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The Plight of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Difficulties emerge as a result of the Turkish policy of recognizing refugees as "guests"
The Plight of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

The flow of the Syrian refugees across the Turkish border started in April 2011. They seek safety in Turkey, which welcomes them as "guests", not refugees. The government estimates there are now 650,000 refugees in Turkey, according to numbers form November 2013; about 250,000 of those live in 21 camps established by the government and the rest live inside the Turkish cities and towns close to the border with Syria. Some statistics, however, indicate that the number is over 800,000refugees outside the camps, and is constantly increasing.


The Turkish government has contributed to meeting the needs of the refugees through the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD), which offers residence, food, healthcare and education. AFAD is considered primarily responsible for refugee issues with the cooperation of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR.The Interior Ministry also registers the refugees in the camps and provides them identity cards. However, until now there is no accredited central registry, leading to difficulties in tracking the location and conditions of the refugees.


Some camp officials say that they are, because of their permanent presence in the camps, aware of the changes happening. For example, some refugees are moving form one camp to another, to outside the camps. Some reports listed repeated names of refugees in more than one camp in order to receive aid from each. The Turkish Red Crescent and the World Food Program confirmed the necessity of registering refugees in order to provide them with all their needs and protection. To undertake the security issues inside the camps, the government hired private security companies, which a ministry of the interior official said had "saved the humanity’s honor".


Although the Turkish government is registering the newborn babies and issuing birth certificates, registering the newborn babies is an additional source of concern for the refugees, because they don’t have the necessary papers and the impossibility of registering them inside Syria. The birth rate is recorded at 2.5 babies a day in Oncupinar camp, while  6,000 births were recorded between April, 2011 and November, 2013 in the refugee camps.


Despite comments about the conditions inside the camps, they are all still much better than outside the camps. The numbers estimated according to the government and the U.N.’s agency resources are at about 450,000 refugees. But reports from non-governmental organizations estimate there are in fact more than 800,000 refugees in Turkey. the problem is that these reports are not made public and details are hidden except for one report, prepared by the Mazlumder organization about Syrians in Istanbul, that detailed the high cost of residences facing refugees. In the border city of Kilis, for example, housing rents have increased up to 300%, as the average monthly rent was between $100 and $150 a year ago is now between $300 and $500. In Istanbul, the average monthly rent has increased from $350 to $750. Anyone following the  refugee situation in the border cities can see many of them camping in the public parks or living in unfinished houses, while large numbers of them would stay in one small house to save money. Those refugees don’t receive any kind of support or care from the government nor from the organizations responsible for refugee affairs. One Kilis dignitary said that "it looks like the government has been unjust to the Syrians living in Kilis in comparison with those who live in the camps when it comes to aid, and that the people of the town are trying to fill that gap, which has exhausted them."


Many of the refugees in Turkey do not have identification papers because of their sudden migration from Syria, a problem which prohibits their access to available services including healthcare. One young man, Mohammad, 23, who's arm was injured during clashes in Aleppo described his situation.


"I have lived here in Gaziantep with my relatives for more than seven months. I came here hoping to be treated but I don’t have an identity card because I’m a defected soldier and unfortunately no governmental hospital would agree to treat me without a medical card – something I can’t get without an identity card," he said.


"I contacted all the opposition offices here and none of them offered me a solution. How could I work with one hand? And how could I live with no job? I’m still young."


To solve this problem the Turkish government started registering the refugees who live outside the camps, and opened three centers in Gaziantep, Kilis, Osmaniye, but it is still not enough to cope with many of the refugees outside these areas who are still unable to register for an identification card.


Meanwhile, education is considered one of the most complicated problem that faces the refugees outside camps. Only 10% of students have the chance to continue their education, because of difficulties in registering in Turkish schools with no passports and no residence authorization.

Mustafa, a refugee from Damascus who lives in Gaziantep said "when we escaped of the bombs over our heads, we did not really think of the necessity of the ID or passport, or even if our children would continue their education; all we thought about was surviving inevitable death."


The Turkish government opened 55 schools for Syrians with Syrian teachers to overcome this problem, but those schools are still not able to absorb all the students, who represent almost half the total number of refugees. The certificates granted are not internationally recognized, despite the fact that the Turkish government recognizes them to allow students to continue their higher education.


Refugees suffering is increased in the absence of a clear policy in dealing with them as a refugees or as guests, in addition to the obstruction of the international NGOs work because of the absence of the legal frameworks to organize work within Turkey, the weak coordination between those organizations, and the lake of transparency in their work, as well as the absence of a solid Syrian party who carries the refugee concerns to the international forums to offer the care they deserve within the U.N.’s charters.


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