Turkish Integration of Syrian Refugees:

Economic, Political, & Social Contexts

Since the onset of the Syrian refugee crisis, it has been clear that the system Turkey has put into place for assisting and managing its refugee population has differed greatly from policies enacted nearby countries such as Jordan or Lebanon. The most conspicuous difference is that Turkey has accepted only limited help from UNHCR and external, international groups to deal with the influx of Syrians.

Although the resulting effort of Turkey’s national disaster relief and management organization, AFAD, to handle the increase in refugees has been widespread and expensive, thus far many see the policies as significantly more effective and efficient than those of Turkey’s neighboring counterparts.Turkey’s political system also differs greatly from those in places such as Jordan and Lebanon; since Turkey is more democratic than its counterparts, the policy decision makers of the country must be aligned with the opinion of the population in order to remain in office. While the current regime has set a precedence for how to serve the needs of the approximate 2.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in country, as the tide of Turkish support turns for or against the Syrian refugees, to an extent so do the national policies and political infrastructure. This can influence [economic] government policies, such as the ongoing role of AFAD. At the onset of the conflict, Turkey opened its borders to Syrians fleeing the conflict, and the camps set up were equipped to handle approximately 250,000 people in need.

See GSU PhD candidate Gulcan Saglam's article, "The Problem with Turkey's Syrian 'Guests'," featured in Muftah.org

The official Turkish policy was that these Syrians were “guests” of the state and not “ refugees”. However it is clear that neither the Turkish government nor the Turkish people were expecting so many Syrians, especially the fact that not all of the Syrians believe themselves to be either guests or refugees. A percentage of the 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey sought out Turkish family members and have not registered as “guests” of the state.

During the course of our research in Turkey, we will examine the integration of Syrian refugees into the Turkish labour market and various facets of Turkish society’s acceptance of government/AFAD policies concerning long-term care of Syrian refugees. Much of the pushback from the civilian population against refugees is due to economic and social concerns, and the elected officials respond accordingly. The Turkish government’s efforts to shift popular opinion of Syrians living in Turkey is particularly striking in the face of strong rhetoric from opposition groups in the lead up to the June 2015 national parliamentary elections. Therefore it is important to look at the economic, political and social aspects regarding the integration of Syrian refugees into Turkish society.

We focused on these key questions:

See GSU student Edward Van Herik's article,

"Can Syrian Refugees Be Integrated Into Turkish Society?", featured in Muftah.org

1) What are the factors that affect Turkey’s policy towards refugees? Why is Turkey more successful with integrating their refugee population - how do they treat their potential labour market (differently from Jordan/Lebanon)?


2) To what extent is it possible that Syrians (as a large group of refugees) will be able to effectively integrate into Turkish society's economy (labour market, taxes, acceptance in society as contributing members - not drain on economy)?


3) In what way has Turkey set a precedence in creating new government/AFAD policies regarding treatment of Syrian refugees in Turkey? (impact of “guest” status on effective integration of Syrians)


4)  Since an estimated 50% of the 2.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey will not return to their homeland in the next decade, what is the stated Turkish policy regarding the integration of Syrians in the medium to long-term (5-10+years) with regards to infrastructure, population increases and burden on the Turkish state?


5) The Turkish population does not consist of a single bloc of voters or political opinion. Given that there are many different perspectives in the population, how does the government attempt to reconcile the various [political] reactions to the Syrian refugee crisis/Turkish integration of Syrians? How do different segments of the population impact or influence national government policies in their favour/interest?

Organization Profiles

Syrian Forum

Nusaiba Mubarak interviews Ghassan Hitto, the chief executive officer of the Syrian Forum and first interim prime minister of the Syrian opposition (today’s Syrian National Council).

Founded in 2011 and monitored by the KPMG, the Syrian Forum is a secular consortium of six organizations that addresses the immediate needs of Syrians in crisis while preparing for a future Syria. The Syrian forum gives individuals tools to navigate and lead their communities today in order to help form a decentralized democratic society tomorrow. The tools and training provided by the Syrian Forum empower Syrians to participate in the political process and build economic and political self-sustainability.


ORSAM is a Turkish think tank researching strategic policy concerning politics, security, and geopolitical coordination in the Middle East, especially concerning Iraq and Turkmens. By conducting field research on specific countries, non-state actors, and international coalitions, the organization seeks to publish high quality research and analysis as well as effective policy solutions. By bringing together academics, statesmen, bureaucrats, businessmen, journalists, and NGO representatives, they create a space to promote a healthier and more holistic understanding of international policy issues.


Nebahat Tanriverdi, an ORSAM Research Assistant, discusses the evolution of Turkey’s geopolitical role in the region in response to the Arab Spring and the aftermath in countries such as Libya and Syria. By observing the changing regional environment and hegemonic powers within the Middle East, Turkey has responded as a leading regional actor to many complex and compounding policy and security issues.

Ankara Strategic Institute

The Ankara Strategic Institute is an independent Turkish think tank that was established in 2011 with the intent to collect, analyze and reproduce information that is accessible to policy decision makers, non-state actors and the public alike. The organization has united academic experts from a number of Turkish universities to conduct research in three fields: law, economics and politics. Focusing on the intersection of these three pillars, the purpose of the organization is twofold; first to produce and publish content such as quarterly journals, articles, policy briefs and newspaper op-eds, and second to organize events and programs such as conferences, networking events, debates, panels and academic workshops.

