Turkey Absorbs 2 Million Refugees, But Won't Offer Asylum

Turkey Absorbs 2 Million Refugees, But Won't Offer Asylum

6:05am Sep 28, 2015
A refugee boy plays a violin as hundreds of migrants are blocked from marching down a highway toward Turkey's western border with Greece and Bulgaria on Saturday. Turkey has some 2 million refugees, mostly from Syria, but says they will not be allowed to
A refugee boy plays a violin as hundreds of migrants are blocked from marching down a highway toward Turkey's western border with Greece and Bulgaria on Saturday. Turkey has some 2 million refugees, mostly from Syria, but says they will not be allowe
Emrah Gurel/AP
  • A refugee boy plays a violin as hundreds of migrants are blocked from marching down a highway toward Turkey's western border with Greece and Bulgaria on Saturday. Turkey has some 2 million refugees, mostly from Syria, but says they will not be allowed to

    A refugee boy plays a violin as hundreds of migrants are blocked from marching down a highway toward Turkey's western border with Greece and Bulgaria on Saturday. Turkey has some 2 million refugees, mostly from Syria, but says they will not be allowe

    Emrah Gurel/AP

  • Migrants listen to a speaker talk to them about their future as they rest in a stadium while waiting to cross from Turkey's western border into Greece and Bulgaria on Wednesday.

    Migrants listen to a speaker talk to them about their future as they rest in a stadium while waiting to cross from Turkey's western border into Greece and Bulgaria on Wednesday.

    Emrah Gurel/AP

As refugees stream into Europe, here's something to consider: The burden being shouldered by Turkey alone dwarfs the numbers currently trying to get to Europe.

Turkey has 2 million Syrians and Iraqis and has spent $7.6 billion caring for them. But here's the catch — the refugees are not allowed to seek asylum in Turkey.

Of those refugees in Turkey, only about 260,000 are in camps. The vast majority live in cities around the country. Syrians in particular were allowed to move about freely until a recent effort to control their movements was announced. Many are asylum seekers, but they have to wait, often for years, while a backlogged United Nations refugee agency tries to resettle them in other countries.

That's one reason, experts say, for the large numbers of migrants crowding cities like Bodrum and Izmir and willing to risk their lives to get to Greece.

Metin Corabatir at Ankara's Asylum and Migration Research Center says if Turkey offered these people asylum, the push to Europe would be smaller, but that's not going to happen anytime soon.

"There is no integration program," he says. "The term is almost alien to Turkish asylum culture."

Turkey is one of nearly 150 countries to sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention. You can find archival newsreel footage online that shows the convention was designed to help Europeans displaced by World War II and the Cold War that followed.

Since then, many countries broadened their definition of asylum seekers to reach well beyond Europe, but Turkey wasn't among them.

Hence, something of a modern paradox: Turkey's humanitarian generosity is beyond reproach. Migrant advocates say it puts many wealthier countries to shame.

But Syrians and Iraqis find themselves living in Turkish cities with a status just a step or two above illegal migrant. With work permits hard to come by, Corabatir says those who can find work get it under the table, for low pay. He says the decision to keep moving is hardly surprising:

"There is no future in Turkey, and they lost any hope for peace in their country," he says. "So they're getting more and more hopeless."

Migrants listen to a speaker talk to them about their future as they rest in a stadium while waiting to cross from Turkey's western border into Greece and Bulgaria on Wednesday.

Migrants listen to a speaker talk to them about their future as they rest in a stadium while waiting to cross from Turkey's western border into Greece and Bulgaria on Wednesday.

Emrah Gurel/AP

Turkish Fears

For years, Turkish officials have argued that lifting the restrictions on asylum would open this majority Muslim country on the edge of Europe to an even bigger flood of refugees and migrants from all over the region. But some feel that argument isn't persuasive, pointing out that Turkey's unusual asylum policies clearly aren't deterring the latest wave of arrivals.

"They will come — the problem is how are you going to deal with the issue?" says Orcun Ulusoy in Amsterdam, where he has been researching deaths at the EU's border over the past 25 years. He says the international community had years to see this mass movement of people coming.

"I mean, it's just like a mathematical formula, what's going on in Syria," he says.

"When the first group entered to Turkey or other countries from Syria, everybody knew that they were there for years, and nobody took action, including Europe."

Some in the EU continue to ask, "Why don't the refugees just stay in Turkey?" Migration experts say take a closer look: The vast majority of Syrians, several times the number trying to get to Europe, are staying put in Turkey, and Lebanon and Jordan, despite the difficult conditions. If they begin to move, the current migrant crisis will seem small by comparison.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's one reason that many Syrians fleeing their country's civil war have ended up in Europe. They have to travel that far before they reach a country where they feel welcome. Thousands of refugees and migrants are reaching Europe. They come from a much larger pool of millions who first fled to Syria's neighbors like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey has two million Syrians and Iraqis and does spend money to care for them, but they're not formally allowed to apply for asylum. And they get signals that it's better if they don't stay. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been asking why.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Of the two million Syrians and Iraqis here, only about 260,000 are in camps. The vast majority live in cities around the country. Syrians, in particular, were allowed to move freely until the recent effort to control their movements was announced. Many are asylum seekers, but they have to wait, often for years, while a backlogged U.N. refugee agency tries to resettle them in other countries. That's one reason, experts say, for scenes like this one in the coastal city of Izmir - neighborhoods packed with migrants waiting to risk their lives to get to Greece. Metin Corabatir at Ankara's Asylum and Migration Research Center says if Turkey offered these people asylum, the push to Europe would be smaller. But that's not going to happen anytime soon.

METIN CORABATIR: There is no integration program. The term is almost alien to Turkish asylum culture.

KENYON: Turkey is one of nearly 150 countries to sign the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention. It was designed to help Europeans displaced by World War II and the Cold War that followed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NEWSCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A stream of refugees fleeing from Red tyranny swells into a veritable spring flood. As many as 1,000 a day have reached the temporary haven of West Berlin.

KENYON: Over the years, many countries broadened their definition of asylum-seekers to reach well beyond Europe, but not Turkey, hence, something of a modern paradox. Turkey's humanitarian generosity is beyond reproach. Migrant advocates say it puts many wealthier countries to shame. But Syrians and Iraqis here find themselves living in Turkish cities with a status just a step or two above illegal alien. With work permits hard to come by, Corabatir says those who can find work under the table for low pay. He says the decision to keep moving is hardly surprising.

CORABATIR: There is no future in Turkey. And they lost any hope for peace in their country. So they're getting more and more hopeless.

KENYON: For years, Turkish officials have argued that lifting the restrictions on asylum would open this majority Muslim country on the edge of Europe to an even bigger flood of refugees and migrants from all over the region. But some feel that argument isn't persuasive, pointing out that Turkey's unusual asylum policies clearly aren't deterring the latest wave of arrivals.

ORCEN ULUSOY: They will come. The problem is how are you going to deal with this issue?

KENYON: Orcen Ulusoy in Amsterdam has been researching deaths at the EU's border over the past 25 years. He says the international community had years to see this mass movement of people coming.

ULUSOY: I mean, it's just like a mathematical formula, what's going on in Syria. When the first group entered to Turkey or other countries from Syria, everybody knew that they were there for years. And nobody took action, including Europe.

KENYON: As some in the EU continue to ask why don't they just stay in Turkey, migration experts say take a closer look. The vast majority of Syrians, several times the number trying to get to Europe, are staying put in Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan, despite the difficult conditions. If they begin to move, the current migrant crisis will seem small by comparison. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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