The Rise Of Anti-Immigrant Views In Turkey


As of July 2020, approximately 3,600,000 Syrians live in Turkey under Temporary Protection status having escaped tyranny in their homeland. Syrians under temporary protection (SuTP), have access to healthcare, education, social services and the labor market. Turkey’s geographical position made it an ideal place of refuge in 2016 when civil war broke out in Syria. With the world’s most refugees, Turkey is also home to people escaping conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Turkey is considered a “gateway” to Europe as Eastern Thrace leads directly to the Western Balkans; a route to Western Europe. According to the European Commission, from January 2015 – February 2016, 880,000 people arrived in Greece from Turkey. Many had been smuggled across the Aegean Sea with their families. In 2016, to prevent the flow of migrants into Greece the European Union established the EU-Turkey deal. Turkey was promised €6 billion to support its refugees. In return, Turkey would guard its borders to prevent people from illegally migrating to neighboring European nations. For every person who is returned to Turkey after being sent back from the Greek Islands, one refugee would be resettled in the European Union. Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management has said: “Supporting refugees in Turkey is a priority for the EU. Thanks to EU’s support, more than 1.7 million vulnerable refugees cover their basic needs, such as rent and medicine, and more than half a million refugee children go to school. EU continues to deliver on its promise to refugees and Turkey.”

A study conducted in 2014, by Turkey’s Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre estimated that 31 per cent of Turkish respondents made a monetary contribution to support Syrian refugees. The same study also found that the social acceptance of Syrian people by Turkish society is generally high, where the idea that “they should be sent back home even though the war is ongoing,” is “fiercely opposed.” However, respondents were divided on the issue of labor. Many believed Syrian refugees were taking jobs away from locals. In recent years, as the number of refugees has increased, so have tensions between Turkish people and the domestic Syrian population.

Earlier this year in February, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan temporarily opened the county’s borders allowing migrants to travel onward to Europe. This was in direct conflict with Turkey’s obligations under the EU-Turkey Agreement 2016. Erdogan had said Turkey cannot handle the influx of refugees from Syria and that “Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own.” Alexandra Stiglmayer, from the European Stability Initiative, told Euronews that in Europe, “so far about 30,000 have been resettled in four years. That’s of course below the expectations of Turkey. I mean Turkey has four million refugees and of course 30,000 out of four million is not very many.”

Erdogan also said that “the European Union needs to keep its promises,” presumably a reference to the €6 billion that Turkey’s Foreign Minister claimed the E.U. “has not even paid half of.” On 4 June, the European Commission proposed a €485 million “top-up,” on top of the outstanding amount agreed in the E.U.-Turkey Statement 2016. Turkey’s Government is not satisfied with the increased monetary support which circumvents the Government, going directly to aid organisations. Funds will be used to extend two existing programmes. The first is the Emergency Social Safety Net, which provides financial assistance to refugees. The second is the Conditional Cash Transfers for Education programme that helps children attend school. However, the European Union’s most recent response fails to address some fundamental concerns.

Tensions are rising between Turkish people and Syrian Refugees. Some people have taken their protest online, using anti-immigrant hashtags to share their views. Two examples include, #SuriyelilerDefoluyor and #UlkemdeSuriyeliIstemiyorum which translate to “Syrians get the hell out” and “I don’t want Syrians in my country”, respectively. A study conducted by Kadir Has University showed that among participants, “discontent with the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey” increased by 57.7 per cent in 2016 to 67.7 per cent in 2019. There is growing concern that these anti-immigrant views may evolve into violence. Immediate intervention is needed to deescalate the situation.

A common belief among members of the host community is that Syrian refugees are “stealing” their jobs. The study by the Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre found that 56.1 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “Syrians take our jobs.” According to CBS News, the Turkish Government does not grant many work permits to Syrians, leading them to seek work illegally for significantly less than a local laborer. This is likely a catalyst for rising tensions between locals and Turkey’s growing refugee community.

The global pandemic has only exacerbated current vulnerabilities in the system. The Economist, reports that 70% of Turkey’s Syrian refugees are “poor” or “nearly poor.” The Economist reported that because many refugees work without a legal work permit, many will be ineligible for compensation and unemployment benefits. Financial insecurity and rising tensions among the host community have created an environment where Syrian refugees are increasingly unable to meet their basic needs and more vulnerable to violence.

Quantitative easing, the printing of money, has the potential to fund job creation initiatives for Turkey’s refugees. In 2015, the World Bank reported that “experience shows that when refugees are supported in becoming socially and economically self-reliant, and given freedom of movement and protection, they are more likely to contribute economically to their host country.” Creating opportunities in industries that Syrians excelled in before the civil war broke out in 2011, such as the manufacturing of clothing, may help combat rising financial insecurities. Turkey’s Hacettepe University Migration and Politics Research Centre also found that 70.7 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposition that “Turkish economy suffers from taking care of this many refugees.” Creating opportunities for refugees to create value for themselves and their host communities will play a fundamental part in reshaping these opinions.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has regularly used this form of monetary policy before. From November 2019, the ECB has bought €20 billion worth of bonds per month as part of their Asset Purchase Programme. To help stabilise markets from the flow-on effects of the global pandemic, the ECB has also implemented the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) in March. The PEPP involves the purchase of €1,350 billion private and public sector securities by the end of the year.

The ECB is owned by the 27 national central banks of the European Union Member States. The Governing Council is the main decision-making body and includes the governors of the national central banks of the 19 eurozone countries. However, the ECB and Central Banks are independent institutions that cannot be influenced by outside forces such as Governments or E.U. institutions. Article 130, of the Treaty on the European Union, prohibits the European Union from influencing the ECB. The EU-Turkey Agreement 2016 revived Turkey’s accession process to join the European Union. In the future, if Turkey does become a member of the European Union it would be highly unlikely to have a seat on the Governance Council, because it has its own currency, the Turkish lira (₺).

Other than Turkey successfully joining the European Union, an amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union or the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and the European Central Bank would be needed for the ECB to support a monetary policy that helped mitigate Turkey’s refugee crisis. Although Europe is immediately affected by Turkey’s refugee crisis, it is a global problem that also requires an international response.

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