ISTANBUL — Turkey has issued new regulations that grant Syrian refugees secure legal status in the country for the first time, clarifying and expanding rights for more than 1 million people who are rapidly assimilating into Turkish society.
The regulation stops short of granting Syrians official refugee status, which would entitle them to a broader array of benefits, including housing, public relief and various social services.
Nevertheless, it has been welcomed by most refugees as an indication of Turkey’s commitment to easing the rigors of their lives as their displacement takes on a sense of permanence, with Syria’s civil war raging on with no end in sight.
Turkey is now host to 1.6 million displaced Syrians, about half of the total number of people who have fled fighting that broke out nearly four years ago. Until now, the refugees had been labeled “guests” under a hazily defined temporary protection measure.
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With Turkey’s 22 refugee camps operating at full capacity, around 85 percent of the Syrian refugees there have streamed into urban areas seeking jobs and more permanent living arrangements. The new ID cards have been designed to give more straightforward access to a wider range of services outside of the camps.
On a recent afternoon at a police station here, dozens of Syrian refugees amassed outside the registration bureau for foreigners, waiting to collect their new cards.
“Syrians used to avoid coming to the station out of fear that they would be deported,” said one of the police officers overseeing the registration process. “But these cards have brought them out of the shadows into the light. They now have physical proof of their legal rights.”
But not all Syrians are lining up to obtain these rights. Many have their sights set on seeking asylum in Europe, a prospect that some believe could be jeopardized by the new ID cards through their requirement of biometric data.
“I think the data could be used by Europe to send us back when we get smuggled there,” said Mohammad, 23, who declined to give his surname. “I’m only in Turkey to leave to Europe.”