500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa

500.000 refugees in Șanliurfa

500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa, that is really a lot for an existing population of 2 million. Turkey is doing a great job for the children of Syrian refugees in Șanliurfa but the integration of the adults seems to fail. Although most people support the shelter given to Syrian refugees, they worry about the consequences of housing 1 refugee on every 4 inhabitants in the province of Șanliurfa.

500.000 refugees in Șanliurfa

500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa, that is really a lot for an existing population of 2 million. Turkey is doing a great job for the children of Syrian refugees in Șanliurfa but the integration of the adults seems to fail. Although most people support the shelter given to Syrian refugees, they worry about the consequences of housing 1 refugee on every 4 inhabitants in the province of Șanliurfa.

Turkey’s effectiveness to deal with a refugee crisis
Turkey has set up very good provisions for its refugees. In Europe one can hear sometimes remarques of doubt about the seriousness of Turkish expenses for refugees (EU gives billions to Turkey to shelter refugees in the region) but everybody traveling in the south can see that Turkey makes a serious business of good shelter. I saw that last year in Gaziantep and wrote a blog about that and I see it now in Șanliurfa. It is impressive and worth our support. 

500.000 refugees in Șanliurfa

Problem 1: Competition for ordinary workers
So what is the problem? Well, the problem is not that Turkey is not taking care of the refugees but that they are different and they are many.
First of all, there is a competing situation for workers, especially in the low cost areas. Turkish poor work for little money and now Syrian workers have arrived and take their jobs for even less money. More than anybody, it is the workers who pay the price for 500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa. They lost their jobs that brought already no more than poverty or they kept their job but their wages have gone down.

500.000 refugees in Șanliurfa
court of house in Șanliurfa where Syrian refugees get lessons

Problem 2: lack of integration, fear of ethnic conflict
Second, there are worries about long term effects of the lack of adult integration. Șanliurfa has camps and neighbourhoods that are Syrian dominated, for example in Harran exists a refugee camp that is almost a city in itself with 30.000 refugees (note that we do not talk tents and the like but normal housing and other infrastructure). This allows for targeted efforts such as education and association. Children are doing fine, they are learning Turkish and as a consequence also other lessons at school. But the adults do not seem to learn a lot. It is not clear why that is: do they still expect to return to Syria at short notice, are they too traumatized to learn, are they just not interested or not capable? On the other hand all-Syrian associations are developed in isolation of Turkish society. Some individuals are optimist and think that this is because the Syrian refugees want to return and they are succesfully preparing for that. However, general opinion is pessimist, that Syrian refugees are creating a state in a state with their own clubs and political parties that will form a danger for the status quo in Șanliurfa. 

500.000 refugees in Șanliurfa

Opinions about Syrians in Șanliurfa
Șanliurfa is a province with a strong Arab minority. People here judge milder about Syrian culture than in 114 kilometer far Gaziantep. Nevertheless the inhabitants here consider themselves fully as Turcs and are as nationalist as other Turcs. They do admit cultural differences between themselves and Syrians, notably the fact that Syrians do not seem to love their country and fight for it, that there are thefts and cases of begging and child labour and that they lack in contribution to society as a whole, being rather passive towards organisation of work, education and other daily business issues. All express their worries that in the long term, if the Syrian war does not end and the refugees do not go back, there will be big problems in Șanliurfa.

500.000 refugees in Șanliurfa
best coffee I drank in Șanliurfa, made by a Syrian refugee

Șanliurfa under occupation…
One man told me even that 500.000 Syrian refugees Șanliurfa means that ‘Șanliurfa is under occupation’. He is sure that President Erdogan will give citizenship to the refugees so that they will stay in Turkey for good. He thinks the risk of ethnic conflict is huge. ‘Every Syrian who is able to do something went to Europe’, he said, ‘we know that the Syrians who are stupid, unemployed and uneducated came to Șanliurfa’. They get so much aid in Turkey that their life has considerably improved compared to their status in pre-war Syria. ‘There is no reason for them to go back because their life has never been better than nowadays. It is not just that they have nothing to go back to because the war destroyed it all, it is because they simply didn’t have anything’. He told me that already 100.000 Syrian babies were born in Șanliurfa and explained that many Turkish citizens of Șanliurfa worry about these high Syrian numbers of birth.

500.000 refugees in Gaziantep

North-Syria as the solution?
Several people I spoke to consider the Turkish military offensive in Syria, first in Afrin, now soon to come East of Euphrate, as a way to re-house Syrian refugees. They think it can be a solution for the increasing tensions between Turcs and Syrian refugees on Turkish soil. Occupying Syria’s North entirely, like the Ottomans used to do, seems a good idea to them as the Turkish army will surely create a peaceful North-Syrian region where the population can start rebuilding a future.

