Most Syrians who fled the civil war and escaped to Turkey are happy in the country and do not want to return home, a recent poll of Syrian refugees in Turkey revealed.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), M. Murat Erdoğan, director of the Ankara-based Research Centre on Asylum and Migration (IGAM), said that Syrians do not feel excluded or discriminated against in Turkey – the country that hosts the world's largest refugee population.
Erdoğan, who also serves as director of the Mülkiye Migration Research Center (MUGAM) at Ankara University, shared with AA the latest findings from the annual report "Syrians Barometer-2020: A Framework for Achieving Social Cohesion with Syrians in Turkey.” The report is supported by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) Turkey and is set to be released on Monday.
Syria has been mired in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Bashar Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity. Hundreds of thousands of people have since been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to U.N. figures.
"Syrians generally seem satisfied with their life in Turkey,” Erdoğan said, referring to the findings of the latest report.
The report, now in its third edition, is based on face-to-face surveys. Researchers conducted surveys with 2,259 citizens in 26 provinces chosen by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat). Separately, a total of 1,414 families were surveyed to gain insight into the nearly 7,000 Syrians under temporary protection in 15 provinces.
Another issue people in Turkey are talking about is whether and when the Syrians will return to their home country.
"In 2017, the rate of those who said they don't want to return to Syria under any circumstances was only 16%,” Erdoğan said, citing data from earlier editions of the study. "Then this rose to 34% in 2019 and later to 58%." According to Erdoğan, some Syrians say they never want to go back to Syria, regardless of what happens.
Erdoğan believes there are fundamental reasons for this.
"One of them is that the war in Syria has become chronic and there's no hope for a solution. Syria is fragmented, and there are different authorities in different regions,” he said.
Insecurity awaiting them if they return to Syria is another factor, he added.
The number of Syrians living in Turkey is now around 4 million, and according to the Interior Ministry, nearly 175,000 Syrians were granted Turkish citizenship between 2011 and 2021.
According to the latest edition of the Syrian Barometer, two issues are the greatest concern for Syrians in Turkey.
"One is their temporary status, as it presents a major obstacle for them thinking ahead to the future,” said Erdoğan.
Turkey gives Syrians a temporary protection status under which, according to the U.N., "Syrian nationals, refugees and stateless persons from Syria seeking international protection are admitted to Turkey and will not be sent back to Syria against his or her will.” It also covers access to health care, education and social assistance as well as the labor market.
The other issue of concern is the Syrians' working conditions, generally, they are "standing on their own two feet” but their working conditions are difficult, according to Erdoğan.
"When we ask Syrians what their biggest problem in Turkey is, they always say working conditions,” he added.
According to Erdoğan, although Syrians are trying to forge closer ties with Turkish society, the Turkish public remains distant.
"When we ask the Turkish public if the Syrians have adapted to living with Turks, they complain about the Syrians, but when we ask the Syrians themselves, they think that they’ve adapted to Turkey, around 80%-90% think they have,” he explained.
Syrians also are "building their own lives” in Turkey, said Erdoğan. "We see that the tendency to return voluntarily is quite low.”
Some Syrians "also say that 'if there’s peace in our country, of course, we would like to go back,’ but there's a difference between saying this and putting it into practice. Going back easily isn't possible for them.”
According to Erdoğan, there has been a "radical change in the Turkish public's view of Syrians in recent years.”
He said the Turkish public used to see Syrians as victims and as oppressed people fleeing war, but recently more people have started seeing them as a problem.
"And we see this process (of changed perceptions) in our research,” he added.
According to the research, the Turkish public sees Syrians as one of the biggest problems the country faces, after the economy and terrorism, Erdoğan said.
"We had more or less understood this through other questions, but in the last two barometers, we asked the public about this directly."
Erdoğan also pointed to a contradiction in this, as Turks and Syrians have been living side-by-side in the same country for more than a decade now.
"We live relatively peacefully. So the expectations of the Turkish public and what's actually being experienced diverge from each other,” he added.
Erdoğan also described the 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey on migrants as an "important turning point” for relations between Ankara and Brussels.
"But unfortunately, not in a very positive sense,” he said.
Turkey’s execution of the 2016 deal with the EU is widely credited with stemming a surging migrant crisis, and Turkey has touted its success in defending its borders – also the EU’s de facto frontier.
According to Ankara, the EU also backed away from political commitments as part of the deal, including visa liberalization for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe, opening new chapters for Turkey's EU accession process, and negotiations on upgrading the 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union.
With the deal, the EU effectively turned Turkey into "a strategic partner" rather than a candidate to the bloc, he added.
Although the EU has been criticized for not doing enough to share the burden, Erdogan said that "outside the EU, there is no support” for Turkey.
Stressing the need to update the deal, Erdoğan said the ongoing war in Ukraine – now in its fourth week – would make a new agreement between Turkey and the EU "a bit more difficult.”
The war has sent a flood of Ukrainian refugees into nearby European countries – over 3.38 million at last count by the U.N. and still rising – including Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Turkey.
As this new refugee flow continues, the EU budget for other refugee aid will be cut, he said, "because new needs have begun to emerge, and these needs are growing.”