Shape Image One

imagesAssoc. Prof. Dr. M. MURAT ERDOGAN

Director, Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre-HUGO




The Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre-HUGO conducted a comprehensive research study on the social acceptance and integration of Syrians in Turkey, who escaped from the initial conflict and subsequent civil war that has been ongoing in their country since April 2011 and sought refuge in Turkey within the framework of “open doors policy” and are provided with “temporary protection”, whose registered number of Syrians exceeded 2.181.293 by November 2015. This comprehensive study, which is managed by the Director of HUGO Assoc.Prof.Dr. M. Murat Erdoğan with a research team of 11 people in 8 months between January-October 2014 duration with the application of various scientific methods is focused on the social acceptance and integration perspectives of this severe and multifaceted crisis faced by Turkey and the world. This study’s aim is to understand both Turkish and Syrian societies and to provide predictions for developing sound public policies. In the framework of this study, it is intended to reveal the current conditions, properties, levels of satisfaction, problems and attitudes towards permanence of Syrians in Turkey, synchronously with Turkish society’s opinions, expectations and problems with Syrian refugees.

One of the important predictions of this study is that day by day Syrians in Turkey are getting further from being “temporary” to becoming “permanent”. This study predicts that the social acceptance of Turkish society is immensely high on the issue of Syrians in Turkey though certain limitations are evident as  “hospitality” may turn into “hate, enmity”, especially obstacles before the accessibility to public services, apprehension to lose current jobs and security concerns stemming from the very existence of Syrians, which is a potential occurrence to be taken seriously, and for social acceptance to be sustained, comprehensive migration management is necessary. Policymaking gets harder due to the fact that the issue of Syrians in Turkey is not merely humanitarian but also imbued with political aspects as well.

The most prominent pursuit of this study concerns how to handle the process and what to do for the refugee issue. Two important aspects to be taken into consideration in terms of well crisis management in Turkey are indicated in the study. First of all is the impossibility of a sound process management without registration, and the other is the necessity of synchronous strategy development for both cases of temporariness and permanence. The issue of Syrians in Turkey, even if the Syrian regime collapsed today, should be considered an issue that has potential impacts on Turkey’s prospects in the next decade. It is necessary to develop short, middle and long term strategies, which will fill the gap between the assumptions that “Soon the Syrians will return home by the end of the crisis.” and “The crisis will take longer to resolve, and even if it is granted, a significant amount of the Syrian population will stay here due to the appeal of Turkey or the dire conditions in Syria.” Another important finding of this study is that social acceptance in Turkey is extraordinarily high despite the problems encountered, yet it is on fragile terms and for it to be sustainable, a well-managed process, e.g. making strategies of “temporariness” and permanence” is necessary, and these strategies should be brought to public attention and inspire public support. While it is almost impossible to keep the partially unguarded 911 km long Syrian border under constant control, precautions must be taken for possible newcomers as well as for those who are present.

As an institution academically specialized on Turkish-origin people abroad, this study conducted by HUGO benefited from the experiences of social acceptance, social exclusion, and integration of the Turks abroad who went to Europe for work with a one year contract, yet could not return and became permanent.


  • In-Depth Interviews: A total of 144 people divided in half as 72 locals and 72 Syrians from 6 provinces of Turkey—Gaziantep, Kilis and Hatay on the borderland and Istanbul, Izmir and Mersin out of the borderland—were subject to an in-depth interview.
  • Survey Research: Survey research titled “Perception of Syrians in Turkey” was conducted with a sample of 1501 people from 18 provinces between September-October 2014.
  • Media Analysis: Internet news, commentaries and assessments by 21 general/national and 56 local media institutions were examined.
  • NGO Analysis: Meetings were arranged with 38 different national and international NGOs working on the subject in and out of the region in which their works are assessed.
  • Expert Contacts: Meetings were arranged with the managers of almost every state agency and local authorities associated with the subject; moreover, the abovementioned studies were analyzed in an international workshop in Hacettepe University by the field experts and high profile authorities, the results of which are assessed in this report as well.



  • “Open Door Policy”-“Temporary Protection”: Since April 2011, in alignment with what international law and conscience dictates, within the framework of “open door policy” and “temporary protection” policies, Turkey has admitted Syrians who escaped from upheaval caused by the bloody suppression of the protests opposing the Syrian regime and the subsequent outbreak of civil war. This policy adheres to the principles of international law, notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention of 1951.
  • Number of Refugees and Duration of Their Stay Could Not Be Predicted During the Process: At the onset, the anticipated duration of stay for Syrians was 1-2-3 weeks with 50-100 thousand in number, while now it is protracted day by day. As the upheaval and state of war continue, further extension of the duration is expected. A new situation emerged after the increase in ISIS activity in Syria, which may result in an immediate influx of thousands of people toward the border as seen in the Kobani case.
  • Number of Syrians in Turkey: The figure provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on November 3, 2015 is 2.181.293, which indicates the number of registered Syrians. The UNHCR states that weekly updated numbers under the “registered” label are received from Turkish officials. However, since sound registration has thus far been unavailable and border crossings are so frequent to/from Syria, there are a variety of claims asserting that the real number is higher or lower than provided. The officials of General Directorate for Migration Management, who carries out the registration process, state that they put significant effort on the “Biometric” registration and managed to register 90% of the Syrians. However, there is no doubt that the total number of Syrians in Turkey exceeds 2,5 million at any rate.
  • Numbers Inside-Outside the Camps: While 10-11% of the refugees (260.000) are sheltered in 25 camps (accommodation centers) located in 10 provinces, the real mass of the at least 2 million people are outside the camps, spread across almost everywhere in Turkey. Among those the highest number resides in Şanlıurfa with 356.000 people. It is followed by Hatay with 341.000 people and İstanbul with 305.000, Gaziantep with 277.000, Adana 121.000 people. Kilis and Mersin host each 114.000, Mardin hosts 88.000, İzmir 73.000 and Kahramanmaraş hosts 72.000 Syrians outside the camps. 10.000 to 50.000 Syrians are shared by 11 other provinces in Turkey.
Number of the Refugees in Turkey: Top-Ten Cities in Turkey


