.

Border wall

As the United States president wants a wall between his country and Mexico, Turkey already has an 760 kilometer wall along the Syrian border. The purpose here is to avoid migration as well. According to Külekçioğlu, such measures don’t work at all. “It may hinder the regular migration streams, but it causes the migrants crossing the border illegally at other places”, she explains.

Gap between law and practice

For Turkey, the influx of such huge amounts of people from abroad was a new phenomenom. In 2011, the Syrian Civil War caused a big migrant stream to Syrian’s neighbouring countries, mostly Lebanon and Turkey. In 2019, a United Nations report says there are approximately 3,6 million Syrian immigrants in Turkey. Afghanians (appr. 172 thousand) and Iraqi (appr. 142 thousand) are also present according to the UN.

That’s why in 2014 the parliament adopted a law for migration, called the Law on Foreigners and International Protection, to regulate the migrant mass. The 5-year-old law should bring solutions and rest for refugees, but practically it causes more of a mess. A lack of interpreters, control over the situation and missing experience results to many migrants living illegally in Turkey. “They often do simple work, for example construction work, cleaning, or in the textile industry,” Külekçioğlu says.

Stories are also common about deporting migrants out of cities, or even out of Turkey. “Here in Istanbul, illegal immigrants have been deported to ‘satellite cities’, i.e. cities where they are officially registered. They are forbidden to come back for four months.” According to Külekçioğlu, officials said the capacity of Istanbul has reached its limits. “In other cities, some illegals had to leave Turkey. Authorities said they went voluntary, but there has been speculation that the refugees were forced to go.”

International interference

According to the migration expert, the Turkish government has been critized of its initially attitude. “The government was firstly convinced that national politics could solve this issue itself, so it refused help from other parties.” But when the crisis grew, the politicians changed their attitude.

Nowadays, a large amount of NGOs, domestic and foreign, are helping Turkey managing the immigrants. “I think it is a good thing there are other stakeholders,” says Külekçioğlu. But she also has a side note here: “The management should be properly executed by the government, with assistence from these NGOs.”