The Platform


Turkey has shouldered the massive refugee burden caused by the civil war in Syria.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has regularly welcomed refugees. By 2014, the influx of Syrians into Turkey had surpassed 1 million, swelling to 2 million just a year later. In response, the Turkish government established numerous camps to manage the humanitarian crisis, focusing on addressing the refugees’ needs for education, housing, food, and water. Simultaneously, the Turkish government initiated the construction of schools, hospitals, and mosques in northern Syria while providing the region with financial assistance.

To date, Turkey has spent upwards of $100 billion on refugee support. However, the refugee challenge isn’t limited to those displaced from Syria. The recent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan triggered a new wave of migrants fleeing the brutal rule of the Taliban. In addition to Afghan refugees, Turkey is also host to refugees from Iraq, Iran, and Somalia. As it stands, Syrians constitute 98% of the refugee population, with the remaining 2% hailing from Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Observed from a broader perspective, this issue is a vexing challenge largely shouldered by middle- or low-income nations. Close to 80% of the world’s refugees find refuge in such countries. In the European Union, Germany is the only nation in the top 10 list of refugee-hosting countries. As of 2023, Turkey holds the record for accommodating the most refugees worldwide, with over 4 million registered individuals. This estimate doesn’t even factor in the unregistered refugee population, which, when included, inflates the numbers significantly. Moreover, Turkey has offered citizenship to about 300,000 Syrian refugees.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan takes pride in his nation’s policies and actions regarding this issue. He asserts that, given Turkey’s geographical proximity to crisis-ridden regions, it is the historical responsibility of the country to provide refuge. Despite this, Erdoğan’s refugee policy is not far-reaching or systematic. Turkey’s ambition to become a regional power in predominantly Muslim territories has led to several refugee-related issues in recent years.

Inundating the country with refugees—now equating to 7% of its total population and forming the second-largest minority group after the Kurdish community—inevitably breeds problems related to education, economy, housing, employment, infrastructure, and ethnic nationalism. The International Labor Organization reports that 97% of refugees work informally, a situation that adversely affects the inclusion of Turkish citizens in the labor market. The burgeoning informal economy, accounting for almost a third of Turkey’s total economy, poses a considerable threat to the Turkish economy. Refugees’ demands for health services and infrastructure often outstrip supply, straining existing systems. The increased social tensions between Syrian refugees and Turkish citizens have given rise to ethnic nationalism.

The recent presidential and parliamentary elections saw the refugee issue cleave the political landscape. The incumbent government maintained that hosting refugees was a historical duty, while the opposition vehemently disagreed. With Turkey currently battling an economic crisis, the Turkish citizenry is increasingly disapproving of expenditures on Syrian refugees and other immigrants. This sentiment is further fueled by perceived socio-economic instability induced by the refugee influx.

Ultimately, Erdoğan adjusted his stance, revealing plans for the voluntary repatriation of 1 million Syrian refugees. Concurrently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has extended an invitation to displaced Syrians to return to their homes in a still war-ravaged country.

Cansu Ece Goksin completed her studies at the Middle East Technical University and State University of New York in the Political Science and International Affairs department. After graduation, Cansu worked as a banker in Turkey in investor relations and project finance. Cansu is currently pursuing her post-graduate studies at University of Pavia, Italy in the Political Science department and is also a columnist.