2.2 mln Syrian refugees in Turkey struggling, demand better living conditions

About 2.2 million Syrian refugees who have taken shelter in Turkey to escape the ongoing civil war in Syria are suffering from significant problems in terms of the necessities of daily life, the lack of medical services and poor working conditions, as well as negative perceptions about them in Turkish society, and they demand that the Turkish authorities improve their conditions.
Turkey is the country currently hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees. According to an earlier statement from Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmui, who is responsible for refugees, there are nearly 2.2 million Syrian refugees are currently living in Turkey. However, this figure only includes those Syrians who came to Turkey legally, but there are also Syrians who have entered Turkey illegally without being officially registered. Many unregistered Syrians are also believed to be in Turkey. According to official data, Turkey had spent $ 7.6 billion from the countryand’s budget on Syrian refugees as of September 2015.
The question is where and under what conditions are those 2.2 million Syrian refugees living. When the crisis erupted in Syria, the Prime Ministryand’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) was tasked with establishing refugee camps in cities near Turkeyand’s border with Syria. There are currently between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees living in 25 refugee camps in Turkey. The other refugees are dispersed throughout the country. Most reside in cities near the border, but nearly 1 million refugees are estimated to be living in Istanbul on their own.
h2 Refugee campsh2 Refugees who are living in the camps are needy however, according to a report published in The New York Times on Feb. 13, 2014, the living conditions of the refugee camps coordinated by AFAD were praised. The andOncandupinar Camp in Kilis province, a camp where 2,053 shipping containers have been made into housing units, was particularly commended in the report. It is described as and”clean,and” unlike many other refugee camps in the world, and the residents of the camp thanked the Turkish authorities. Such a camp costs $2 million per month to run. Some researchers argue that better living conditions could be provided to refugees living elsewhere in the country with some of the funds spent on such camps.
Research published by the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) in May 2013 supports such arguments. The research revealed that 88.1 percent of the camp residents said they were pleased with the conditions at the camps. For instance, rehabilitation services are available and were being provided to 54.9 percent of the children in the camps. According to the research, the refugees just complained about a lack of medical services, but they were especially happy with the security measures taken. Furthermore, 84 percent of the campsand’ residents say that they want to return to their country when the war is over.
h2 The other side of the coinh2 Not all of the 25 camps consist of containers there are still some residents living in tents. Most of these camps are closed to both domestic inspections and foreign inspectors. In a report titled and”Ignored people: Refugees living in Istanbuland” prepared by the Immigrantsand’ Association for Social Cooperation and Culture (GandOandc-DER) in March 2013, the majority of Syrian refugees who have left the camps have nothing positive to say about them. The report said that the living conditions in some refugee camps in Turkey are very poor and that was why many refugees had left them. The group Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed (MAZLUMDER) also sought to enter to some of the camps to prepare a report in September 2013, but was denied entry by the authorities.
ienay andOzden, a researcher from Koandc University, spoke with refugees living in camps in the islahiye district of Gaziantep province and in Kilis as part of research she conducted in December of last year. She concluded that camps in Turkey have better conditions than those in Jordan and Lebanon, but this does not mean that the camps in Turkey are without major problems. One of the refugees with whom andOzden spoke said that some babies had died due to the extreme heat in camps in ianliurfa province. Another refugee told andOzden that conditions in the camps are not acceptable for those who want to live like humans.
A report prepared by Hacettepe University in December of last year stated that the camps in Turkey are above global standards but claimed that the refugees do not want to live there. However, this could be due to reasons aside from poor living conditions in the camps, such as refugeesand’ desire to build a new life elsewhere.
h2 How do Syrians live outside refugee camps in Turkey?h2 The biggest problem of refugees living outside camps is accommodation. According to MAZLUMDERand’s report, refugees say that their biggest problem is that they cannot find the necessary money to pay their rent each month. Some refugees prefer to stay in one-room apartments to decrease their rent, while larger families prefer two-room flats. One of the Syrian refugees mentioned in the MAZLUMDER report said that he paid TL 350 per month for an unfurnished room without a window in Istanbul.
The problem of rent was highlighted in a report prepared jointly by the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in January. The report says that rents in cities near the border with Syria had increased since Syrian refugees had started to migrate to Turkey. Landlords demand higher rents in the cities where most of the refugees live. The fact that the refugees have only and”guestand” status according to Turkish refugee law is seen as the source of the problems. They cannot receive work permits or take aantage of health and education services provided to citizens.