Turkey has shown great hospitality and also wonderful capability in infrastructure to house so many refugees in a human and dignified way. Now, after the efforts to deal with the crisis, the long term issues become more urgent every day.

Read more: an interesting article about Syrian refugees in Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah

500.000 Syrian refugees Gaziantep


The 500.000 Syrian refugees form an important part of the actual population of Gaziantep. In western countries people feel that the amount of Syrian refugees form a burden: 1 million on 80 million in Germany, 60.000 on 6 million in Austria, 70.000 on 17 million in the Netherlands. They resist against the in their eyes large numbers of refugees.
Gaziantep is a town of 1,5 or 2 million people, and this town has received 500.000 (!) Syrian refugees. Think about this, compare it to the western countries I mentioned here… What is the feeling of a town where every 1 out of 4 or 5 persons is now Syrian instead of Turkish? There are several sides to this question.

Answer 1: the principle
I have found no one in Gaziantep to discuss the principle that the Syrian refugees are there for a reason and that Gaziantep should offer a shelter to them. All share that idea and find it normal to host the Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, even when it comes with a (huge) price. They see Syrians as their guests who lost everything. They see them as brothers they want to comfort in difficult times. The amount of 0,5 million refugees is seen as a heavy burden that is there to take – just like that. Already before the Syrian war, life was a struggle for the ‘ordinary’ Gaziantep-inhabitant. That life has become even more difficult. It is seen and taken as a fact of life. No one blames the Syrians for it. The Gaziantep-inhabitants have to live with it and they do. Helping Syrians is their duty and their pride. Just like that.

Answer 2: Daily practice
Syrian refugees in Gaziantep are very visible. You see them in the streets, in restaurants and coffeehouses, in the Zoo and around the shops. They do or do not work: that differs. They get loads of help in food, housing, clothing and the like. When they work, they do not pay taxes or health insurance. The Turks say: ‘your country is a mess, your house has disappeared. You are our guest. Keep your money for the day you can return – you will need it’. The ordinary, often not very wealthy Turks, pay for all the costs that the Syrian refugees bring. Moreover, they work for low wages so that ordinary Turks see their position and their income threatened. ‘Life was always difficult here, but now it has become even more difficult’, locals told me. But they do not complain, they are rather proud of the sacrifices they bring. ‘This is how we are, we want to help, look at the state of these poor refugees’.
When Syrians drive a car in Gaziantep, they get a special numberplate. It will show M when the car was bought in Turkey, and SA when the car was imported from Syria. Syrians must be recognizable because they are not insured for damage done. If they cause an accident to someone else, that person has to pay for the damage. So: you drive on a road, a Syrian does not pay attention and hits your car and you have to pay for all the damage. Gaziantep-inhabitants call this ‘absurd’ but they still accept it as a fact of life. They try to avoid Syrians on the road as much as possible.

Answer 3: personal feelings
In an apparently strange contradiction to the first two answers given, I have not found anyone in Gaziantep who liked Syrians. Syrians are called ‘our guests’ and ‘our brothers’ but they are far from popular. There seems to be a consensus that Syrians have no pride and ‘no values’. They fight a lot and show no respect to each other or to the Turks.
Moreover they cause problems in the streets. Thefts have increased and shopowners explain you (softly, when nobody can hear it) that these are Syrians; they have to keep a very close eye on their business when Syrians are around. Syrians also like to go out and make a lot of noise in late hours – note that the average hard-working Turk ends the day at 22.00h. Young Syrians commit robberies, destroy public objects and make the streets of Gaziantep unsafe. I haven’t heard inhabitants blame the police because ‘so many things happen, the police can just not keep up with it’. I witnessed myself a robbery with knifes, and vandalism.
Still, no one wants to ask the Syrians to go back to Syria because there is nothing to go back to and they are our guests – in Middle Eastern hospitality you don’t ask the guests how long they will stay. It is intriguing to see that the Turks offer, even sacrify, so much to people they do not like and that that goes for them without saying.

All in all, I think the Turks and especially the people of Gaziantep deserve our deepest admiration, respect and support for their enormous contribution to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Read also: 500.000 Syrian refugees in Șanlıurfa (December 2018)

Other blogs you might find interesting:
Dheepan: an outstanding movie about refugees
Refugees at work: best practices
Forget about the rules. Be human
Politics and diversity in your organisation