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ANKARA: Turkey, which hosts the world’s largest refugee population, will mark UN World Refugee Day on June 20 with a focus on integration under the motto “Together we heal, learn and shine.”

The country is home to 4 million refugees, including about 3.7 million Syrians. 

Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at the Ankara-based think tank the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, is a Syrian refugee whose success story is a source of inspiration for many in Turkey.  

Kadkoy moved from Damascus to the Turkish capital in 2014. He began learning Turkish, which is now his second foreign language. 

The policy analyst is now viewed as one of the key experts on integration issues in Turkey, is also a student at Ankara’s prestigious Middle East Technical University and is writing his master’s thesis on the naturalization of Syrian students in Turkey’s tertiary education system.

He is looking forward to beginning his Ph.D. studies once he graduates. 

Kadkoy is proud of his professional, academic and linguistic efforts. 

“Achieving is limitless. In terms of integration, I find myself on a journey of a thousand miles. I began with the necessary steps, but there is much more to explore, learn and contribute,” he told Arab News.

Turkey is both a reception and transit country for refugees. About half of the Syrian refugees in the country are children. 

As part of its social cohesion and integration policies, Turkey provides refugees with education and health care facilities, and helps them find employment opportunities. 

However, with more than 4 million refugees in the country, Turks are growing less willing to accept new arrivals. 

According to the latest Ipsos survey, 75 percent of Turkish respondents support closing borders to refugees entirely, while 60 percent believe that government spending on refugees should be decreased, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A 2020 survey by Bilgi University and the German Marshall Fund of the United States revealed that 86 percent of Turks support the repatriation of Syrians. Meanwhile, other surveys show that 90 percent of Syrians do not want to return to their homeland now.

Philippe Leclerc, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey, recently said that Turkey should be given more support by the international community to handle the refugee issue. 

The EU has been supporting Turkey, with €6 billion ($7.1 billion) committed to helping refugees and hosting communities in key areas such as education, health, socio-economic development and basic needs.

Cash assistance provided by the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net helps Syrian refugee households cover some of their debts and daily living costs.  

According to Kadkoy, providing access to health care and education, and building the vocational and language skills of refugees does not necessarily result in integration. 

“There are many ways to look at integration. For example, are refugee students integrating well into schools? The answer would be by looking at the performance of refugee students in Turkey’s national education system and comparing it with that of the citizens,” he said. “Differences would tell us what is and isn’t working and allow us to revamp what didn’t work.”

He added: “When similar and other pointers are absent, it is difficult to talk about integration collectively. Instead, we end up with ad hoc celebrations of individual stories.”

Kadkoy said that the post-pandemic era could be a time to readdress the issue in Turkey, especially the discriminatory practices refugees face in the labor market. 

“Most of the 3.7 million Syrians seem to consider Turkey as a permanent destination. In Turkey, Syrians under the Temporary Protection rule enjoy access to public education. Around 650,000 Syrian students attend Turkish schools, access to free public health services, and there are roughly 820,000 Syrians in the labor market as either wage-workers or business owners,” he said. 

According to last year’s official statistics, there were 9,041 firms with Syrian owners in Turkey. 

The Turkish government cooperates with the international community, especially with the UN, to provide vocational training to Syrian refugees.

The education ministry recently announced that Syrian students can attend vocational training centers once a week. Students will be supported with one-third of the minimum wage during their four-year education while they receive skills training in business on other days.

World Refugee Day was established by the UN to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  

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