Syrian refugees find Turkey more welcoming than western Europe

Most of the 3.5m Syrians in Turkey can at least work, but the future is precarious


The Turkish government’s more informal approach means most Syrians there are not in ghettos, as they are in parts of Europe, nor in camps, as they are in Jordan and Lebanon. Only around 7% of those in Turkey are in camps; some 40,000 have been given Turkish citizenship.

Freedom to work is the biggest benefit that Turkey offers. A tiny share of the refugee population—around 14,000, according to one estimate—has work permits, but almost all Syrians work informally, mostly in factories. According to the chairman of a garment-manufacturing company, Turkish shelves would be empty without Syrian workers. Mr Yalcin says Syrian workers are reintroducing some skills which were being lost in Turkey, such as copper-working and stone-carving. Some refugees are entrepreneurs. Khaled Oukab has started a factory in Gaziantep that sends women’s clothes to rebel strongholds in northern Syria and to Iraq. His brother has a business making denim for export.

Economic activity helps integration, yet the lack of formal schemes could pose problems in the long run. Although the number of Syrian children in Turkish schools has increased, around 38% are still not in school, according to the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, partly because older children work to support their families. And the Syrians’ informal status could make them vulnerable. During the election campaign in June both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition leaders talked about sending them home.

Anti-immigrant feeling is growing. Last year 24 Syrians died in anti-refugee attacks. Others face low-level abuse or discrimination from those who perceive Syrians to be taking jobs, causing crime or increasing prices. “We create problems for the middle class,” says Abdul Fatah Alhmoui, who runs a sandwich and falafel shop in Gaziantep; his Turkish brother-in-law has complained to him about higher rents.

If there is a full-blown economic crisis in Turkey, or if more refugees cross the border with the fall of Idlib, then tensions are likely to increase. Yet for many Syrians, Turkey remains a better bet than Europe—or home. Inside a Syrian grocery shop in Gaziantep, Shadi Sankari, the 18-year-old son of the owner, looks nonplussed at the idea of going back. Next year he will go to university to do a business-studies course in Turkey. In Syria there’s “nothing for me to go back to”


This article was originally published by The Economist.