The Road to Syrian Integration
As a part of a new liberalization policy, Turkey is introducing think tanks: independent groups that study and make assessments on various aspects of Turkish society and state policies. The think tanks we visited come from different ideologies and look at the crisis from different points of view, offering fresh perspectives on how best to handle the Syrian refugee crisis.
ORSAM, the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, focuses on Middle Eastern social, economic and political developments. They have released reports on the Syrian refugee crisis and have detailed recommendations on how best to approach the situation.
UTSAM is a think tank of the Turkish police academy, and thereby an extension of the government, that focuses on security reform research.
SETA is an independent think tan but known to be close to the current prime minister Ahmet Davatulgo that looks at foreign policy, human rights and law, and domestic politics.
The Ankara Strategic Institute is a think tank made up of academics from multiple universities that focus on foreign policy and security issues. They have been examining the Syrian humanitarian crisis through the lenses of economics, law and politics.
Despite these different perspectives they all reached the same conclusion. They all agree that having the refugees dependent on the aid of the government and NGOs is an unsustainable option; either policies need to be made to integrate the Syrian refugees into Turkish society or this population of two million will be illegal, marginalized and exploited for decades.
“Turkey needs long term plans for micro-integration,” said a representative from the Ankara Strategic Institute, “in order to plan and prepare effectively, there must be acceptance that this population will persist.”
The issue now is whether the government is going to openly acknowledge that these “guests” are not going to be going home for a very long time, if at all. Turkey has opened its doors to approximately two million Syrians and the numbers are expected to grow. According to UTSAM, 55 percent are in Eastern Turkey camps and provinces such as Mersin, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Adana. The remaining 45 percent have migrated to Western and Northern cities to look for employment. They also say that more are likely to follow as economic integration occurs, boosting Turkey’s city populations up quickly.
Turkish policy on refugees makes it difficult for Syrians to integrate in society so the Turkish government has had to jump through hoops to provide so much assistance for the refugees. In order to do so, they refer to Syrian refugees as ‘guests’ rather than ‘refugees’.
This also puts a limit on Syrians. Without refugee status, it is harder to control and record the movements of populations. It also makes them vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation, particularly women and children.
Despite this looming issue, these four think tanks have used their research to compile integration plans. They have been researching the social, economical, political and security effects that integration will have for both Syrians and Turks, the problems that might arise, and the policy changes that need to happen in order to smoothly carry out the process.
If integration continues to stall, Syrians and Turks alike will face problems in the future. Without being integrated into the work force, Syrians will be forced to work illegally. This has led to exploitation and has made it harder for Turks to find employment, as undocumented Syrians will be willing to work for less money. Giving Syrians legal status also protects the labor rights of Turks and “makes sure they’re competing in equal environments,” said Busra Dillioglu of UTSAM.
ORSAM and UTSAM both have comprehensive plans for integration that highlight the importance of social, economical and political cohesion of Syrians and Turks. The fact that four think tanks from differing ideologies can independently come to the same conclusion says a lot about the issue. The war in Syria isn’t likely to end soon and even if it does, the likelihood of two million picking up and moving back isn’t high. It’s time to integrate Syrians into Turkish society not only so that they can support themselves, but also to avoid problems between Turks and Syrians in the future.
The Turkish government has been generous to the Syrian refugees, but as Dillioglu said, “We have to teach them how to fish and let them fish now.”