Urban Refugees: The Experiences of Syrians in Istanbul

In over six years of escalating violence, more than 200,000 Syrians have been killed, and millions more have been forced to flee their homes both within the country and to neighboring states. The repercussions of this ongoing violence have reached Europe, with refugee numbers set to reach 1 million in Germany alone.1 In a desperate bid to stem the flow of people, the EU and Turkey reached a deal in November 2015 to reduce the number of migrants entering Europe from Turkish territory. UNHCR’s Regional Refugee Response estimates that Turkey now hosts 2.1 million registered Syrians refugees.2 This number easily reaches 2.3 million when unregistered Syrians are included. Contrary to the popular image, the majority of Syrians, like other refugee groups, are found outside camps in urban areas. Through interviews with a sample of Turkish NGOs and Syrian people of different religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds in Istanbul, this report highlights the daily challenges and insecurity faced by Syrians in urban areas that are not only leading many to leave for Europe but also directly influencing refugees’ choices in how they exit the country. While the Turkish state has spent over 7.6 billion USD on refugees, the overwhelming majority of this goes towards the 25 refugee camps in the country. There is no state support for urban refugees in Turkey outside those near the camps. Inconsistency also exists in the posi-tion, knowledge, and response of the various municipal governments in Istanbul regarding Syrian populations. In consultation with the Istanbul governor’s office and the relevant national agencies, Istanbul’s local munici-palities are responsible for and oversee a number of services in their vicinity from infrastructure and maintenance to health, religious, and water services. Knowledge of the number and needs of the populations in their districts is a necessity for municipal develop-ment in order to plan for emergencies, capacities, and services. In this context, the paradox posed by Syrians in urban areas is that they are a development and legis-lative challenge and not a humanitarian problem. 1T. Porter, “Refugee crisis: Germany has received over 1 million migrants in 2015,” International Business Times, December 10, 2015. Retrieved http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/refugee-crisis-germany-has-received-over-1-mil-lion-migrants-2015-1532674 2Syrian Regional Refugee Response: Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal, United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, November 2015, accessed November 30, 2015, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/re-gional.php.All interviewees for this report highlighted a number of problems and issues with living in Turkey. In the case of one family interviewed, these were identified as push factors that eventually led them to travel to Europe. A lack of documentation such as residence or work permits and the accompanying rights entailed exclude Syrians from simple practices such as opening a bank account, ensuring restitution for their work, legally renting, and in many cases paying their utilities. This creates a fundamental insecurity and instability in the lives of Syrians that prevents them from settling in Turkey. Bureaucratic problems in harmonization and commu-nication result in rules and laws being inadequately announced and inconsistently applied from place to place. These problems range from inconsistency in the application of mobility restrictions on Syrians to knowledge of their rights. Despite legal entitlements and efforts by the Turkish state to enroll Syrian children into schools, there has been limited success outside the camps. In urban areas, there have been reports of some schools rejecting Syrian children due to discrimination, a lack of capacity, or ignorance of the law.3 Similarly, there is inconsistency in the application and acceptance of Syrians by health workers. Inter-viewees have also complained of the speed in which rules governing Syrians in Turkey change and of not being able to find information on this. This inconsist-ency and a lack of transparency in the implementation of laws and regulations governing Syrians make their situation insecure and untenable.
Year 2016

Taxonomy Associations

Migration processes
Migration consequences (for migrants, sending and receiving countries)
Migration governance
Cross-cutting topics in migration research
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