The recent news that a Syrian woman in Istanbul was arrested for allegedly trying to sell her three-month-old baby was perhaps shocking, but it was also a reminder that while Turkey has managed to house a large number of Syrian refugees in what are considered to be exemplary camps, the majority of these refugees are now living in Turkish urban areas, with many of them facing desperate conditions.
The numbers tell this story quite clearly. While Turkey is now home to more than 900,000 Syrian refugees, only 220,000 of them live in the camps, which are located near the border with Syria. The rest have made their way to Turkish cities, from border towns like Gaziantep and Kilis to larger urban centers such as Istanbul.
This development and the challenges it poses for Turkey and Turkish policymakers are highlighted in a new report released yesterday by The Brookings Institution. From the report, entitled, "Syrian Refugees and Turkey’s Challenges: Beyond the Limits of Hospitality:"
There is general recognition that the government has done a commendable job in providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the refugees in the camps. However, the situation for those refugees outside the camps is more complicated.
The persistence of the conflict and the ever growing number of urban refugees is creating a set of tough challenges for Turkey. Firstly, it is becoming increasingly clear that refugees are not about to return home anytime soon. This brings up a range of very difficult policy issues for the government. They range from whether the government should start to think in terms of offering refugees the possibility to remain and integrate in Turkey to addressing urgent education, employment, health, shelter and other needs of Syrian refugees. Secondly, the refugee population outside camps has grown significantly and is expected to surpass one million by the end of the year. The government is trying to register them but the process is far from complete, particularly as increasing number of refugees are living outside of camps where assistance is always more difficult and complex. Working with refugees who are dispersed in the host community involves different governmental agencies and it is harder to identify who the target population is, harder to figure out how to assist host communities, especially in the absence of a comprehensive systematic need assessment exercise. Thirdly, the presence of growing numbers of Syrians in Turkey is deeply impacting on host communities economically, socially as well as politically. Last but not least, there is also the continued deterioration of the humanitarian and political situation inside Syria. How should Turkey be addressing these challenges?
Speaking at the report's launch at Brookings yesterday, Joseph Livingston, an official from the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, suggested the "urbanization" of the Syrian refugee population in Turkey was likely going to be a continuing trend. "This is only going to grow," Livingston, who recently returned from a research trip to Turkey, said. "Camps are not likely part of the answer moving forward."
Brookings' report comes out on the heels of one recently released by the International Crisis Group, which also looks at the cost of the Syrian conflict for Turkey. Like Brookings, ICG suggests that Ankara take several steps to alleviate the problems faced by Syrian refugees living outside of the camps, especially in terms of housing and education. That report can be found here.