  • Registration: By November 3, 2015 onward, it is stated that 2.181.293 Syrians are registered among the estimated 2,5 million. However, by November, 90-95% of the Syrians are registered. The Ministry of Interior Affairs put vigorous effort into concluding the registrations by the end of 2014 with technical assistance from the UNHCR. The reasons behind the registration problem are thought to be that it was seen as “unnecessary” at the onset due to the expectation that “Syrians would return before long” and later it became harder to control due to the continued refugee influx, as well as an avoidance of people to be registered. The failure to register Syrians in Turkey hinders crisis management and causes problems in fulfilling the requirements of refugees and in providing them with security.


  • Women and Children: Among the Syrians in Turkey, the number of women and children who are in need of special care is above 75%. 53.3% of the Syrians in Turkey are comprised of people below 18, who are defined as children by the UN.


Syrians in Turkey and Their Ages
http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php (Erişim tarihi: 27 Ekim 2015)



  • Syrian Babies Born In Turkey: It is stated that in the 4.5 years between April 2011 and November  2015 the number of babies born in camps and the cities where camps are located is 200.000.
  • Education-Enrollment Rate Remains At Low Levels: More than 54.2% of the Syrians in Turkey are children and youth below 18 years old. There is a serious problem about the enrollment of Syrian children since their stay was not expected to take so long at the onset and the medium of instruction is Turkish. Despite better conditions in camps, the general rate of enrolment remains at the low levels of 15-20%.
  • Change in Ethno-religious Characteristics: In the aftermath of April 11, 2011, the vast majority of incomers from Syria were Sunni-Arabs. However, by 2014 onward, significant variation took place in the ethno-religious characteristics of Syrian refugees, as ISIS violence intensified in the region. The arrival of many non-Sunni-Arab Syrians such as Yazidis, Armenians and Kurds validated the discourse of open doors for the sake of humanity and eased the concerns of those who perceived the arrival of Sunni-Arabs as a political move.
  • Costs and Lack of International Support: Turkey bears the enormously high costs of Syrian refugees. Foreign support in meeting those costs is quite limited. As of November 2015, Turkey has spent more than 7.5 billion US dollars on Syrians. Furthermore, Turkish NGOs allocated 635 million dollars of financial support. Foreign support during this period remained at 417 million dollars, which is only 4-5% of the total expenses. The UN’s calls for “urgent” aid in terms of basic needs attracted very little interest from prosperous and developed countries and institutions. For instance, while the requested sum for the year 2014 was 3.7 billion dollars, the funds raised were only 50%, which is 1.9 billion. The share of Turkey within these funds is quite low as well (70 million USD for the year 2014).
  • Insensitivity of International Community in Humanitarian Cost Sharing: As they were reluctant and inadequate in sharing the financial costs, prosperous and developed countries remained even more so when it came to sharing the humanitarian costs (refugees).  Only 10-15% of the total Syrian refugee population was admitted or committed to admission by countries other than the 5 in the region (Turkey (2.181.293), Lebanon (078.338), Jordan (629.627), Iraq (245.585), and Egypt (128.019)). Despite the urgent and humble calls of aid, financial support was not adequately ensured. The total number of Syrians that Western countries committed to admit is 600.000-700.000 in 4.5 years. These number was in March 2015 only 150.000.


Source:  UNHCR (http//data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id:224) (31 Aralık 2014)