The role of independent think tanks, particularly academia-nor ones like Ankara Strategy Institute, has grown recently in Turkey. In light of the upcoming national parliamentary elections in June 2015, it is key to have prominent academics and experts in the media who are able to shed light on topics that are otherwise only discussed by opposition parties in their political platforms. Ankara Strategic Institute makes a point of not only analyzing past and present policies but also calling for increased long-term planning for the repercussions of the Syrian humanitarian crisis since it the key issue they believe to be facing Turkish foreign policy and as Turkey continues to become a geopolitical power in the region.


Dr. Mehmet Okur - a professor whose expertise at Ankara Strategy Institute focuses on Iran's Nuclear capabilities and Turkish policy - discusses the purpose of his organization and its greatest impact on its audience and the policy world, the biggest issue facing Turkish foreign policy today, the difficulties of Syria integration to Turkey, and the impact of NGOs and other think tanks on Turkish society.


SETA, or the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research, is a Turkish think tank and research institute that provides analysis and policy recommendations relating to local, regional, and international issues. Its target audience includes decision-makers in public policy, civil society, and the business sector, as well as the Turkish public. SETA aims to provide contextual, nuanced, and current information and analysis to these actors, allowing them to make informed decisions in their respective sectors of society. SETA is also affiliated with the academic journal Insight Turkey, which publishes a range of academic material relating to Turkish domestic and foreign policy, as well as analysis of political and cultural developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and Europe, and the Caucasus. SETA is based in Ankara, with smaller offices in Washington, D.C. and Cairo.


Aliya Naim interviewed  Dr. Mehmet Uğur Ekinci, a senior researcher at the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA). He gives an overview of Turkey’s recent involvement in the Syrian crisis, and puts its recent refugee assistance efforts into a historical context. Dr. Mehmet highlights that integration of Syrians into the local population will require action on a number of fronts, including the provision of language classes, education for the youth, and legal integration into the workforce.


The International Center for Terrorism and Transnational Crime (UTSAM) consists of a specialized team of researches producing policy research, evaluation, and suggestion in various fields of security, including Turkey’s foreign and domestic policy concerning the Syrian crisis. Alongside published research, the think tank organizes conferences directed to enhance both national coordination as well as international cooperation. It is hosted under the Department of Research Centers at the Police Academy in Ankara.

Syrian Emergency Task Force

The Syrian Emergency Task Force began in 2011 as an advocacy organization for the Syrian armed opposition. In addition to its lobbying efforts, SETF offers many projects including equipment training and local council work. SETF also has a strong peacebuilding focus, aimed at creating and maintaining civil society.

Razan Shalab Al-Sham is the field officer of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) and Nour is a field manager. Together, they discuss the importance of local councils and their work with young activists in leaders representing hundreds of local councils inside Syria. Their energy, spirit, and hope despite their losses as Syrians who fled their homes gives them a clearer vision for a future democratic, decentralized Syrian government. 


Founded in 1998, Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is a leading emergency response organization of the Syrian crisis. Despite the recent dangers of crossing Syrian borders, SAMS still and only operates inside Syria. In addition to providing medical services such as mobile clinics and dialysis centers, SAMS also conducts training for medical professionals. Physicians and medical professionals from various medical backgrounds and nationalities risk their lives in order to serve the Syrian people.

Clare Van Holm interviews Dr. Yassar Kanawati, an Atlanta-based and Sorbonne trained psychiatrist who has been working with Syrian refugees and SAMS since 2012. Dr. Kanawati discusses the mental health crisis of trauma survivors and refugees that have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, specifically the experiences of women and children.

Sanliurfa STK

Sanliurfa Sivil Toplum Kuruluslari Insani Yardim Platformu, known as Sanliurfa STK, is an umbrella management organization that consists of 60 non-profit organizations that operates a mere 30 miles north of the Syrian-Turkiah border. Coordinating the work and resources of Turkish NGOs in the region like Deniz Feneri and IHH, Sanliurfa STK focuses on the needs of urban refugees who receive none of the benefits of the govt-funded camps nearby. With a primary focus on food security for the 500,000 refugees living in Urfa and its suburbs, not living in the camps, Sanliurfa STK organizes delivery trucks with aid packages straight to the hands of those in need. To date, STK has delivered 518 aid trucks in and around Urfa, as well as 203 aid trucks across the border to help those stuck in Syria without food. 

Sanliurfa STK also manages a clothing "shop" with a model similar to that of Goodwill- individuals donate clothes and shoes and then refugees and their families come through and pick out what they need, free of charge. Other organizations that fall under the umbrella include the Coeliac food supply. This group provides gluten-free bread and alternative food substitutes for refugees, particularly children, who cannot eat the basic staple diet of bread and other carbohydrates -- often a disease that can lead to social stigma and ill will. 

Chairman Osman Gerem discusses the impact of his organization, why food security is the top priority for urban refugees living in Turkey, the role of ISIS and violent actors in displacing Syrians, and the limitations to Syrian integration into the Turkish labor force. 


This website is simply a classroom project that uses a conventional study abroad trip, student talent, and faculty expertise to fill an important information gap concerning Turkish politics and the Syrian crisis. Overseen by faculty mentors Dr. Abbas Barzegar and Dr. Rashid Naim of Georgia State University, advanced graduate students and undergraduates from various disciplines were placed in small working groups tasked with explore key subject areas. They did this by conducting research before their trip and interviewing experts. During their three-week trip they continued this process as they visited NGOs, think tanks, and cultural sites. Every day they documented their experiences through the content material that can be found on this site. See this brief article about the project for more information.





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