Social Cohesion in Turkey: Refugee and Host Community Online Survey (Round 1), December 2017

Report from World Food Programme Published on 08 Dec 2017

Introduction and Background

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Turkey is home to the largest refugee population in the world, including over 3.2 million1 Syrians, and over 320,000 asylum seekers from other countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. While no one under any form of International Protection in Turkey has the legal status of refugees, for brevity, they will be called refugees in this report.

Of these 3.5 million refugees, less than 10% live in camps. The vast majority live among the Turkish people in cities across the country. According to the Directorate General of Migration Management, 80% are concentrated in 10 provinces, including 50% who live in the Southeast of Turkey, and almost 20% who live in Istanbul.

This enormous number of refugees, concentrated in a few areas of the country, has inevitable consequences. As refugees flow into Turkish neighbourhoods, labour markets react to the influx of cheap workers, hospitals and schools become more crowded, and municipal budgets struggle to cope with the extra services required. This survey aims to measure the perceptions of Syrian refugees and their Turkish hosts around four themes: 1) social interactions; 2) economic implications, 3) assistance provision, and 4) safety, security and stability. Future rounds of the survey will track changes in these perceptions.

Of course, as refugees have been arriving in Turkey in large numbers since 2011, this is not a new topic. A variety of studies have been conducted on the effects of refugees within Turkey, examining social, cultural and economic changes. For example, a January 2015 study by the Centre for Middle Eastern and Strategic Studies (ORSAM) cited a number of challenges resulting from the influx, including shifting demographics, increasing rent prices, labour market competition, increasing inflation and overburdened municipal services2 . The ORSAM report highlighted the importance of social integration as a policy focus moving forward.

A World Bank (WB) paper published in August 2015 analysed the impact of Syrians on the Turkish labour market. The WB determined that “the inflow of informally employed Syrian refugees leads to large-scale displacement of Turkish workers from the informal sector, around six natives for every 10 refugees.” These impacts on employment are negative for women and the least educated Turks, who are more likely to drop out of the labour market entirely.

Another relevant report titled The Politics of Permanence was produced in November 2016 by the International Crisis Group. This included a section entitled “The growing anti-refugee sentiment,” which cited various studies demonstrating that a large proportion of Turks considered Syrians an economic burden and a security risk4. It is also worth noting a 2015 perceptions study conducted by the German Marshall Fund: 41% of respondents felt there were “too many” foreigners in Turkey, and 82% of respondents thought that immigrants had not integrated well into Turkish society.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the work of Professor Murat Erdoğan from Hacettepe University, who has led a number of different research studies on Syrians in Turkey. Most relevant here, is a 2014 paper Syrians in Turkey: Social Acceptance and Integration Research. The 2014 paper notes the increasing concerns and objections of the local population “as the permanency of Syrians in Turkey becomes more visible.” The paper notes that in general, the Syrians feel safe and grateful to Turkey, but voice concern regarding labour exploitation and high rent. The host community attitudes vary significantly, with some who are extremely hospitable and offer homes free of charge, while others feel strongly that all Syrians should be in camps.

The bulk of the research on the effects of the influx of refugees was conducted over a year ago. And studies that compare the perceptions of refugees with those of the host community in Turkey appear to be limited. Neither have there been surveys that track changes. The social cohesion survey is an online survey, which contributes to the evidence base by allowing the host community and refugees to anonymously express their opinions and feelings about issues related to social cohesion. The report is important, as it builds upon the existing empirical data to determine if and how the ongoing social and economic shifts have affected perceptions of Syrians and the host community. As the duration of stay of refugees in Turkey is unknown, the trends in these perceptions could have serious implications.