  • Call from Western World to Turkey: “Open Your Doors In The East Close Them In The West!” Western countries expressed sensitivity on the “open doors” policy of Turkey. However, it is observed that in the same western countries, particularly in the European Union, the thinking revolved around “open your eastern borders, but always keep the western ones closed so that they won’t come.”
  • Crisis Management: Turkey has devoted enormous effort for Syrian refugees since April 2011. While a Deputy Prime Minister (Beşir Atalay, Numan Kurtulmuş, successively) specialized on the issue, “Prime Ministry General Coordinatorate for Syrian Refugees” was established and a Coordinator Governor (Veysel Dalmaz) was appointed to the post in Gaziantep by a Prime Ministry Circular dated September 20, 2012 “in order to deal with all matters related to the coordination of state agencies concerning Syrian refugees in Turkey.”  Moreover, the associated departments of all ministries keep operating in and out of the region. Since July 2015 Chef Advisor of Premierminister Dr. Murtaza Yetiş is responsible for the coordination.
  • Geneva Convention and Protocol (1951-1967): The international obligations of Turkey on the issue of refugees are determined within the framework of the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, Turkey’s reservation to accept only those who come from Europe as “refugees” has been a disputed issue for years. Turkey insists on the reservation in order to avoid legal obligation, despite the services that it provided regarding frequent cases of mass migration caused by acute instability in the region. However, when the fundamental rights of refugees in terms of universal principles of law and the de facto situation in the region are considered, it is pointless to maintain the geographical reservations. The Syrian crisis revealed that those reservations generate problems. Turkey should abolish the geographical reservations with a rights-based consideration. According to the 2014 UNHCR figures, Turkey awaits 170.000 refugee candidates besides the Syrians. Although that number has no significance when compared to Syrians, it will increase through its “Readmission Agreement” with the EU.
  • Law On Foreigners And International Protection (2013): As a result of the process started in 1999, Turkey enacted the Law on Foreigners and International Protection for the first time in 2013 widely through the influence of the EU, and in the framework of that law the Directorate General of Migration Management was established in an effort to move towards a new policy that is more human and rights-based, where civil initiatives are prioritized and security oriented attitudes are partially abandoned. This law was designed bearing in mind that Turkey becomes a “target” country for irregular and mass migration day by day. It is unfortunate that the Syrian crisis took place in the same period, as this institution had just been established and was in the process of drafting internal legislation and because the Syrian crisis reached far beyond any expectation. Only after the second half of 2014 was it possible to get the situation under control.
  • Regulation of Temporary Protection: Regulation of Temporary Protection”, which was introduced on October 22, 2014, is widely affected by the Syrian crisis. The regulation also introduced the concept of “conditional refugee” for the first time together with “refugee” in association with the geographical reservations of Turkey in the Geneva Convention. The regulation did not specify a time limit for “temporary protection”, yet defined the framework of services to be provided for “conditional refugees” within the bounds of possibility. Thus, the mentality behind the regulation is not about the recognition of the “rights” of the refugees and “obligations” of the state, but rather displaying a character of “host’s support for guests in goodwill—within the scope which conditions allowed—”. Both the law and the regulation establish a basic framework, yet it is deduced that regulations allow particular arrangements for Syrians. Temporary Article 1 of Regulation of Temporary Protection clarified the status of Syrians via a special regulation:

“After April 28th, 2011 due to events occurring in the Syrian Arab Republic, Syrian citizens, stateless people and refugees who came from Syrian Arab Republic to the border of Turkey or cross the border of Turkey individually or massively for the purpose of temporary protection will be granted temporary protection even if they applied for international protection.
As the temporary protection is on process, individual application for international protection will not be put in process.” (RTP- Temporary Article 1)

  • Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency performed an earlier prior role in the process for several reasons: Rapid and unexpected escalation of the crisis, assumptions of “temporariness” and the fact that migration management was only possible within the field. So long as the Syrian tendency to stay is reinforced, the Directorate General for Migration Management will gain more initiative and a different structure of policymaking will emerge. The law and the regulation also create due designs to confer main authority on the Directorate.
  • Extraordinary and devoted efforts undertaken by the state staff working in the region or in Ankara should be appreciated and they should be encouraged to continue such outstanding behavior.
  • Syrians and Unemployment: Turkey has hosted more than 2.2-2.5 million refugees in 4.5 years. However, analogous to many other cases of mass migration around the world, one of the main concerns of the local people refers to the labor market. Apart from the unrest in the society, employing people who are “helpless” and eager to work underpaid seems advantageous to many businesspersons. It is necessary for the state to provide particular support for those who are at risk of losing their jobs. However, it is not easy to respond to the question of whether Syrians cause unemployment in Turkey. According to 2013 data provided by the Turkish Statistics Institute, Kilis, Gaziantep and Adıyaman are the top three provinces in which unemployment decreased synchronously with increasing capacity. These surprising numbers indicate new economic development brought by Syrian refugees. Additionally, it is claimed that many Syrian businesspersons transferred their capital to Turkey due to the crisis, which ensured a significant amount of foreign capital inflows.
  • Camp Standards: There are 25 “accommodation centers”, or camps, in 10 provinces with the capacity to hold 260.000 people. Here, Turkey rather applied the presented scenery in the foreign camps in its own practice, which proved effective. There is even news published by foreign media with headings like “Go See Turkey to See How to Build Perfect Camps.” Undoubtedly though, high standards in these 6 container cities only address a small fraction of the general Syrian problem and has received criticisms for being a “PR” effort. Another outcome of high standards in the camps is that it may have caused a decreased amount of support for Turkey. Comparative studies also revealed that high-standard camps are not enough to derive satisfaction by itself.




In the framework of HUGO research, 144 In-Depth interviews were conducted with 72 Turks/Locals and 72 Syrians outside the camps from 6 provinces (Gaziantep, Kilis, Hatay, Istanbul, Izmir, Mersin), which provided some important clues about the subject.


