1 350 000 Syrians in Turkey – a Nation in a State of Limbo

When the first influx of Syrians looking for refuge in the neighboring countries of Syria took place in 2011/12, the international community could not anticipate that the Syrian Civil War would cause the biggest humanitarian crisis of our era.[1] Thus, the Government of Turkey (GoT), among other neighboring countries, established in response to the sudden and large numbers of refugees a Temporary Protection (TP) regime that is providing protection and assistance to Syrians in Turkey, including “unlimited stay, protection against forcible returns, and access to reception arrangements where immediate needs are addressed.”[2]Material assistance, however, is mainly only provided inside the camps whereas the majority of Syrians does not receive any assistance as they are residing outside the camps. Non-Camp Syrians are faced with hardship as they do not have access to resettlement programs, are not allowed to work in Turkey, are not given the opportunity to go to free Turkish language courses and are increasingly victims of hate speeches by the Turkish media and the Turkish population.[3] İn summary, they are victims of Turkey’s reluctance to implement integration policies for the Syrian population that would be beneficial for both the refugee as well as the host community, resulting in an insecure future for this group.Other countries on the other hand do not seem to be willing to share the burden of providing protection to Syrians and have put major restrictions on visa regulations for Syrians. As a result, more than one million Syrians are stuck in Turkey without the possibilities to neither return to their home due to the ongoing war, nor to regain a normal life in Turkey, nor to realize opportunities outside of Turkey. As a result, a high number of Syrians is stuck in a state of limbo, between the memories of their old lives and the uncertainty of their future.

The Human Rights Agenda Association (HRAA) fears that as a result of the low level support from the international community regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, millions of Syrians face daily violations of their human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[4].

Article 1 states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. But according to the UNHCR, over the half of all Syrian refugees are children[5] which means that high numbers of individuals are born into an uncertain future without the security of a home and with limited rights to education (Art.26). This fact underlines that not all human beings are given the same dignity and rights. Additionally, the lack of burden-sharing among the international community shows the non-existence of a ‘spirit of brotherhood’ among states and among humanity.

The greatest human rights violations that Syrians are faced with outside their country, however, is when they actively take control over the continuation of their lives and look for opportunities by applying for a visa at any embassy in order for example to be reunified with their family members outside of Syria or Turkey. Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. İn that sense all signatory parties of the Declaration recognize the importance of family unity and promise its protection. While Syrians may, to some extent, be granted their right to apply for family reunification, visa applications for Syrians on the basis of family reunification are increasingly restricted to specific national quotas and admission programs. Additionally, the fact that Syrians can only apply for visas at embassies in neighboring countries contributes to more difficulties for this group during their visa application procedure: Embassies in Turkey for example have not introduced additional interpretative staff for information distribution in Syrians’ mother tongue languages. No access to the right information regarding application requirements and higher obstacles for Syrians result in a lower number of applicants being granted visas on the basis of family reunification. İn this sense, the states are not protecting family unity to their best means.

İn an increased number of temporary visa applications in order for example to continue their education, Syrian applicants who may fulfill all necessary criteria are rejected on the basis of the doubt that the applicant will leave the territory before the expiry of the visa. This rejection ground is given on many occasions on the basis of the insecure situation in the home country. While it is the sovereignty of the nation state to grant or reject visa applications, this rejection ground is evidently a breach with Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that no distinction shall be made on any kind such as national origin or “on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” The fact that Syrians currently have no agency that will protect them against any discrimination in violation of the Declaration makes them even more vulnerable and in need of protection by the international community to treat them as human beings who are “born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

According to the UNHCR, over 400 Syrians return back to Syria on a daily basis.[6] This clearly shows that high numbers of Syrians regard the war-stricken region of Syria more “livable” than the limbo of Turkey. One Syrian refugee in Turkey decided to return to Syria in the end of 2013, stating: “İ had spent all of my money and İ had realized that İ cannot live under these difficult conditions in Turkey and because there were no other countries that would receive Syrian refugees. When İ wanted to cross the border to Syria, however, İ was kidnapped by the police because İ was persecuted by the regime for my political views. İn an unknown place İ had to endure days of torture and agony. Now İ am back in Turkey and İ can certainly not return to Syria anymore and İ am stuck in Turkey where we are provided with protection. Protection? İs that all we need? İs that all what the human needs? What about freedom? What about freedom of movement? What about freedom of work? What about protection from persecution and discrimination because of my nationality? What about freedom of seeking for asylum? Why can İ not apply anywhere for asylum just because I am Syrian? What about my daughter’s life? Don’t you think that my daughter deserves to live like the rest of the children? What about her future?” (Anonymous)

[1]UNHCR 2014: Syria Crisis, accessed on http://www.unhcr.org/pages/5051e8cd6.html (05.09.2014)

[2]UNHCR 2013: Frequently Asked Questions: Syrian Refugees in Turkey, accessed on http://www.unhcr.org.tr/uploads/root/faqenglish.pdf (05.09.2014)

[3]İdiz, Semih 2014: Turkey’s Syrian refugee problem spirals out of control, accessed onhttp://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/07/idiz-turkey-syrian-refugees-local-tension-adana-istanbul.html# (05.09.2014)

[4] UN 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accessed onhttp://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ (08.09.2014)

[5]UNHCR 2013: The Future of Syria: Refugee Children in Crisis, accessed onhttp://unhcr.org/FutureOfSyria/executive-summary.html#syrian-refugee-children (08.09.2014)

[6] UNHCR 2014; UNHCR Turkey Syrian Refugee Daily Sitrep 5.9.2014 accessed on http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224 (05.09.2014)

Merle Neubauer