The second major difficulty for Syrian refugees in Turkey is finding employment. Because they are without work permits, they are considered and”cheap laborand” by employers. The report by ORSAM and TESEV states that factory owners find the Syrians and”beneficialand” because they can hire them with lower salaries compared to the locals. andOzdenand’s report refers to the remarks of a local businessman who reportedly said: and”May God bless him [Syrian President Bashar Assad]. We now have cheap labor.and” However, local people in the cities near the border believe that the presence of Syrians is the main reason behind increasing unemployment rates and rents in their cities. These beliefs have led to a growing resentment toward Syrians living in these cities.
h2Women and childrenh2 The majority of Syrian refugees in Turkey are women and children. Of the refugees, 55 percent of them are below the age of 18. Syrian women are in a much more disaantaged position in terms of getting accommodation, medical services and employment. A report prepared by the MAZLUMDER in May of last year, after interviews with 72 Syrian women, revealed that privacy is their biggest problem. Most of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and symptoms of depression. The Syrian women are exposed to sexual harassment and abuse in their work places and neighborhoods. Particularly in the border cities of ianliurfa and Gaziantep, the Syrian women are forced to be second or third wives to the local men. Unfortunately, this has even spawned an industry in those cities. Catalogues that include photos of young Syrian women are prepared, and they are forced to marry old men for money. As a result, the women are looked upon as property in those cities and hated by the local women, who feel that their husbands are being led astray.
A report jointly prepared by USAK and the Washington-based Brookings Institution in November 2013 points to the fact that babies born in the camps are only registered on the AFADand’s system. Therefore, these children will most probably experience the problem of and”statelessnessand” in the future because they will not be considered as citizens of any country. If the war ends, the AFAD is expected to share its records with the Syrian government.
h2 Negative perception of Syrian refugeesh2 The majority of the Turkish society sees the Syrian refugees as and”needy people.and” It is almost impossible to find any positive news reports about Syrians. People see the Syrian beggars on the streets as and”idleand” and see the young Syrian refugees as and”cheap labor,and” etc. However, these views are often harbored by people who do not realize that the refugees have no other choice. Even the residence permits of the refugees are bound to certain requirements, and they are not eligible for work permits. The educational opportunities for their children are very limited, and they experience language barriers in Turkey. Their access to medical services is also limited. Many people believe that the Syrian refugee presence is indefinite in Turkey, and as of yet no encompassing and concrete action plan has been prepared by the government regarding the refugees.
h2 What do Turks think of Syrian refugees?h2 In order to answer this question, various researchers have taken the pulse of the locals. andOzdenand’s report reveals that the locals frequently share and”discomforting talesand” about Syrians. Stories about security concerns and claims about gangs allegedly established by Syrians are spread around. The joint report by ORSAM and TESEV also points out that although there are not major security problems in those cities with a high number of refugees, the locals keep spreading negative stories about the Syrian refugees. This report points to a risk of and”ghettoizationand” in the future. This idea has led to concerns for local residents. The report says that Turkish people have a high tendency for solidarity in terms of race, religion or sect. For instance, Turkish Kurds show solidarity with Syrians Kurds, Turkish Assyrians show solidarity with Syrian Assyrians, Turkish Arabs show solidarity with Syrian Arabs and Turkish Alevis with Syrian Alevis. However, such solidarities are not expected to be long term. A report recently prepared by Associate Professor Murat Erdogan from Hacettepe University reveals that Syrian refugees want work permits and dual citizenship. The same report also shows that the majority of Syrians are upset by being called and”guestsand” by the Turkish people.
According to the results of another survey prepared by Hacettepe University in December of last year, 70.8 percent of Turkish citizens view the Syrian refugees as an and”economic burden.and” The same research also reveals that the majority of the Turkish respondents believe that work permits should not be given to Syrians. Of the survey participants, 68.9 percent of the local people living in cities near the Syrian border believe they are losing their jobs due to cheap Syrian workers. Furthermore, 69.8 percent of the survey participants believe that the Syrian refugees are disturbing the public peace in those cities where they are living.
h2Researchersand’ suggestionsh2 The researchers who worked on the issue of Syrian refugees in Turkey give some recommendations at the end of their reports. Pointing to the lack of coordination between the civil society and the state regarding the refugees, the researchers suggest that the state should improve coordination with civil society organizations to provide better conditions for the Syrian refugees.
MAZLUMDER suggests in its September 2013 report that the unregistered Syrian refugees should be determined and their social, medical and educational problems be resolved as soon as possible. The report by ORSAM and TESEV recommends that the educational and medical conditions of the refugees be improved and the Syrian doctors in Turkey be provided with work permits to help the refugees.


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