Provinces where  in-depth interviews were conducted:





  • Syrian Views and Expectations:


  • Syrians expressed that they are happy and content to be in Turkey, for which they are grateful to the Turkish people.
  • The most pressing issue expressed by Syrians is about the right to labor. They stated that they desire to engage in working life; thus, they will no longer be a burden for Turkey. In case of undeclared working, they are very likely to be exploited.
  • Despite the high standards in the camps (accommodation centers), which stand as an example for the world, Syrians do not prefer to reside in camps unless necessary. Major reasons for that are: The strict discipline in the camps, lack of employment opportunities, reluctant religious families who perceive life in camps as unfit for their daughters, a sense of isolation-exclusion. It generates problems for all refugees to stay in camps longer than expected. Therefore, the number of those who leave the camps after they are admitted is quite high.
  • Almost all of the Syrians, who intend to return when the war is over and desirable conditions at home are ensured, are quite pessimistic about it as peace is not likely to be established anytime soon.
  • Syrians expressed that if they were conferred upon citizenship, particularly in the case of dual nationality, they would admit at once.
  • One of the biggest concerns of Syrians is their children’s incomplete education. Since the medium of instruction is Turkish in Turkey, a separate system structured by several NGOs working in and out of the camps in which a “sorted out” version of Syrian Curriculum. On the other hand, this system falls short of fulfilling the necessity. Only around 15% of Syrian children are able to receive education.
  • Syrians expressed that Turkish people embraced and hosted them very well. Still, they stated that their prolonged stay has affected their relations and emotions. Distinctively, when asked “What disturbs you most?” Syrians responded “to be called ‘guests’”. In fact, to be a guest is not a “right” but a condition, which depends largely upon the host. In line with that, by affirming the “guest” status, a host basically intends to put the guests in their place, particularly in case the visit is longer than expected.
  • The tendency of female Syrians in particular to permanently stay in Turkey increases daily. This is a universally common development, which is similarly observed in other places in the world.
  • Educated and professional Syrians expressed that they want to be transferred to a country in Western Europe, or to countries like the USA or Canada. They commonly emphasize the lack of working opportunities in Turkey as a reason for that.
  • Another point that disturbs Syrians is the issue of “Syrian beggars” common in Turkey. Syrians claim that these beggars are not the people impoverished after coming Turkey, but rather are professional “Gypsy/Roman” beggar groups who were begging in Syria as well. They expressed that beggars had an extremely negative influence on the perception of Syrians in Turkey.
  • Syrians expressed discontent about the political instead of humanitarian treatment of the issue. According to Syrians, the government’s discourse causes exclusion of Syrians by other political groups.
  • Views and Expectations of Turks/ Local people[2]
    • Responses are distinct in and out of the region. In the region, three principal points emerge:  Increasing rents, fear of losing jobs, disruptions in receiving public services, mainly healthcare.
    • A massive increase in rents occurred and is a reality that makes many people victims. Local people become rather reluctant to rent homes to Syrians as well. Descriptions about Syrians being unable to pay their rents are common, causing trouble and living with excess numbers such as 15-20 people in the homes they rented as a single family.
    • In any case of mass migration in the world, local people are disturbed, or even prompted to xenophobia, by “losing their jobs” or “competition induced by an increased labor supply, resulting in income decrease”. This is clearly observed in the region. Among the tradesmen and industrialists, there are those who consider the Syrian presence as an opportunity. On the employee’s side, the situation seems rather unpleasant. The availability of a Syrian who will work for 300TL monthly in a bakery, instead of a local person who will ask for 1000TL for the same job increases the social tension and refusal.
    • From time to time, the existence of a Syrian population that exceeds that of the local population causes problems in receiving public services, particularly healthcare, in the region. In fact, this is rather a matter of perception. In the research carried out by the Governorship in Kilis, which hosts more Syrians than its population, healthcare services received by Syrians is merely 3%. However, the appearance of hospital emergency rooms filled with Syrian crowds disturbs local people and negative perceptions are reinforced by disruptions in services.
    • Regarding public services, several views are observed as “Priority is given to Syrians rather than us. Sometimes we are even only able to receive services by impersonating them.”
    • At the local level, Syrians are commonly identified with theft, prostitution, seizure, property damage, etc. Nevertheless, all of the studies indicated that crime rates are lower among Syrians than among locals. Still, the perception about that is inflated and negative.
    • There are a lot of complaints among locals that “they are disturbed by the arrival of Syrians since everywhere is filled with thieves and bullies, while they were sleeping with open doors and windows once.”
    • There is a perception among locals about the prostitution of young, impoverished Syrian women. From the data provided in this study and contact made with associated institutions, it is concluded that this is largely an exaggerated rumor. Two “sex workers” (prostitutes) we contacted in Istanbul stated that they were already in the profession back in Syria and continued in Turkey when the war broke out, and never encountered anyone who engaged in the “prostitution sector” after arriving in Turkey. A camp authority stated that they investigated a complaint about a woman who was reportedly working as a prostitute in Syria and continued in the camp, on which they took necessary measures.
    • Similar claims are made about child marriages, which are common, and most of these are in the form of polygamous marriages involving several wives. This is a highly complex matter, as the marriage of 13-16 year old girls is perceived as “normal” by a large segment of Syrians. More importantly is the problem of marriages taking place on religious terms inside the families without being registered. The sphere of influence of Turkish officials is limited in terms of the legal status of Syrians. Nevertheless, serious inflations are detected about the matter of marriages made on religious terms with multiple wives or those who work as servants in houses disguised as wives. Surely, these sorts of incidents have happened, yet these are not so common as to be generalized. The number of officially confirmed incidents is extremely low.
    • It is observed that the matter of young, Syrian women raises severe concerns among women in the region. Women in the region demonstrate their discontent with young, Syrian women who are thought to be under hard conditions and in a position to easily accept marriage proposals. It is observed that men in the region sometimes use it as means to oppress and threaten their wives. The existence of these men pressuring their wives by asserting “behave and obey or I will take one of these 15 year old girls from the camps as a second wife, no dowry, no grumbling from in-laws” is easily observed. Serious findings indicate that this causes discontent even depression among women to the degree that they ask for professional help from psychiatrists-psychologists. Women in the region contacted in the framework of this study are extremely eager for Syrians to return home and expressed their discontent about Syrians through a sentiment in line with hate. Though it is a perception largely caused by men, it is a problem that should be taken into serious consideration.
    • The number of people underlining the cultural gap, marginalizing the Syrians or describing Syrian presence as “trouble” is extremely high. The “Our Syrian brothers” attitude is not so common in society. Syrians are described as “People who escaped from tyranny/brutality” “People under hard conditions”, yet they are remarkably not perceived as “one of us”. This is evident in the survey research.
    • It is often repeated that Syrians are “guests” and they are under the obligation to “conform”. Here it is observed that “to be a guest” suggests a concept of “restriction”.
    • Local people sympathize with Syrians who are closer to their own ethnic or religious properties while excluding the others. While Arabs think highly of Arabs, Kurds of Kurds, and Turks of Turkmen, each group marginalizes every other one.
    • There are local people who put in a lot of effort in solidarity with Syrians, as many as those who are concerned and demand Syrians to leave at once. Notably, some people who said “I cannot caress my children’s heads at home when I see those people who are desperate and poor” share their bread and spend a lot of their time on providing a bit of help to Syrians.
    • Significant differences are observed among the provinces. Hatay is where the highest level of tension is observed. The main reason is that the population in Hatay, mainly the Alawites, perceive the government’s Syria policy as means of “Sunnification of the region” and Syrians as “terrorists”. Erdoğan’s statement of “Our Sunni citizens were killed.” after the bombing incident in Reyhanlı had a tremendous impact. Results of the local elections held on March 30, 2014 are indicative of the reaction.
    • In the beginning of 2014, there were widespread claims in the region that the government brought Syrians to have them vote in favor during the elections on March 30, 2014. Although these claims are still evident, they no longer have so much effect.
    • Out of the region, the Syrian issue is largely associated with “beggars”. In major cities, there are no serious complaints about Syrians other than this “security-aesthetic” concern. As it is known, the policy of placement of beggars in camps after August 2014 produced evident results. However, this beggar issue should still be taken into serious consideration due to its security dimension and its being an element of Syrian perception that is “on Syrians’ heads.” Strict measures are widely demanded on the issue of beggars, which triggers marginalization, degradation, hatred and enmity.
    • In the provinces out of the region, ambiguity about the number of Syrians causes extremely inflated assumptions. Official numbers suggest that there are 30.000 Syrians in Ankara, while many people claim that it is around 200-300.000. Surely, the main problem here is the state’s communication policy, which is characterized by shortcomings in disseminating sound information. This also causes a lack of trust in the state.


