Turkey in a race against time to integrate 4 million Syrian refugees - analyst

Turkey’s challenge of integrating close to 4 million Syrian refugees is a continuous one requiring effective integration and the need for developing, funding, and implementing a formula as soon as possible, wrote Alan Makovsky, senior fellow for National Security and International Policy for Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress.

The arrival of millions of Syrian refugees is changing Turkish society and will continue to do so for at least a generation, Makovsky wrote, stressing that the country has undergone significant internal and external migrations in past decades.

A clear majority of Turks lived in rural areas up until the 1980s and now three-quarters live in urban areas. Over 95 percent of Syrian refugees, who have arrived in country over the past eight years, are reinforcing this trend, residing in urban or semi-urban areas, he explained.

The country has had its fair share of other mass in-migrations in the past century, such as the arrival of 350,000 Greek Muslims during the 1923 population exchange agreement with Greece, and 340,000 ethnic Turks who arrived in the country after being expelled by Bulgaria in 1989, the article recalled, highlighting that at least 1.4 million people immigrated to Turkey between 1923, the year Turkey was founded, and 1990.

However, ‘’the influx of Syrians is different in its size and nature from these previous population influxes,’’ Makovsky wrote.

Previous migrants either ethnic Turks themselves or non-Turkish Sunni Muslims open to assimilation into Turkish society who were absorbed into the Turkish melting pot and largely integrated into society.

Syrian Arabs are Sunni Muslims but are ‘’ethnically, linguistically, and, arguably, culturally distinctive from Turks,’’ the article stressed, and if they should they remain in Turkey in significant numbers, like Turkey’s Kurds, they will probably feel less pressure to integrate than other, smaller Sunni Muslim groups over the years.

Most Turks hope all the Syrians will eventually return to their home country and the topic of their remaining is politically explosive in Turkey, he wrote, adding that Ankara has been hesitant to acknowledge publicly that it foresees the long-term integration of the refugees into Turkish society.

Turkish leaders continue to proclaim that all Syrians will ultimately return to Syria as they cater to public sentiment, increasingly as the March 31 nationwide local elections approach.

‘’Turkey is in a race against time to employ, educate, and socially integrate the Syrian refugees,’’ Makovsky wrote, underlining that this will serve the interest of social peace, while benefiting Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees alike.