The Turkish government has stopped registering and relocating Syrian refugees in Istanbul due to the increasing population, the Interior Ministry has told daily Hürriyet.
“Records of Syrians living in 81 cities – and first and foremost Istanbul – are being updated,” the ministry source said on Feb. 8, describing part of the measures taken to limit the influx of refugees to the country’s historic central.
“Registries are also closed to Syrian nationals traveling to Istanbul from other Turkish cities,” the source added, referring to Syrian refugees granted biometric IDs who were traveling within the country using the official travel permits issued by the Turkish government.
Law enforcement officials have also ramped up their efforts to locate unregistered Syrian nationals in the city, the source said.
Currently, there are around 542,000 Syrian refugees registered in Istanbul, a metropolis with a total population of almost 15 million, according to data from the Interior Ministry’s Migration Management Directorate.
Syrian refugees, therefore, make up 3.6 percent of Istanbul’s total population.
“We want our refugee brothers and sisters to return to their land, to their homes. We are not in the position to hide 3.5 million here forever,” Erdoğan said, addressing local province heads at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
The increasing number of Syrian refugees taking part in Turkish daily life is a sensitive subject for Turkish people. Although a deeply polarized nation, Turks of all stripes tend to believe that Syrian refugees should be sent back to their country once the war is over, according to a survey conducted by the Istanbul Bilgi University Center for Migration Research in partnership with the German Marshall Fund (GMF) revealed on Feb. 5.
Some 86.2 percent of the survey participants agreed that “Syrians should be sent back to their country once the war in Syria has ended,” according to the findings in the survey titled “Research on Polarization’s Dimensions in Turkey.”
The survey, conducted in 16 Turkish cities with 2004 adult participants above 18 years of age, showed that the largest group that favored Syrians returning to their homelands following the war came from the Good Party (İYİ Party) base, with 94.9 percent of the group responding positively to the question.
Around 92.8 percent of citizens who claimed to support the Republican People’s Party (CHP) also supported the refugees’ return, ranking second in the category.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters came third with 88.9 percent, followed by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters with 83.2 percent.
Although the lowest, 75.9 percent of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) supporters said they favored the refugees’ return.
Turkey currently hosts approximately 4.3 million refugees and has the largest refugee population in the world, according to a two-year study conducted by the Turkish Parliament’s Refugee Subcommittee that operates under the Human Rights Committee.
Of the 4.3 million, 3.4 million are Syrian refugees, the highest number in the world, according to data from the Interior Ministry’s Migration Management Directorate.
Some 1.85 million of them are men and 1.57 million are women.
The refugee population amounts to the equivalent of Turkey’s third largest city, surpassing the western province of İzmir, according to the 2016 survey.
As the third largest city, the refugee population equates to the combined population of the next 21 largest cities. Turkey has 79 cities altogether.
While Istanbul tops the list, the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa hosts nearly 468,000 Syrians, while over 457,000 Syrians live in the Hatay province on the Turkey-Syria border, and 459,000 in the southern province of Gaziantep.
Some 130,000 Syrians live in the southeastern border province of Kilis, while the city’s non-refugee population is about 136,000, making the number of registered Syrians higher than the city’s regular population.
The lowest number of Syrians, a mere 49, live in the Bayburt province in the Black Sea region.
Over 228,000 Syrians are living in 21 camps in 10 provinces of Turkey, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency’s report published in January.
In March 2016, Turkey and the EU signed a refugee deal that aimed at discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of the three million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The deal still is effective on paper.