The issue of Syrians in Turkey is one of the most pressing matters of the past 3 years. More than 87%, that is 2 million, of the Syrians whose number is reported to be 2.2-2,5 as of November 2015, live outside the camps spread out over all regions in Turkey. In a statement by the Ministry of Interior, only 9 provinces were reported to be without Syrian presence, while Syrians live in all other 72 provinces. But in 2015 all cities in Turkey have Syrians.

The issue of Syrians in Turkey has become an integral part of daily life and politics. Despite the positive picture evident in the level of social acceptance, several social incidents are observed to raise concerns. Many incidents took place, such as demonstrations demanding “Syrians Out” and direct assaults on Syrian people. Such incidents generally originate from a crime in which Syrians are associated. An important reason behind the protests in some places is the issue of unjust competition in enterprise or employment. Unless the process is well-managed, xenophobia and enmity may rapidly spread among some groups within Turkish society, which so far has demonstrated high levels of social acceptance toward Syrians and has been quite supportive of them. The attitude shown thus far is a humanitarian gain on the side of Turkish people. However, these qualities face a serious risk of depletion. Considering that Turkish society has hosted 1.6 million Syrians for 4.5 years without making problems about the 7.5 million dollars spent on Syrians and has kept reactions limited, despite unjust competition and all the security risks, the question of how Turkish society perceives Syrians remains  essential in producing future strategies.

Survey research conducted in the framework of this study with a sample comprised of 1.501 people from 18 provinces revealed the general picture of Turkey and provided an opportunity for testing the results with the findings from in-depth interviews.



The survey research of “Syrian Refugees in Public Perception” was conducted by contacting 1501 people above the age of 18 in 18 provinces between October 3-12, 2014. [3]  Among those contacted, 57.7% were married, 42,5% were single; 49.7% were female and 50.3% male. In the survey research, by asking about their first language, it is intended to obtain clues about ethnic features. Furthermore, observations were made regarding political party affiliations, age groups and differences between the provinces closer to the Syrian border and those out of the region through analysis of crosstabs. Questions are prepared in a way that will provide data assistance for the study of “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration.” There are 31 questions to be responded by a 5-level “Likert item” (I strongly agree, I agree, I neither agree nor disagree, I disagree, I strongly disagree), 26 of which are related directly to the subject, 5 of which are about demographic information. Research was concluded within +/- 2.5 margin of error within a 0.95 confidence interval.



