International Migration in 2022 and its Reflection on Türkiye

Şebnem Köşer Akçapar
Prof. Dr., Social Sciences University of Ankara, Department of Sociology Center for Global Migration Studies and Applications

As of 2022, Türkiye is the country that hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide, including nearly 3.5 million Syrians under temporary protection and over 400,000 refugees of various nationalities under international protection. By the end of 2022, the top three nationalities granted international protection in our country are Afghanistan with 19,400, Ukraine with 7,131, and Iraq with 4,083 individuals. 

However, official figures indicate that the number of Syrians under temporary protection has seen a decrease of over 200,000 compared to previous years. This decrease is attributed to some Syrians returning voluntarily to their home country, while the number of deported Syrians has increased by 161% compared to the previous year. 

To prevent spatial concentration and maintain a homogenous structure, services for new foreign applicants and address changes have been suspended in 1,169 neighborhoods across 63 provinces where the foreign population exceeds 20% of the Turkish citizen population. This move can also be seen as an outcome of various policies related to repatriation, social integration, and recognition pf basic rights for the existing immigrant population.

Türkiye has become one of the significant participants in migration projects initiated by both international organizations and local institutions due to the mass forced migration it has accepted from Syria since 2011, as a result of the civil war. In this context, with the support if international organizations such as the IOM and ICMPD, in coordination with the Directorate General of Migration Management and the Turkish Red Crescent, more than a hundred projects have been implemented or sustained in 2022. Looking at the content, the majority of these projects have been directed towards Syrian individuals under temporary protection residing in cities such as Istanbul, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Hatay, Adana, and Mersin, as well as those granted international protection status. 

In the field of irregular migration, Afghanistan-related activities have come to the forefront in 2022 due to the Taliban taking over the country and migration pressure through Iran. Although the number of apprehended irregular migrants did not reach the peak of 454,662 in 2019, it gained momentum after the pandemic and remained above 258,000. Nearly half of the irregular migrants in 2022 were Afghan nationals. Syria ranks second as a source country for irregular migration with 45,000 individuals. Law enforcement forces have fulfilled their duties in combating regular migration at sea and land borders. In 2022, migrant smugglers, one of the actors in irregular migration, were found to be the most frequently apprehended with a total of 9,149 cases in the past 10 years. As a reflection of humanitarian migration policies, Turkish Coast Guard teams also conduct rescue operations in the Aegean Sea, which has turned into a death sea on the journey of hope, in response to Greece’s pushback activities.

The prominent topics highlighted in studies announced by the institutions of the Republic of Türkiye in 2022 are the prevention of irregular migration, improvement of return processes, and deployment of legal regulations. The projects implemented by the DGMM include ‘Return and Reintegration of Irregular Migrants in Türkiye’ and ‘Support the Capacities of Return Centers and Developing Alternative Measures to Administrative Supervision.’ Turkish Red Crescent also aims to support the establishment of camps and orphanages outside our country’s borders and facilitate voluntary return of migrants in the region. According to the data announced by the DGMM, the number of return centers was increased to 30 with a capacity of 20,540 in 2022, and 58,758 Syrian volunteers returned to safe areas in Syria. Additionally, efforts for the social and economic integration of migrants continue nationwide. Under the scope of ‘Social Integration and Life Training (SUYE),’ education was provided to 1,395,055 individuals last year.

One of the prominent legal regulations in 2022 was the ‘Exemption from Work Permit for Foreigners’ defined within the scope of the International Labor Force Law Implementation Regulation, which was published by the General Directorate of International Labor Force of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security of the Republic of Türkiye and came into effect 02.02.2022, as announced in the Official Gazette. With this regulation, it is expected that professional and qualified human mobility will be positively affected. 

One of the most significant developments in the field of international migration at the beginning of 2022 was the forced migration of Ukrainian citizens to Türkiye as a result of Russia’s occupation starting on February 21, 2022. In the first two months following the start of the war, more than 12 million people, 90% of whom were women and children, were displaced. Within a short period, over five million people sought asylum primarily in countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, Germany, Moldova, and even Spain and Italy. Türkiye also hosts a significant number of temporary and permanent forced migrants from Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, over 600,000 Ukrainians have come to Türkiye, but most of them have left for various reasons. According to recent data, there are approximately 46,000 Ukrainian residents with residence permits and 7,131 Ukrainians who have applied for international protection in Türkiye. It should be noted that Ukrainians are a highly heterogeneous group. In addition to the Ahiska Turks who were forcibly displaced during the Stalin era, Crimean Tatars who migrated to other cities in Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea in 1994 have also turned to Türkiye due to the recent war. 

