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FEATURE STORY June 22, 2021

10 Years On, Turkey Continues Its Support for an Ever-Growing Number of Syrian Refugees


  • Turkey has been the primary destination for Syrian refugees, with the first camps set up 10 years ago.
  • Today, Turkey is host to the world’s largest refugee population, with 4 million people, of whom 3.6 million are Syrians.
  • Under the Syrians Under Temporary Protection (SUTP) program, the World Bank and EU are supporting Turkey’s wide-ranging response to the humanitarian and developmental challenges for refugee and host communities.

Ten years ago, the first Syrian refugees fleeing conflict and violence in their home country began arriving in Turkey. What began as a trickle soon became an influx. Today, Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who constitute the vast majority of over 4 million refugees and asylum seekers currently living in country, making Turkey the world’s largest host of refugees.

The magnitude of the refugee influx is nothing that Turkey could have prepared for. With as many as 98.5% of Syrians under temporary protection (SuTPs) now living out of camps in many cities and towns that were already facing significant development obstacles, providing adequate services and support - such as infrastructure, education, housing, and employment - for millions of additional people has been a monumental challenge.

With the help of the World Bank and the European Union, the Government of Turkey unleashed a wide-ranging response to cope with the refugee crisis. The response has been underpinned by the principle of improving lives and livelihoods not only of the refugees but also of the Turkish communities that host them, in urban and rural areas.

Jamal and Nuriye

Take the cases of Syrian refugee Jamal Dahdouh and Turkish citizen Nuriye Gülübük, who have one thing in common – jobs at Paktat, a catering company in Istanbul.

Aleppo-born Jamal, who fled conflict and violence in his home country, arrived in Istanbul 5 years ago, while Nuriye, a resident of Istanbul, had been laid off from her job.

Thanks to an employment support program, the two co-workers from disparate backgrounds are now looking ahead to a future with hope. Under the umbrella of the Syrians Under Temporary Protection (SUTP) program, the Employment Support Project for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens (ISDEP) provides refugees and host communities with skills and language training, job counselling and job placement services. Nearly 20,000 people have received training under the program, with women constituting half of the participants in language courses and over 90 percent in skills training programs.

After improving her culinary prowess, Nuriye is once again gainfully employed. “I feel happy when I work. And I am so proud of myself for standing on my own feet again,” she said.

For 31-year-old Jamal, a permanent job is a real blessing. “I was ready to do anything for my family,” he said. The job has enabled him to pay off all his debts and afforded some social security for his young family. “All the difficulties we faced at the beginning have passed,” he said.

Mariam Mando, on the other hand, benefitted from a program aimed at preparing Syrian refugees to start their own business. The 23-year-old entrepreneur, who has been living in Gaziantep, Turkey, for seven years received entrepreneurship training, developed a business plan with a mentor and submitted it to a group of expert reviewers – support provided under the Development of Businesses and Entrepreneurship for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens program. Along with a Turkish partner, Mariam is now the proud owner of an electronic company.

A Focus on Children

Equipping Syrian refugees with needed skills and expanding Turkish citizens’ access to formal jobs is a key area of focus, as is the provision of schooling. Among the 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey are 1.2 million children, many of whom have suffered intense emotional and mental trauma. A lot is at stake to ensure that these future adults receive the emotional support, education and training they need to succeed later in life.

The Education Infrastructure for Resilience project is, thus, financing the construction of 56 schools in 12 provinces where the large majority of Syrian refugees reside. The schools will cater to at least 400,000 refugee children.

One of the first schools to open under this project was in Konya province. At the school opening ceremony in December 2019, 75-year-old philanthropist Şerife Harmankaya, who donated her land for the school said; “If I had my mind, I would buy more land and give it to the state. I’m so happy. Children will be chirping in this school. Syrians should also go to school, they are also our siblings, and our children.”

Improving Living Conditions

Ten years on, the struggle is still apparent in Adana, a city in southern Turkey and site for the Sarıçam tent camp, which hosts around 22,000 people. Here, refugees work in agricultural fields and live in tents with their families. Limited supply of electricity and running water and inadequate sewerage facilities affect both refugees and Turkish residents alike.

The World Bank is partnering with the European Union (EU) to vastly improve living conditions. The Municipal Services Improvement Project (MSIP), which is just getting underway,  will upgrade the water supply, sanitation and solid waste management facilities for host and refugee communities through the construction or refurbishment of water treatment plants and transmission pipes as well as wastewater treatment plants, sewerage collection networks and a landfill. The project will benefit about 3.3 million Turkish citizens and refugees in five municipalities. Of the beneficiaries, 50 percent are women.

In Turkey, much progress has been made coping with the humanitarian and economic shock of the refugee crisis. But the annual World Refugee Day on June 20 is a reminder of how much more needs to be done to build the resilience of the communities impacted by the crisis – both to overcome losses and build better futures.

It is with these challenges in mind that the Government of Turkey, European Union (EU) and the World Bank continue their partnership under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRiT) program to address exactly these more complex and evolving issues. FRiT manages a total of €6 billion in humanitarian assistance, education, health, municipal infrastructure, and socio-economic support for Syrians Under Temporary Protection in Turkey. The World Bank is one of the implementation agencies for the fund. In addition, the World Bank provides funding to support the Turkish Government’s efforts to mitigate the refugee challenge.