Here are the general findings revealed by the survey research:

  • This research, which tries to measure the perception of Syrians in Turkish society, reveals that: Despite the effects and risks of hosting over 1.5 million Syrians in 3.5 years, which directly impact the daily life, social acceptance of Turkish society regarding the Syrians is extremely high.
  • If the attitude toward Syrians are evaluated in terms of political preferences, quite similar views are shared between the supporters of Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Peace and Democracy Party-People’s Democratic Party (BDP-HDP), and between the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). When political views are determined through responses to the proposition of “Which party would you vote for if the elections were held today?” and these are associated with other prepositions, supporters of the AKP and BDP-HDP are observed to be more “protective” toward Syrians than those of the CHP-MHP.
  • It is fair to think that the issue of Kobani and the admission of Kurdish-origin Syrians in Turkey had a serious impact on the approach of the supporters of BDP-HDP during the times in which this research was conducted.
  • In the assessments, it is observed that no significant differences were detected between the provinces inside and outside the region. In case such differences go above 5%, separate evaluations are presented.
  • No distinct differences of perception are detected between age groups.




1.      Admission of Syrians and Basis of Admission:


In order to measure public perception concerning the admission of Syrians into Turkey as refugees, we principally tried to reach findings about the reasoning behind such admission. Here, it is remarkable that the most supported proposal with 64.6% is the one with humanitarian emphasis: “Admission of Syrians without any discrimination regarding their language, religion and ethnic background is a humanitarian obligation on our part.”  Maybe an even more significant response is given to the provocative proposal asserting that “the Refugees should be sent back to their country even though the war is ongoing.” Despite the 30.6% support for this proposal by Turkish people, the rate of those who opposed and refused is 57.8%. This attitude is very important both in terms of “sensitivity towards fundamental human rights” and “social acceptance”.  “Humanitarian” reasoning got stronger support when compared to “historical and geographical necessities”, “religious fraternity” and lastly “ethnic kinship” respectively. This attitude of a society that has accepted over 2.2 million Syrians in 4.5 years could be perceived as a promising picture for ”social acceptance”.
In order to understand the sensitivity and determination of Turkish people regarding Syrian refugees, responses given to two crucial questions reveal the extent of sensitivity and interest. The rate of those who disagree with the proposal of “Syrian refugees are not our concern. We should not be involved” is 45.8%, while those who agree is 41.6%. Similarly, the rate of those who disagree is higher than those who agree when it comes to another provocative controller question with the proposal of “Refugees should not have been admitted, as this is an intervention in the domestic affairs of Syria.” These results demonstrate a very positive picture in terms of acceptance of refugees despite their large numbers. Although Turkish people disagree with the proposal of “Syrian refugees are beneficial for our country”, the “humanitarian” attitude shown is remarkable. It can be deduced that the attitude shows a character of principle rather than that of opportunism.

2.      How are the Syrians in Turkey Described?

Among the answers to the question of “Which one below best describes your opinion regarding the Syrians in Turkey?”, responses of “People who escaped from persecution”, “Our guests in Turkey”, “Our brothers and sisters in religion” got 74% in total. Those who perceived Syrians as “People who are burden on us” or “Parasites-Beggars” got a mere 26%. The number of respondents that perceives Syrians as “People who escaped from violence” is the highest among the BDP-HDP supporters. Negative judgments are rather prevalent among the supporters of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party).

“Which one below best describes your opinion regarding the Syrians in Turkey?


3.      Are Syrians Economically a Burden?


Some basic points of tension and refusal regarding the Syrian refugees are tested through several proposals. Here, it is understood that economic burdens are particularly important for Turkish society.  70.7% of the people shared the opinion that the Turkish economy has weakened due to Syrian refugees.  Additionally, those who are against providing aid for Syrians when there is poverty in Turkey comprise 60.1%. Turkish people demonstrated their objections about the money spent.




4.      Tendency to Engage in Personal Support for Syrians:


Regarding the support for Syrians, findings indicate that 31,7% of Turkish people somehow helped Syrians by providing material-moral support; however, 68.3% remained indifferent on the issue. This amount of 30,7% is surely significant considering that such extend of support is intensified in the region.


5.     Right to Work:


One of the most disputed aspects of Syrian refugees is their right to labor. Syrians, who were assisted by donations in Turkey or counted on their own resources for a period, stated their desire to engage in working life and make their own living as that period has extended. This increased tension among people working closer to the border regions. Occasionally, the discontent of local people who feel threatened by losing their jobs due to the influx of cheap labor is transformed into protests or even assaults. In that regard, several propositions are offered in the survey research to measure general perceptions on right to labor. 56.1% of Turkish people agree with the proposal asserting that “Syrians take our jobs.” 30.5% disagree. In the provinces closer to region, that rate goes as higher as 68.9%, which could be anticipated.
In response to the question “Which one below best describes your opinion about Syrian labor?” it is observed that almost half (47.4%) of the people clearly have a “negative” attitude. Local people get rather sympathetic to the idea when limitations based on occupation or duration are applied. Those who agree to grant Syrians permission to work in any occupation for an unspecified duration are a mere 5.4%. In that regard, the relation between provinces in and out of the region is remarkable. “They should not be granted work permits” got 44% in the provinces in the region, while surprisingly the same question got a higher response of 48% in the provinces out of the region. “Working in any occupation without restriction” received just 2.1% support in the region and 6.1% out of the region.