There are ongoing efforts in the field of migration of Ukrainians to Türkiye. The Turkish Red Crescent has continued its aid operations within Ukraine throughout 2022, providing cash support through Kızılaykart to Ahıska Turks placed in temporary accommodation centers. Financial support has also been provided by Turkcell to the Ukraine Aid Campaign initiated by Turkish Red Crescent. Civil society organizations have focused on social integration and humanitarian assistance. Steps have been taken to create safe spaces for psychological counseling, equal opportunities and access to education, as well as expanding existing initiatives, particularly for women and children, in economic and social matters. Initiatives such as the ‘Counseling Hotline for Ukrainian Refugees and Al Farah Child and Family Support Centers Project’ conducted by the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) have been implemented to address the needs of new migrant groups, women, children, and youth at a more local and solution-oriented level.

The projects carried out by international organizations, public institutions, and civil society organizations regarding the access of Ukrainians in Türkiye to various services are listed velow:

  • A counseling hotline has been established for Ukrainian refugees (SGDD/ASAM)
  • A ‘Back to School Project’ has been initiated (SGDD/ASAM)
  • Efforts have been intensified to improve the psychological health and psychosocial support awareness of refugees living in Türkiye (SGDD/ASAM) 
  • Various protection services have been provided, particularly in the areas of mental health and psychosocial support, emergency case management, and school transportation (IOM)
  • Support has been provided to children coming from Ukraine in collaboration with the Ministry of Family and Social Services and UNICEF
  • A series of projects have been launched to ensure information flow between government agencies and relevant organizations for the coordination of Ukrainian migrants (UNHCR)
  • In addition to Ukrainians, there has been a significant increase in the number of Russians coming to Türkiye since the Kremlin’s mobilization declaration in 2022, mainly consisting of white-collar workers in the digital sector or also known as digital nomads. According to April 2023 data, there are 154,000 people residing in Türkiye with residence permits from Russia, 131,659 people staying in the country with short-term residence permits, and 7,465 people staying with family residence permits. The number of Russian companies in Antalya, one of the cities where this group is concentrated, has increased by 527% compared to the previous year. 

In 2022, projects in the field of international migration can generally be classified as those aimed at meeting the urgent needs of refugees coming from Ukraine and those focused on ensuring the social integration of over 4 million temporary protection and international protection beneficiaries who arrived in Türkiye in previous years. Accordingly, these projects include initiatives related to voluntary returns, combating human trafficking, increasing the capacity of return centers, raising public awareness on international migration, correcting misconceptions, managing irregular migration, developing regular migration opportunities and migration policies based on sustainable development, facilitating access to decent work and enhancing skills. Turkish public institutions and civil society are implementing numerous projects in collaboration with international organizations. Among these projects are, 

Project for Supporting the Strengthening of the Capacity for Conducting Forced Return Operations in collaboration with the DGMM and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)

Research on Child Trafficking and Human Trafficking Based on Exploitation of Children and Labor to support the decisions taken and evidence-based policy-making process in Türkiye’s fight against human trafficking, in collaboration with the DGMM and ICMPD (Human Trafficking Research Laboratory/Türkiye)

  • Project for Supporting the Strengthening of ‘Return Centers’ in collaboration with the DGMM and IOM, in accordance with international human rights standards (Phase II), and supporting social cohesion policies in Türkiye
  • Enhancing public awareness on migration and international protection issues in collaboration with the DGMM and EU; strengthening the protection of foreigners and victims of human trafficking in Türkiye from a human rights perspective
  • Support for the DGMM in the management, reception, and accommodation of irregular migrants
  • Support for the capacity building of return centers and the development of alternative measures to administrative detention in collaboration with the DGMM, UNHCR, and IOM
  • Project for Supporting the Development of Return Counseling Capacity in Türkiye in collaboration with the DGMM and ICMPD (ReCONNECT)
  • Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) of Irregular Migrants in Türkiye in collaboration with the DGMM and IOM
  • Support for the Implementation of the National Supported Voluntary Return and Reintegration Program in Türkiye in collaboration with the DGMM and ICMPD (N-AVRR/Türkiye)
  • Analysis of the Impact of Syrians under Temporary Protection on the Turkish Economy in collaboration with the DGMM and ICMPD (ECOIMPACT)
  • Strengthening the Effectiveness of National Asylum Procedures in accordance with International Standards and National Legislation in collaboration with the DGMM and UNHCR
  • Project for Strengthening Cooperation with Countries of Origin and Strategic Partners to Prevent Irregular Migration through Complementary Activities in collaboration with the DGMM and ICMPD (COMPLEMENT)
  • Strengthening Analysis and Operational Capacity Develop a Framework for Regular Migration Policies in Türkiye in collaboration with DGMM and ICMPD (ANAPOL)
  • Project for Supporting the Implementation of Development-Sensitive Sustainable Migration Management Policies in collaboration with the DGMM and ICMPD (SUMMIT)
  • The project ‘Promoting Decent Job Opportunities, Resilience, and Social Integration’ implemented by the International Labour Organization with various components 

