Hosting nearly 5 million refugees from around the world who mostly fled from destruction in their homelands, Turkey has intensified efforts to prepare a more detailed migration strategy. According to the new road map, Ankara is expected to strengthen national mechanisms for refugees and boost international cooperation with transnational organizations to increase border security and fight irregular migration.
On a certain level, regulations on employment for refugees come to the fore in the new strategy. Managing the irregular workforce with effective and extensive policies stands as a priority for Ankara. Apart from that, strengthening mechanisms to deport irregular migrants, according to international agreements, constitutes another pillar of this action plan.
Istanbul has seen a significant increase in the number of irregular migrants caught since 2016. While the number was about 10,000 in 2016, it has reached 35,000, with Afghan refugees leading the list. They are followed by refugees from Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria and Bangladesh. As part of the refugee strategy, The Directorate General of Migration Management has completed 47 projects. They include the establishment of an action plan, developing legislation, building readmission centers, training for personnel at refugee centers, researching migration on an academic level and improving the living conditions of refugee children.
The directorate cooperated with many international organizations on these projects, including the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), the European Council and some interior ministries and universities of foreign countries, including the U.K., Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Ankara's heavy burden in the refugee crisis
The number of refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated in 2003 in its future projection for the year 2050 was 230 million; however, this number was substantially exceeded as of the year 2013. Whereas the number of displaced people was 21.1 million in 2000, it is about 70.8 million today.
There are still 4.9 million foreigners living in Turkey and 3.6 million of these are Syrians under temporary protection status. While 1 million foreigners have residency permits, 320,000 of them are under international protection.
Abdullah Ayaz, director of migration management, said half the Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey are fleeing the Aleppo region and its surrounding areas, escaping the cruelty of the Bashar Assad regime. The rest are fleeing from Daesh-controlled Raqqa and areas controlled by the PKK and its affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG).
According to the Interior Ministry, the distribution of areas and cities where Syrians were forced to leave their homes and flee to Turkey are as follows: 64% from regime-controlled areas, including Aleppo; 8% from Idlib; 8% from al-Hassakah; 5% from Raqqa; 5% from Deir el-Zour; 5% from Hama; 4% from Homs; 5% from Damascus; 17% from YPG-controlled areas; 8% from the Turkish-controlled Operation Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield areas; and 8% and Free Syrian Army (FSA)-controlled areas.
"Due to its geographical location, Turkey is the first shore hit by the wave. Yet, we did not want to be a rock that people hit and turn away," Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Aug. 1, adding that hosting refugees in a humanitarian crisis is the responsibility of the whole international community.
So far, 339,000 Syrians have returned home voluntarily to areas secured by the Turkish military. Soylu also said this trend will most likely continue, especially after the secured areas are expanded in other parts of Syria. "Based on our surveys, almost 70% of Syrians who live in Turkey want to return home once security is restored," he said.
There has been an obvious increase in the number of refugees in the last five years, who numbered around 50,000 in 2014. Some 268,000 irregular migrants were caught in 2018. Whereas 56,459 irregular migrants were deported in 2018, this number was 44,521 in the first seven months of 2019.
Last month, the Istanbul Governorate set an Aug. 20 deadline for Syrian nationals who reside in Istanbul despite being registered elsewhere in Turkey to leave the city. Those who were found to have not returned will be transferred to the provinces where they were registered according to the Interior Ministry directive, the governorate said.
Those who are unregistered would be brought to camps where the registration processes take place. Turkey has an important duty in this regard, as hosting the most refugees in the world brings economic and social challenges. However, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Leyla Şahin Usta announced that this deadline of Aug. 20 could be extended by three months. Turkey tries to manage the refugee issue in a humanitarian manner, within the scope of laws and by applying a people-oriented strategy. It was also announced that there will be waivers for those who have opened workplaces in Istanbul and have thus created employment.
Turkey first started accepting refugees with an open-door policy in 2011, when the Syrian civil war broke out. Initially, their need for shelter was met and later, programs and policies were adapted to facilitate their integration into society. Municipalities of the ruling AK Party are teaching Syrians Turkish and the country's customs, how to open new workplaces and where to apply for work properly. Moreover, Syrians will be directed toward attending obligatory Turkish language courses. On the other side, the AK Party women's branch helps Syrians to get to know their neighbors and establishes good relations with them. When the Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP) was enacted in 2013, Turkey also established the Directorate General of Migration Management, and Syrians were given temporary protected status in 2014.
If foreigners residing in Turkey are evaluated in four categories, these can be described as: Regular migrants with a residence permit, those who entered the country via unlawful ways or came legally but whose visas expired and did not leave the country, Syrians under the temporary protected status and lastly, refugees under international protection, conditional refugees.
Turkey has still 26 repatriation centers with a capacity of 15,876 people and plans for 2019 aim for a further nine centers with a capacity of an additional 3,800 people. Syrians under the temporary protected status in Turkey have access to health care, education, subscriptions, social services and employment.
Within the scope of the project regarding the demographic and biometric data update of Syrians with temporary protected status in Turkey, their ID cards will be renewed and residence information of those living outside the city are registered. Accordingly, when the distribution of Syrians under protection is considered, Istanbul ranks first. This is followed by Gaziantep with 440,618, Şanlıurfa with 432,000, Hatay with 428,000, Adana with 240,000, Mersin with 201,000, Bursa with 172,000 Izmir with 143,000, Kilis with 115,000 and finally Konya with 107,000.
The main targets within Turkey's Migration Strategy Document are administering regular migration, preventing irregular migration, activating the international protection mechanism, the fight against human trafficking, strengthening the adaptation of refugees and social integration and developing legislative, administrative and humanitarian capacity.
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