6.      Education


Considering the fact that more than 54.2% of Syrians (over 700.000)  in Turkey are children and youth below 18, perhaps the most pressing problems to be faced in the middle and long terms is access to education. UNICEF reported that 73% of Syrian children do not attend school. This lost generation must be regained in education. Unlike the case in the right to labor, society pays greater interest in providing education for Syrian children. Despite the resistance towards admission of Syrians in Turkish universities without examination—due to the already distressed conditions of Turkish candidates—results are generally promising. 72,5% of people supported various sorts of education, while 27.5% raised the opinion that “They should be provided with no education at all.

7.      Social Tension


Survey research examined perceptions on the demonstrations and “protests” of 2014 involving assaults against Syrians, which took place in several provinces, such as Ankara, Adana, and Gaziantep.

First, it is intended to reveal the general opinion through the proposition of “Syrian refugees disturb the peace and cause depravity of public morals by being involved in crimes, such as violence, theft, smuggling and prostitution.” 62.2% of Turkish society agrees with the proposal, while those who disagree are 23.1%. The amount of agreement is doubled in the provinces of the region. As the age goes up, the rate of agreement increases.

As a response to the question of “Strong reactions took place against the refugees in several cities on the grounds that some Syrian people committed crimes. What do you think about that?” it is remarkable that half of society (47.5%) thought reactions were “right” and “supported” them. Those who thought reactions were right but excessive are 26.1%, and those who thought reactions and assaults were “wrong” is 13.9%. In the provinces of the region, the rate of those who think reactions were right is 52.3%, while in the provinces out of the region that is 46.7%. The rate of those who think the reactions were right is highest among people who would vote for the MHP in an election, and the rate of those who think reactions were wrong is highest among those would vote for the BDP-HDP. In terms of age groups, those who stress on the responsibility of state and rightness of protests are located to 55+ age group.

8.      Approach towards the Permanence of Syrians in Turkey


In the framework of the research headed “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration”, predictions and expectations of Turkish people concerning the stay of Syrians are examined under the general topic of “In case the war in Syria drags on, which policy should Turkey pursue?”.  The proposition that closely relates all the research and perception is formulated as “Syrians should be sent back to their country even though the war is ongoing.” Those who responded “I agree” and “I strongly agree” are only 30.6% together. A greater portion of 62.8% of Turkish people expressed their disagreement with the proposal. The result is valuable and important in terms of showing the state of mind in a country that hosted over 2.2-2.5 million Syrians in 4.5 years. Interestingly, the rate of disagreement with the proposal is lower in the provinces of the region, where people face more concrete and direct problems concerning the Syrians. In terms of political party affiliations, this proposal got the lowest support from proponents of the BDP-HDP, as they opposed deportation by 80.6%. Arabic-speaking people, thus thought to be Arabs, expressed higher support for “deportation”.

When the “state of war” is excluded from the proposal and is reformulated as “Refugees are not a concern of Turkey and they should be sent back to their country.”38.9%agree and 47.8% disagree. The “state of war” seems to be an important aspect for Turkish people.
The arrival of more Syrians hereafter is perceived as negatively by Turkish people as expected, yet31.7% still support the admission of newcomers from Syria. In terms of the culture of acceptance, this rate is significant when the current situation and capacity are taken into consideration. Resistance to the arrival of new refugees is higher in the provinces of the region.

Turkish people commonly share the opinion that “Syrians who stay in Turkey may cause major problems.” The rate of those who responded “I strongly agree” and “I agree” are 76.5% in total. It is higher in the provinces of the region (81.7%). Within the political party spectrum, that view is mostly common among supporters of the MHP, followed by the CHP and the AKP respectively, while the least concern is observed among BDP-HDP supporters. (50%)

According to these observations, the general will of Turkish people is that Syrians should not be spread all over the country, but sheltered in camps. Support for the proposal of “Refugees should only be sheltered in the camps.” is 72.6%.  In the region, that demands goes up to 80.2%. A similar attitude is evident in the responses toward the proposal of “Refugees should be sheltered in camps to be built in a buffer zone on Syrian soil along the border” for which the rate of support is 68.8%, while the rate of those who are against is a mere 18.1%. The BDP-HDP proponents are widely against this proposal. The Kobani incident of September-October 2014 is thought to be in line with that. However, responses to both of these proposals indicate that Turkish people are not pleased about Syrian presence out of the camps. As it is inconceivable for 1.4 million Syrians to be sheltered in the camps, policymakers should address such sensibilities.

9.      Predictions on Coexistence and “Neighborhood”

Research findings have indicated a different perception than the widely referred to similarities between Turkish and Syrian people in terms of religious and ethnic properties, sharing a long 911km border. Turkish society is not so sympathetic with the idea that “We are culturally akin to Syrians”. Those who support this proposal are 17.2%. Those who think we are culturally distinct are as high as 70.6%. As is known, Syrians who arrived before 2014 were widely comprised of Sunni-Arabs. After ISIS came into equation in 2014, other Syrians, such as Yazidis (Ezidi), Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds and Alawites arrived and significant alterations took place in the ethno-religious picture.  Despite little differentiation of the BDP-HDP supporters on the idea that we are “akin” to Syrians, no significant difference in perception can be reported.  When compared to the 17.2% support for the “cultural proximity” proposal, assumptions expressed to explain admission of Syrians in Turkey like “religious fraternity” (52.9%) and “ethnic kinship” (42.1%) lose their relevance.


