The Role and Capacity of Local Government in Managing Migration in Istanbul

Prof. Yeseren Elicin

According to Ministry of Interior, as of September 2017 the number of registered Syrian refugees is 3,208,000 in Turkey. Although Turkey has been gradually transforming into a country of asylum, the legislation concerning the refugees remains inadequate to guarantee the fundamental rights and basic needs of this population, such as in accommodation, healthcare and work. However, after legal modifications in 1994 and 2013, persons from non-European countries have been allowed to apply for “temporary asylum” in Turkey. Currently, almost 90% of the Syrian population is living in different Turkish cities and Istanbul is hosting the highest numbers of out-of-camps Syrians. Temporary asylum status provides these refugees with some basic needs. Refugees living in camps have access to education, water, food, shelter and health services. But the others may benefit only from the right to free healthcare and medication if they are registered. Consequently the non-camp populations living in different cities put considerable pressure on municipalities.

The aim of the present article is to study the legal, administrative and technical capacities of Turkish local administrations in providing assistance to Syrian refugees. In this context, the services delivered to Syrian refugees by the lower tier municipalities of Istanbul have been studied with the aim of assessing their capacities, aptitudes and shortcomings in meeting this multifaceted challenge. The study is based on the analysis of legislation, reports, statistics and existing literature as well as semi-structured interviews with the representatives of the relevant departments of three municipalities: Zeytinburnu, which has the highest ratio of Syrian refugees (almost 9% of the population); Sisli, an opposition party affiliated municipality with 15,269 refugees and Sultanbeyli, which has the greatest refugee population in the Anatolian side with 20,192 Syrians.