Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo August 14, 2013

Turkey's Syrian Refugees Try to Adapt to Their New Home

Image by Alisa Roth. Turkey, 2013.

At least 1.5 million people have fled the conflict in Syria. Most have taken refuge in Jordan...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors
Media file: roth_turkey_2_0.jpg
The border crossing near Kilis. Officially, Turkey’s borders are open to all Syrians. But both NGOs and refugees accuse Turkey of limiting entry. And even the Turkish government acknowledges there are tens of thousands of people living in camps on the Syrian side of the border. Image by Hugh Eakin. Turkey, 2013.

About half a million Syrians have fled their country's violent conflict and settled in Turkey. Many are grateful to be taken in but also fearful about being kicked out.

On a recent visit to Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited a special summer school for Syrian refugee children. He handed out toys—plastic trucks for the boys and soft dolls for the girls—and posed for the news photographers. Moments later, he departed in a large motorcade, heading to his next event. Fairly typical, perhaps for a politician on a goodwill tour, but it could also been seen as a metaphor for Turkey's attitudes toward the Syrian refugees.

Turkey is still helping the more than half a million people who have arrived since the Syrian conflict began two years ago. But there is a sense the welcome may be wearing thin.

Just under half live in 23 camps funded by the Turkish government. The rest live in cities and villages throughout the country. Suphi Atan, who oversees the camps for the foreign ministry, says Turkey has spent more than a billion dollars so far on the refugees. The Syrians are welcome in Turkey, he said, although they have no official refugee status.

"Until they feel that Syria becomes secure and stable, they can stay here. But we will never force them to go to Syria, until they themselves desire," he said.

The reality may be somewhat different, though. While Turkey's official policy is to allow all Syrians entry, NGOs and refugees have accused Turkey of blocking entry.

On a more personal level, Turks have been helping Syrian friends and family members.

Idris Hammo, who lives with his family in Nurdağı, a village near the Syrian border. He said he got a hand from distant cousins on his father's side.

"They aren't such close relatives," he said. "But they helped us. They suggested that we come. They helped us find a job."

But some Turks are starting to get anxious—that the Syrians are taking scarce jobs, and driving up real estate prices.

Until recently, Settar Çanlıoğlu was responsible for the sister-city relationship between Gaziantep, and Syria's largest city, Aleppo, a two-hour drive away. But when refugees began arriving in great numbers from Aleppo, he became responsible for helping them. Today, he organizes things like Turkish language classes and tries to find appropriate jobs for Syrian doctors who were educated in Turkey, and who have returned as refugees.

He said most Turks see helping the Syrians as a humanitarian duty. At the same time, though, he says enough is enough.

"People here are really willing to share their bread with the Syrians," he said. "But what we desire most is to see the day when this disaster will be finished and send those people back to their country."






war and conflict reporting


War and Conflict

War and Conflict

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues