It's been seven years since first refugee flow reached Turkey in 2011 from its southern neighbor Syria, which has been struggling with a bloody civil war since then.
Although at first the refugees were regarded as guests, in time, as the number of the refugees increased day by day and no major change occurred with Syria's political condition, many people started accepting their existence in Turkey as permanent.
Today, there are more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in the country, the highest number in the world, and their integration is one of the major issues that the Turkish government is dealing with. Even if it has been and still is a challenging journey for not only the government but also Turkish society, in these seven years, there have been many significant developments in the integration process of Syrians in many areas, particularly in education and labor. According to a recent study published by the Istanbul Policy Center (İPM), currently there are 3,541,572 Syrian refugees in Turkey, only 210,177 of who live in the camps. The rest are spread out in various provinces throughout the country. The commercial capital Istanbul and the southern border provinces of Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep stand out as the places that host the most refugees.
Two-thirds of the refugees are either women or children.
As far as the education is concerned, 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are school-aged children. In 2014, these children were given the right to attend public schools in Turkey; however, there have been many problems in their integration process to the Turkish education system, including a language barrier and the gap between the two countries' curricula.
Still, through many programs that provide Turkish-language classes, remedial courses, counseling and school transportation, the numbers of students that have integrated into Turkish schools has increased remarkably over the years.
As of 2018, a total of 611,418 Syrian children are enrolled in Turkish schools, which equals 63 percent of the school-aged population. The number was 230,000 in 2014, which was equal to 30 percent of the school-aged population. When it comes to the university education, there are 20,700 Syrians enrolled in Turkish universities right now, equaling 3-4 percent of university-aged Syrians. The number was 1,785 in 2014.
Despite being commonly referred to as refugees, legally the Syrians are under temporary protection in Turkey, which requires a certain set of new laws to regulate their integration process. These regulations are mostly established through permits, such as work permits.
In 2014, refugees got the right to work legally in Turkey; however, the work permit regulations for refugees under temporary protection was only finalized in 2016, giving refugees the ability to apply for work permits personally.
Only 20,000 work permits have been granted so far, which is a quite low number compared to the total number of Syrians in the country. This situation, the Istanbul Policy Center expressed in a report, suggests that many still work unofficially, without authorization mainly due to restrictions regarding work sectors, provinces and location.
In addition to education and labor, there have also been remarkable developments regarding healthcare services that are provided for Syrians over the last seven years.
Since 2013, health care services have been provided for Syrians all over the country. Today, there are 158 clinics for Syrians, which, so far, has offered more than a million consultation services. The health care sector is also a labor opportunity for Syrians since Syrian doctors and nurses are receiving training to work in the Turkish health care system. Some 1,580 refugee doctors and nurses are expected to be employed in primary health care services for Syrians.
"In some provinces and districts, harmonious and peaceful coexistence has been achieved between the communities thanks to shared ethnic, religious and linguistic affinities, whereas in most others, engagements across the communities are kept to a minimum," the İPM further stated, in spite of the positive developments in integration.
One of the main reasons behind the distance between the two societies in certain regions is believed to be the misinformation about Syrians. For instance, there are circulating rumors that they are being favored and therefore easily entering universities and being granted citizenship.