Turkey marks 10 years of coexistence with Syrian refugees

2021-05-22 12:35:51 GMT2021-05-22 20:35:51(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

ISTANBUL, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Muhammad Youssef came to Turkey seven years ago from Syria with his wife and two children, and a third child is on the way and will be granted Turkish citizenship.

"Turkey saved our lives. It accepted us when we had nowhere to go in our land, so we are grateful," the 33-year-old Syrian car mechanic told Xinhua.

"Despite many problems, we have built a life here," Youssef said, noting that while hostilities have largely ceased in Syria, he doesn't plan to leave the Turkish capital Ankara in the near future and return to his native town of Aleppo in northwestern Syria.

Turkey marks the 10th anniversary of immigration from Syrians, fleeing the unrest in their country. Since the initial arrival of a couple of hundreds Syrians in April 2011, their number has increased exponentially, reaching 3.7 million, according to Turkish official data.

Never to date, Turkey had witnessed a wave of immigration of such a scale. Novel institutions and policies have been established to address the challenge of offering Syrians a new life in the country.

First welcomed in many camps near the Syrian border in southeast Turkey in line with an "open door" policy, the refugees now live scattered across the Turkish soil. Roughly two-thirds are concentrated in urban areas, benefiting from European and Turkish humanitarian aid schemes.

Syrians are classified as having "temporary protection" status and not as refugees. In a decade, nearly half a million Syrian babies have been born in the country.

"Turkey was confronted with a huge challenge of hosting so many refugees," Didem Isci, a researcher at Ankara's Social Sciences University, told Xinhua.

Isci stressed that rules of social isolation imposed during the coronavirus outbreak had also widened the social gap between Syrian and local communities.

She noted that COVID-19 restrictions are considered more burdensome for Syrians than others as Turks may get their salaries while the vast majority of Syrian refugees, illegally employed as they don't have work permits, lost their income.

This expert also underlined that "economic hardships have exacerbated uneasiness towards the Syrian community, seen as living for free."

"There is little interaction between locals and refugees, and Syrians live in their ghettos," she remarked, calling the Turkish government to work towards their integration into the Turkish society.

But she stressed, compared to other nations hosting refugees, conflicts between Syrians and Turks have been relatively low in the past decade because they share the same religion and the same culture.

According to a recent study, a majority of the Syrian community prefer to stay in Turkey despite challenging living conditions and a prevailing anti-refugee sentiment among some locals due to an unfavorable economic climate.

Murat Erdogan, a migration expert and a scholar at Istanbul's Turkish-German University, who headed the study, said in televised remarks that the research confirmed that "a great bulk of Syrians have no plans to return home" and that the Turkish government has to confront this dilemma.

"This is the way it is, Turkey is deploying great effort in favor of refugees, but it also has to work on integration," the scholar said.

Only about half a million Syrians have returned to northwest Syria since 2018.

Meanwhile, Turkey and the European Union are in talks to renew a critical deal on the refugee issue. The 2016 agreement envisaged that Turkey prevents refugees and migrants from trying to reach Europe in exchange for aid totalling 6 billion euros (7.3 billion U.S. dollars.)

Ankara has, so far, spent around 40 billion dollars on Syrians, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly said, urging European nations to offer more financial assistance.

"Until there will be a political solution to the Syrian crisis, Syrian refugees will live in limbo wherever they are," Didem Isci added. Enditem