ANKARA: Syrian refugees are facing growing problems integrating in Turkey, according to a wide-ranging survey that shows up to 85 percent of Turks want the newcomers to live in isolation away from Turkish neighborhoods.
Almost a decade after their first arrival from the war-torn nation, Syrians are still viewed negatively by their hosts, according to Murat Erdogan, a professor at the Turkish-German University in Istanbul who led the study.
“If this polarization is not reduced in a bid to provide Syrians with decent living standards, political tensions and hate speech will further hinder integration,” he warned.
The “Syrian Barometer 2019” survey’s findings will be released on Wednesday. The study, which included interviews with both Turks and Syrians, was supported by the UNHCR refugee agency in Turkey.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrians under temporary protection, with a further 1 million refugees expected to arrive in the coming year.
Among the study’s major findings were that 60.4 percent of Turkish respondents would refuse to live in the same building as a Syrian, 52 percent don’t want their children attending school with Syrians and 56.3 percent would avoid working with Syrians.
However, while Turks view the refugees as culturally and socially distant, Syrians believe they are similar to their hosts.
The biggest issue for Syrians, according to the survey, is poor employment conditions, with 36.2 percent experiencing serious problems at work.
About 70 percent of Syrians in Turkey are believed to be working illegally.
According to the survey, almost 80 percent of Turkish respondents said they believe most Syrians will remain in the country permanently, while 60 percent ranked the refugees as the country’s “third biggest” problem.
According to Erdogan, the divide between Turks and Syrians has been steadily widening.
“In 2014, 70 percent of respondents felt distant from Syrians. That number grew to 80 percent in 2017 and now has reached 82 percent,” he told Arab News.
Erdogan said the scale of the refugee intake is one of the main reasons behind Syrians struggling to integrate.
“Nobody is concerned about Iranian refugees in Turkey because their population barely exceeds 50,000,” he said.
However, while the survey highlighted the disdain of their Turkish hosts, half of Syrians in Turkey feel happy.
“At first sight, it seems contradictory. But Syrians are living in closed communities, and have built their own ‘happiness and resilience zones,’” Erdogan said.
The survey found that 51.8 percent of Syrian respondents are not considering returning home. So far, only 400,000 refugees have returned voluntarily to safe areas in northern Syria controlled by the Turkish army.
For integration efforts to succeed, Erdogan said, a nationwide strategy is needed to defuse political and social tensions in the country.
Omar Kadkoy, a migration policy analyst at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, believes Syrians’ poor command of Turkish is hindering their social interaction.
“The inadequate language skills among Syrians reflects the lack of a national strategy to nurture coexistence between Syrians and Turks,” he told Arab News.
With many Syrians planning to remain in Turkey, Kadkoy believes the government should step up a “harmonization policy” promised by policymakers since 2014.
Kadkoy also said that many Turks, irrespective of their income levels, believe Syrians are responsible for the country’s economic woes.
However, the coronavirus pandemic shows that Syrians are more vulnerable to economic downturns, with three times as many Syrians as Turks forced to go on unpaid leave.
“More than four times as many Syrians have lost their jobs. This is largely due to their informal employment,” he said.
Syrians’ labor rights need greater protection under work permit regulations, Kadkoy added.