What is the situation of the Syrian refugees living in Turkey? What was the response of the national authorities to the refugee crisis?

Turkey is the country hosting the most Syrian refugees. The response of the Turkish state has contributed significantly to providing the necessary protection to those who fled the war and to interrupting the migration route into Europe.

This contribution came at a cost, as the country entered into a complicated negotiation with the European states, demanding, since 2015, in exchange of protecting and maintaining refugees over their national territory, the removal of the visa regime and the acceleration of the accession to the European Union.

Since then, the internal situation has worsened and following a failed coup d'etat and numerous terrorist attacks, the country`s president, Recep Erdoğan, has strengthened his control and has imposed a regime accused of authoritarian traits.

In the middle of this context, there are now three million Syrian refugees who are out of options.

EurActiv Romania has spoken with Selin Unal, UNHCR Turkey External Relations and PI Officer, about the situation of the Syrian refugees living in Turkey and the reaction of the authorities.

Reporter: The UNHCR global focus online page on Turkey (http://ow.ly/wS52307TPxl) mentions that in 2015 "200,000 camp residents and 21,700 urban Syrians households (over 100,000 individuals) were provided core relief items and winterization support” and "21,300 Syrian families and 5,613 non-Syrian refugee families in urban areas received targeted cash assistance”. Do you have similar data sets for 2016?

Selin Unal: In 2016, some 260.000 refugees hosted in Government run refugee camps were provided with winter support items and/or core relief items. Some 400.000 individuals were provided core relief items and winter support in urban areas. 80,286 Syrian families and 8,631 non-Syrian refugee families in urban areas received targeted cash assistance (regular or one-off for winterization).

Reporter: The same page mentions that in 2017 27.000 people will leave for resettlement. Where will these people be relocated to and what will be the living conditions that they will be provided with?

Selin Unal: 2017 resettlement submission target for Turkey is 18,000-19,000. UNHCR’s resettlement programme is based on need and vulnerability and the most vulnerable refugees are submitted for resettlement. Refugees do not choose their country of resettlement. Resettlement countries have their own screening procedures in place and take the final decision on whether or not to accept UNHCR’s referral.

Reporter: What have been the main challenges that your office encountered in providing support to the refugees living in Turkey in the past two years?

Selin Unal: Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, UNHCR has been closely cooperating with the Turkish authorities, leading and coordinating the efforts of the UN agencies to support the country`s refugee response. More generally, there is a need for solidarity and responsibility sharing, that are key to helping solve the situation, and includes robust funding support and providing all type of mechanism that would provide protection to people in need. Despite the generous contributions by the donors, Turkey received some 65 per cent of its 2016 funding requirement - which is USD 842,928,806 - as of 16 Jan 2017, within the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in response to the Syrian crisis (3RP). The funding level for Turkey was 46 per cent in 2015 and 36 per cent in 2014. UNHCR calls upon the international community to enhance support to the neighbouring States to Syria, including Turkey, who are providing an enormous global good and bearing the financial and social costs of the refugee crisis. Now heading into its third year of programming, the 2017-2018 3RP is the first fully-fledged two-year response plan for Turkey and appeals for USD 3.5 billion in new funding to continue vital work over the next two years. Partners in Turkey will continue to strive to address the needs of the most vulnerable through effective humanitarian and resilience based interventions.

With only the sufficient funding support, we will be able to support and assist the refugee response including enhancing access to education for refugees and improving access to sustainable livelihoods opportunities. The Syrian war, now in its sixth year, continues to be the cause of the biggest humanitarian crisis and refugees and those who host them need our help - now more than ever and we can only support these needs and vulnerabilities if we receive the necessary and flexible funding to do so. This solidarity should also come in other forms including increasing legal pathways for refugees to go to third countries.

Reporter: What will be the main priorities in 2017 of your office with respect to the refugees currently living in Turkey and those who will enter the country this year?

Selin Unal: Through 3RP for 2017 – 2018; the UN agencies along with partners will continue to support the authorities in its response through provision of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable Syrians in urban, peri-urban and rural areas and strengthening of the medium to long-term resilience interventions targeting both Syrians and host communities including enhancing access to education for refugees and improving access to sustainable livelihoods opportunities.

Reporter: How would you characterise the support provided by Turkish authorities to the refugees?

Selin Unal: Turkey has a long tradition of extending protection to those with humanitarian needs. Today, the country is hosting nearly 3 million asylum seekers and refugees, this is more than any other country in the world, and Turkey has made enormous contributions for years within its response to the Syria refugee crisis. Turkey continues to provide protection and generous assistance to all persons of concern in the country as the responsible entity for the coordination of the refugee response. For any country to receive such a high number of refugees from Syria and from other origins, for this length of time, in such dramatic circumstances, would be a challenge. As UNHCR, we’d like to reiterate our gratitude to Turkey and to the Turkish people for consistently providing protection and assistance to people in need of international protection.

Reporter: What are the main challenges that are faced by Syrian refuges in Turkey, as observed by the UNHCR country-office?

Selin Unal: In Turkey, out of over 2.9 million registered Syrian refugees, 90 per cent live outside camps within the host communities. 70 percent are women and children. Over 40 per cent of Syrian school-aged refugee children remain out of school. In view of the scale of the urban refugee population, the demands for health services have been mounting. In January 2016, the Government of Turkey passed legislation that has allowed access to Syrian refugees under Temporary Protection to formal employment in an exemplary move allowing for increased self-reliance and additional opportunities for refugees. Additional support is needed to strengthen capacities to implement the legislation and scale up efforts for job creation and employability (including language and technical vocational education and training).

Reporter: Turkey has been the target of multiple terrorist attacks in the last year. Have these events affected the manner in which the refugees are perceived by the Turkish population or by Turkish authorities, or have they impacted the efforts of UNHCR in the country?

Selin Unal: It is important to remember that it is refugees that are fleeing because they are afraid of war. UNHCR acknowledges Turkey’s rich tradition of hospitality and delivery of protection in practice, and praises Turkey for advancing these principles in a legal framework reflecting a strong commitment to humanitarian values and ideals. Over 90 percent of the Syrian refugees are hosted in communities in urban areas. Such generosity and hospitality from the host community members cannot be accounted for statistically but deserves to be acknowledged and praised.

Our project

The route used by refugees coming from the Middle East to Europe has not closed after the migration peak of 2015. The only thing that has happened is that the number of people reaching the wealthier and opportunity-filled West has dropped, as the route has gotten significantly harder than it was during the more favorable context of a few years back.

Some countries have effectively closed their borders, forcing the refugees to go around or simply blocking thousands of people from continuing their journey towards the European dream.

Assisting the refugees continues to represent a problem for the poor states in the region that lack the necessary resources to shelter them. These countries continue to be confronted with thousands of vulnerable people to whom they have to ensure minimum living conditions.

EurActiv Romania has documented with the financial assistance of the German Marshall Fund the hardships and tragedies of migrants and refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East. We have taken a closer look at the challenges they face, but also at the opportunities that they can access in order to rebuild their lives, at the horrifying stories of their death escaping journeys, but also at extraordinary examples of compassion, at misleading prejudice and misunderstanding of day-to-day realities, and also at exemplary cases of integration and community service.