In other projects carried out by international organizations, efforts are focused on providing employment opportunities, creating vocational training opportunities for migrants and refugees, and enhancing the capacities of institutions serving both regular and irregular migrants. Various initiatives have been implemented with a focus on gender equality and equal opportunities in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Hatay, Şanlıurfa, and Kayseri, through entrepreneurship training, mentoring support, and economic contributions. These initiatives include the ‘Supporting Decent Job Opportunities for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens Project’ implemented by the IOL Türkiye Office, the ‘Enhancing Entrepreneurship Capacities for Sustainable Socioeconomic Integration (ENHANCER) Project’ led by ICMPD, and the UNDP’s ‘From Work to Social Inclusion Project.’ Many migrants have benefited from these entrepreneurship trainings, mentoring support, and economic contributions, and continue to benefit from them.

The migration research centers established within the university have formed collaborations with foreign universities for international knowledge exchange and migration studies, conducted national and international projects, and generated academic knowledge to enhance the local community’s awareness of immigrants. The Center for Global Migration Studies and Applications at Ankara Social Sciences University initiated webinar series on various topics in migration with the participation of Turkish and foreign academics, in collaboration with IOM and the DGMM. Istanbul Bilgi University has launched a podcast series titled ‘Other Stories: Migration, Art, Coexistence,’ and Koç University is conducting interdisciplinary research and education at the intersection of migration and urban studies through open classes, lectures, and conferences to support. The ‘BROAD-ER’ project, carried out by Koç University, exemplifies these efforts.

In light of all these projects, the fact that there are still a large number of refugees/migrants in Türkiye after 11 years of migration from Syria to Türkiye indicates a lack of establishment in terms of improving participation in the workforce and working conditions. It is observed that the efforts directed towards immigrant groups in Türkiye mostly focus on Syrian refugees. However, it should not be overlooked that as of 2022, Türkiye is open to human mobility from other countries, particularly Afghanistan and Ukraine. Although they are currently seen as a small group compared to Syrians, their addition to the already established immigrant groups striving for social integration may hinder the progress achieved. Therefore, it is crucial that the ongoing projects are developed to encompass all immigrant groups within their scope and impact and to address intra-group differences, prioritizing effectiveness and change-oriented approaches rather than the type or size of the project. 

2022 is a period in which there is a significant increase not only in migrations to Türkiye but also in the number of people leaving the country. Although data for 2022 has not yet been published, according to 2021 data, 287,651 people have left the country. Of these, 103,613 were Turkish citizens, while the others were foreign nationals. It has been observed that a group of Syrians who acquired Turkish citizenship have also gone abroad. Of this group, 12.3% are in the 20-24 age range, 12.1% are in the 25-29 age range, and 10.7% are in the 30-34 age range.

Türkiye’s experience and management capacity regarding forced migration have increased in recent years. In addition to social integration efforts, emphasis is also placed on voluntary return. Looking at recent developments, it is essential for the political and academic focus to shift towards both the migration of qualified individuals coming to Türkiye and those leaving. A new approach focusing on qualified regular migration requires a multifaceted investigation into the reasons for Türkiye’s loss of qualified migration and the migration motivation of these individuals. It is also important to determine the push and pull factors for skilled immigrants coming to Türkiye to understand the capacity size and direct them more efficiently.

Among the topics expected to be on the agenda of researchers and institutions working in the field of international migration next year are undoubtedly climate and disaster-induced migrations, new burden-sharing with the EU and other countries, and accelerating voluntary returns. Additionally, migration policies related to internal migration processes and economic policy developments in Türkiye; human-induced climate change in the Antropocene Age; internal displacements due to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and excessive rainfall; potential new waves of migration due to conflicts and new wars from other countries; identifying issues related to the resettlement of existing and new migrants in third countries and social contact points with the local population can be expected to be addressed through the creation of sustainable economic areas and the establishment of qualified migration attraction areas.

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