ANKARA: On Friday, Bahcesehir University’s Center of Migration and Urban Studies in Istanbul released a report highlighting the longstanding socio-economic challenges Syrian refugees face in Turkey.
As in many countries with large refugee populations, there has been ongoing tension between residents and immigrants for years, and life is increasingly difficult for the refugees. In Hatay, which hosts around 439,000 Syrians — around a third of the city’s total population — already-scarce resources are often stretched to breaking point, resulting in further ill feeling towards the refugees.
The university’s report includes a survey of 808 Syrians aged 18-25 in two Turkish cities with large numbers of Syrian refugees — Hatay and Izmir, on the Aegean coast, which is home to around 146,000 Syrians — in October and November last year.
According to official figures there are around 1.2 million Syrian refugees between the ages of 18 and 25 currently living in Turkey — a third of the country’s total population of Syrian refugees.
Half of those surveyed by the university said they wanted to return home, or move away from Turkey, because of their living conditions and the discrimination they face. However, the university noted, most of those who said they wanted to leave were in the low-income bracket.
Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said the report highlights the structural shortcomings of Turkey’s “harmonization policy.”
“Bureaucracy is marginalizing skilled Syrians and preventing them from fulfilling their potential, hence depriving Turkey of needed, but underutilized, capabilities,” he told Arab News.
According to the survey, 45 percent of Syrian youth in Turkey neither work nor go to school. As 86.6 percent cannot get a certificate of equivalence for their diploma, they cannot attend university or apply for certain jobs for which they may be qualified.
Only 4.6 percent of those surveyed held a Turkish work permit, so most work in the ‘informal sector,’ without any social insurance, and are often exploited by their employers. Respondents cited the lengthy bureaucratic procedures involved in applying for a work permit as the main reason for staying in the informal sector.
According to Kadkoy, that same bureaucracy is exposing young Syrians to greater risks, especially in the age of COVID-19.
“Under normal circumstances, working informally already means being subject to various forms of exploitation. During the pandemic, working informally turns Syrians into a disposable workforce with only a fragile financial safety net to survive the economic consequences of COVID-19,” he said.
Young Syrians are mainly employed in the textile, construction and catering sectors in Turkey. According to the survey, 78.8 percent do not receive their full salary each month. One fifth of respondents complained about low wages, while 16 percent said their working conditions were unsuitable.
About half of young Syrians reportedly work 9-10 hours per day, with one third working for at least 11 hours — which is against Turkey’s employment rules. Half the respondents claimed they could not access public services or rent a house because of their nationality.
At least three-quarters of young Syrians live below Turkey’s official minimum subsistence level, while only four percent receive financial support from the state.
One third of respondents said they have faced xenophobia and racism, while one fifth cited the language barrier as a major obstacle for their integration into Turkish society. Eleven percent of the respondents said their contact with the local community was at a “very bad level.”
According to Kadkoy, the fact that so many young Syrians are having a difficult time in Turkey and wish to leave will serve the government in two ways.
“Domestically, (the government) will complicate the lives of Syrians through bureaucracy. Thus, frustrated Syrians will opt for voluntary repatriation in the future. Therefore, the government delivers its promise not to host Syrians indefinitely,” he said. “Regionally, the government will exert pressure on Brussels for further financial support (in exchange for) keeping Syrians from reaching EU borders.”