The rising costs of Turkey’s Syrian quagmire

International Crisis Group


This report examines Turkey’s humanitarian efforts, the tension between its public’s sympathy for, and unease toward, Syrians, and the government’s changing role with regard to Syria’s political and military opposition. It highlights the need for Turkey to develop a more comprehensive legal framework that expands the April 2013 law on foreigners and immigration in order to facilitate a more comprehensive integration strategy.  It suggests that by maintaining open communication with regional counterparts, including Iran, Turkey can work reciprocally to de-escalate foreign involvement in the Syrian war and build an environment more conducive to peace.

After at least 720,000 Syrian refugees and nearly $3 billion in spending, Turkey needs to find a sustainable, long-term arrangement with the international community to care for the Syrians arriving daily. This report is mainly based on interviews with Syrian activists, refugees, local residents and authorities in Ankara and Istanbul, as well as in two provinces on the Syrian border – Gaziantep and Kilis – that provide a microcosm of the overall crisis in Turkey and Ankara’s response to it.


  • Although increasing spillover is evident, particularly in border provinces, the crisis has not yet seriously upset internal balances and security. Although an uneasy environment prevails with growing tensions over co-habitation, access to health services, and cross-border relations rooted in historical links.
  • Many Syrians settle close to the border to be nearer to their homeland. Women and children make up 75% of Syrian refugees in Turkey, a large number Sunni Arabs.
  • Turkey adheres to the non-refoulement principle of the 1951 Geneva convention and does not send Syrians back, even if they entered illegally.
  • As a result of the initial miscalculations of the duration and scale of the crisis, there are serious challenges in sustaining and expanding its high-standard humanitarian facilities.
  • Despite some international assistance, full cooperation is still absent, and and the onus remains largely on the government. Although Turkey has been increasingly willing to accept an INGO presence in the country.


Pending a conflict settlement, Turkey needs to ensure the well-being of Syrians, and provide a measure of more effective assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Syria. To do this, the report offers a number of recommendations to a range of actors.

  • The government should take more control of the process by working with the international community to establish better-planned housing arrangements and giving refugees better opportunities for education, employment and cultural and social integration;
  • The donor community should much more generously fund any mutually agreed schemes.
  • Turkey should also publicly disassociate itself from Sunni Muslim sectarian factions, reenergise efforts to diplomatically engage major Syrian Kurdish groups that are dominant along its border and continue to apply humanitarian policies to all Syrian civilians in a non-discriminatory manner.


International Crisis Group (2014). The Rising Costs of Turkey’s Syrian Quagmire (Europe Report No. 230). Brussels: International Crisis Group.