One of the important questions inquired in the research is “Would you be disturbed to have a Syrian as your neighbor?” It is observed that half of society responded “yes” (49.8%) and the other half responded “no” (50.2%). Those who answered yes were then asked “Why would you be disturbed to have a Syrian as your neighbor?” Here, the findings are remarkable. 52.3% of the Turkish people expressed that they would not be pleased to have a Syrian neighbor due to the “concern that Syrians may do harm to their family or their person.”  Interestingly, that perception got higher rates out of the region, which is basically indicative of a perception problem. With a rate of 15.9%, the second most prominent reason expressed by Turkish people is that they do not feel culturally close to Syrians. When compared to those out of the region, people in the region feel slightly more distant to Syrians.

10.  Citizenship


One of the striking results of “Syrian Refugees in Public Perception Survey Research” is related to the citizenship. Despite embracing Syrians, Turkish people are widely against conferment of citizenship. Support for the proposition “Refugees should be conferred Turkish citizenship” got only 7.7 %. A clear refusal is expressed by 84.5%, which is an unmatched result among all cases of this research. When this is analyzed in terms of political party spectrum, it is observed that there is no significant difference in the attitudes on citizenship. Conclusion is that this could be a politically risky area which should be taken in consideration for developing policies of integration in future.


11.  Views of Turkish Society Concerning the Permanence of Syrians

Through several proposals in the survey research, the study titled “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration, has attempted to explain Turkish people’s opinions of coexistence and predictions on the prospects of over 1.5 million Syrians who have been in Turkey for 3.5 years by now. As a first step, Turkish people’s perceptions of Syrian permanence is investigated. Findings are striking on “the aftermath of the war in Syria”. It is reported that 45.1% of Turkish society expect all Syrians to return home. The remaining 54.9% think that Syrians will stay in Turkey either partially or wholly. This means that more than half of the Turkish society believes that Syrians will stay in Turkey in some way or another.

It should be emphasized that opinions here display no significant distinction between provinces in/out of the region, political affiliations or age groups.

The expectation regarding the permanence of Syrians is of vital importance for the prospects of coexistence. In line with that, strong support for the proposal of “Syrian presence in Turkey may cause severe problems“ is noteworthy.


Expectations regarding Syrians being integrated into Turkish society are on quite limited levels. A related proposal hada similar amount of support as the “cultural proximity” question. A serious segment of Turkish people (66.9%) does not believe that Syrians would be integrated into Turkish society. In terms of integration, the AKP (27.8%) and BDP-HDP (35.6%) voters are rather hopeful.

The proposal formulated as “Refugees should be provided countrywide residence and policies should be developed addressing their employment and integration.” had 38.2% support. However, a larger amount of 47% thinks that integration strategies are unnecessary. This is the result of demoralization and a lack of hope in society. The increasing Syrian population in Turkey sometimes triggers claims that this is a deliberate state policy on demographics. A proposal was formulated regarding the possible association between Syrians and President Erdoğan’s frequently expressed request to produce “3 children” as a condition to form “a strong state”.   However, the proposal that a “Population increase through Syrians will lead Turkey to be a stronger country.” had little support (12.3%). The rate of those who disagree with the idea that the contribution of Syrians will lead to a stronger state is 70.6%.

12.  Social Sensitivity and Crisis Management

The proposal that “Turkish people embraced Syrian Refugees” was asked in order to reach evidence on the interest and support for Syrians in Turkey, as this proposal had enormous support of 79%, where the rate of those who disagree is only 9.8%. This indicates that Turkish people think “they did their part”.

An important aspect of the Syrian crisis is its management. The proposition of “The state displayed efficient management concerning the refugees.” was included in the survey research in order to understand the perception of society on crisis management. 31.8% of Turkish people agree with the proposal, while 49.7% are dissatisfied. Here, there is a huge gap between those who vote for the AKP and those who do not. Also, the approach regarding state performance is rather negative in the region than out of it.





It no longer seems possible to base Turkey’s Syrian policy on “temporariness”.  Actions that are postponed, halted or neglected due to the expectation of “temporariness” may bring severe problems in future. Therefore, while doing what should be done through domestic and foreign policy for Syrians to return home, it is necessary to recognize that a significant proportion of them will stay in Turkey permanently and strategies of coexistence must be developed in line with that. While making strategies of that sort, especially during the management of dynamic process, a science-based approach should be embraced by utilizing the knowledge and counsel of experts, academicians, NGOs, international institutions and organizations. It is of vital importance that the strategies related to “permanence” should be human and rights based, and the support of Turkish society should be gained. It is not the time for holding someone accountable-guilty, rather it is the time for a human and rights based resolution for the sake of the future of Turkey.




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[1] This article based on the report of HUGO study headed “Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration”. The report published in detail but with same title as a book by Bilgi University Press in February 2015.

[2]There are people in the region who describe themselves with their religious or ethnic identities (Arab, Kurd, Sunni, Alawite) instead of “Turk”. Therefore, concept of “local people” seems academically relevant.

[3]Survey Research is applied by Ankara-based Optimar Research Company

[4]The public opinion research is conducted with answers given to statements through “5 point likert scale” technique. In order to provide a general view, the option of “neither agree nor disagree” is eliminated. The options of “I strongly agree”-“I agree” and “I strongly disagree”-“I disagree” are evaluated as one.

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