Operation: Opération: Turkey



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
383,118 people with specific needs received cash grants
52,730 people of concern were assessed for vulnerability
5,301 people were provided with legal assistance
4,048 people were assisted to depart Turkey on resettlement
2021 planning figures
225,000 people of concern will be assessed for vulnerability 
99,580 people with specific needs will receive cash grants 
65,000 people of concern will be enrolled in language classes 
18,500 people will be provided with legal assistance
20,000 people will be submitted for resettlement

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2020 3,974,550
2019 3,907,789
2018 3,993,522


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  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

The operating environment drastically changed in mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19. The Government of Turkey swiftly imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the virus but pledged that everyone, including refugees, had access to medical assistance related to COVID-19. UNHCR and its partners switched to remote working to keep contact with refugee and asylum-seeking communities and continued providing services and assistance, including outreach, counselling, education, and training. State registration services by the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) re-opened as soon as feasible. The Ministry of National Education introduced distance classes as education facilities were closed. The digitalized outreach and services allowed for wider inclusive contact but highlighted the digital divide, with some people lacking the means to access online communications.

The pandemic reduced resettlement processing and departures to about a quarter of what was envisaged for the year.

Refugees were acutely affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, with more than 70% of surveyed refugees losing all or part of their income. There were reports of gender-based violence and child labour, and competition for jobs further challenging social cohesion.

There were no large-scale voluntary returns to Syria during 2020.

In this context, the main challenges for UNHCR were to help maintain the progress made in the provision of public services for refugees and to support refugees’ self-reliance, while keeping social cohesion between refugees and host communities.

Population trends

At the end of 2020, Turkey hosted some 3.65 million Syrians under temporary protection (representing 90.6% of the total refugee population) and 322,188 international protection applicants, mainly from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
DGMM reported registering 31,334 new international protection applications from nationals of Afghanistan (72%), Iraq (19%), the Islamic Republic of Iran (4%) and other nationalities (5%).

According to the Turkish Land Forces, 73,698 people were apprehended at the land border with the Syrian Arab Republic in 2020, (a 57% decrease compared to 2019), 79 at the Iraqi border (a 65% decrease) and 181 at the Iranian border (a 65% decrease).
Over 5,300 individuals were intercepted at Turkey’s western land borders. Apprehensions at the Greek border accounted for 98% (5,295 individuals), an 89% decrease from 2019.

From April 2016 to end of 2020, 2,139 people were readmitted as part of the EU-Turkey Statement.

Turkish Coast Guard statistics show 20,380 individuals were intercepted along Turkey’s western sea borders in 2020. The number crossing from Turkey to Greece by sea (9,687) indicated an 84% decrease from 2019.

In 2020, UNHCR observed interviews of 16,805 individuals voluntarily returning to Syria, a 51% decrease from 2019. Processing was heavily impacted by COVID-related movement restrictions.

UNHCR submitted 6,097 refugees for third country resettlement and facilitated the resettlement departure from Turkey of 4,048 refugees, of whom 77% were Syrians and 15% Iraqis.

Key achievements

  • With UNHCR’s support, the Provincial Directorates of Migration Management (PDMMs) processed 95% of the international (IP) and temporary protection applicants in 64 provinces, leading to a 70% reduction in the backlog for IP applications.
  • UNHCR followed up on asylum applications made at airports and from removal centres and intervened for 1,463 people facing administrative detention, 1,000 of whom were released and accessed asylum procedures. Over 5,000 people of concern benefited from legal assistance and aid supported by UNHCR.  
  • The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services (MoFLSS) kept its services accessible to refugees with UNHCR staff and material support. Some 100,248 interviews were undertaken, while household visits increased to 109,252 from 60,352 in 2019. 
  • DGMM and UNHCR cooperated on provision of one-time cash assistance to nearly 80,000 most vulnerable households with specific needs during the pandemic. UNHCR also continued its cash for protection assistance benefiting 4,300 households. 
  • Conflict resolution skills training, in addition to Turkish language training, benefited some 4,600 refugees. UNHCR worked closely with 27 municipalities to increase the participation of refugees in decision-making.

Unmet needs

  • The availability of legal assistance was limited to locations where UNHCR’s partners had presence and capacity, while needs increased due to a high number of rejected protection applications. 
  • Even though services remained accessible, public institutions and NGOs alike did not have adequate coverage and remote outreach in place to identify new cases of persons with specific needs. 
  • An increased need to address the growing negative perception about refugees was identified, especially as the pandemic resulted in curtailed livelihood opportunities. 
  • UNHCR estimates that there remain over 420,000 refugees in need of resettlement.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

Prior to UNHCR’s COVID-19 Appeal, UNHCR used flexible funding to address the needs of people newly identified as vulnerable due to the pandemic, and one-off emergency cash assistance proved critical and saved lives.
Working environment
Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees worldwide, with close to 4.1 million refugees, including 3.7 million Syrians and nearly 400,000 asylum-seekers and refugees of other nationalities. Turkish legislation provides people in need of international protection with a broad range of rights upon registration with the authorities. Some protection gaps are nonetheless observed in the implementation of the legal framework, largely due to the scale of the refugee response.
The main challenges remain the pressure on national resources and the availability of services for refugees and host communities. While state institutions are addressing these challenges, the protracted nature of the refugee situation has drawn public attention to the social impact of the refugees’ presence.
Turkey needs significant support from the international community and development partners to successfully include refugees and asylum-seekers in its national structures and programmes.
UNHCR will continue to support Turkey’s refugee response on the basis of the legal and institutional framework for international and temporary protection, and it will focus on five main operational priorities.  
The Office will support Turkey as it implements its asylum framework. It will advocate access and admission to national asylum procedures for people in need of international protection. To support continuous registration and international protection procedures for people of concern in Turkey, UNHCR will continue to prioritize cooperation with the Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM).

Key priorities

UNHCR will strengthen protection for refugees with specific needs and their access to quality services. UNHCR will focus on child protection; the prevention of, and response to, sexual and gender-based violence; and access to quality social services for people with specific needs. The Office will expand its cooperation with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, DGMM and civil society partners to boost the identification, referral and response to refugees with specific needs.
UNHCR will support national and local administrations to strengthen social cohesion between refugee and host communities, including by providing Turkish language training to adults.
In its work towards durable solutions, UNHCR will focus on higher education – providing scholarships, and academic Turkish language classes to people of concern. With self-reliance being a precursor to any durable solution, UNHCR will play a catalytic role in engaging development partners, international financial institutions and the private sector to expand livelihood opportunities for refugees. It will continue to advocate resettlement and safe pathways for both Syrians and refugees of other nationalities, and it will undertake resettlement processing. UNHCR will also increase its presence in voluntary repatriation interviews, continue to monitor trends and update the preparedness plan for return in cooperation with DGMM.
While the government leads the refugee response, UNHCR will support its efforts as co-leader of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), including by guiding the coordination efforts of humanitarian and development partners. Efforts will be made to further align the coordination and planning frameworks, including the 3RP and the UN Development Cooperation Strategy, with the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees.
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