What will be next in the Syrian refugee crisis?
Thousands of Syrians are fleeing their country as many different groups fight with each other to gain a sphere of influence. The Syrian refugee crisis has becoming more and more severe, especially for those who have needed to run from their own country. The effects of the crisis have also been increasingly spilling over into social and economic spheres of several other countries, mainly neighboring countries, including Turkey.
Let’s do some math here to dig into how severe the situation is in humanitarian terms. In just twelve days, from June 3 to 15, around 23,135 Syrians flocked across the border into Turkey’s southeastern province of Şanlıurfa.
When the crisis first broke out, the Turkish government said up to 100,000 refugees from Syria would be Turkey’s “red line.” In official numbers, Turkey now hosts 1.8 million Syrian refuges, but the figure has already exceeded 2 million, reaching 2.5 percent of Turkey’s total population. Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world as of 2015.
As the refugee inflow approaches its fifth year, around 300,000 refugees reside in camps, while others live within host communities, according to the most recent reports.
Most camp refugees live in the south of the country, in the southern provinces of Adana, Hatay, Osmaniye and Kahramanmaraş and in the southeastern provinces of Adıyaman, Gaziantep, Kilis, Mardin and Şanlıurfa. Other major cities such as Istanbul and Mersin have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of Syrians.
I believe it is not important right now to question whether the Turkish government had a solid plan about managing this huge crisis when it first broke out or whether the Turkish representatives even expected the situation would get this bad. What makes sense now is to prepare a detailed strategy on how to resolve this crisis and develop action plans to turn the lives of Syrian refugees and the local people who live with them as much as possible with the urgent help of other countries.
Let’s have a look at some socioeconomic results of the Syrian refugee crisis in the hosting communities. There has not been a systematic assessment of the impact at the national and local levels; only limited, sample-based data exists on the income levels of the Syrian refugees in and outside camps, based on a study carried out by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD), as well as research by the World Bank and other groups.
According to the AFAD research, over half of the refugees who live and work in Turkish communities earn less than $250 a month, far less than the minimum wage in Turkey, and their working conditions are quite unknown. The pressure on the local economy and on the government to provide jobs and services has grown, causing discontent among the host communities. And competition between Syrians and Turkish nationals has increased, especially for low-skilled jobs, according to the report.
Turkey’s unemployment rate has been increasing for the last year and the rising participation of new people in the workforce has played a role in this escalation, according to analysts. This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg. The main competition area is the informal economy. Syrian refugees are not officially allowed to work in Turkey as registered workers. The Turkish labor market, especially the labor market in southeastern Turkey, offers extensive informal employment opportunities. Syrian refugees, albeit not being permitted to work formally, are willing to be employed informally. The result of recent research titled “The Impact of Syrian Refugees on Natives’ Labor Market Outcomes in Turkey: Evidence from a Quasi-Experimental Design” has shown about three-quarters of the refugees are looking for a job.
Besides, several local companies have preferred to hire them, as they accept working for much lower wages than locals do.
There’s more. With the Syrian refugee rush, housing prices have been rising, specifically in eastern and southeastern provinces, according to the AFAD research. For instance, it is estimated that property sales in Gaziantep would be 12 percent lower than they are now if Syrians had not rushed there. The figures also show housing sales have been soaring in other cities in the region. Food prices and housing rents have also been rising. The report showed that Gaziantep ranked 18th in the list of provinces with highest inflation rates in 2010, but it topped the list in 2013.
All of these price hikes or wage losses have an impact on local communities and such changes have the potential to trigger anger towards the refugees. Creating detailed strategies to manage the crisis is of great importance in this matter.
There is another side of the coin, which equally deserves attention. Let’s think about a five-year-old child who came to Turkey when the crisis first broke out in 2011. This child is now nine years old and has barely been educated.
Can Turkey sustain this crisis without developing a solid strategy and action plans, even including adaptation programs?