Turkey has emerged as the leading host country for refugees worldwide, with a population of nearly 3.6 million individuals seeking shelter, according to the latest global trends report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday.
The UNHCR report highlights the unprecedented scale of forced displacement and the growing number of people seeking refuge due to persecution, conflict, violence and human rights abuses.
By the end of 2022, Turkey was hosting an estimated 3.6 million refugees, a number that surpasses any other country in the world.
The UNHCR report highlights that the refugee crisis is concentrated in low and middle-income countries. About 90 percent of those forcibly displaced are in these regions. Turkey’s role in hosting millions of refugees reflects the immense pressure countries with fewer resources face to provide adequate assistance.
According to the report, the scale of displacement is the highest since World War II. Globally, more than 108.4 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
Turkey’s response to the refugee crisis has received widespread recognition, as the country bears much of the responsibility for providing for those in need.
While the UNHCR report highlights Turkey’s prominent role in hosting refugees, it also sheds light on the global refugee population. The report shows that the number of refugees worldwide, including those in refugee-like situations and others in need of international protection, has increased by more than one-third and had reached 29.4 million at the end of 2022.
Anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey has been on the rise for several years, and it gained further prominence in the context of the country’s recent elections. In the campaign leading up to the general election and two rounds of the presidential race, the issue of refugees became a central point of contention.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who challenged incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, vowed to repatriate all refugees and illegal migrants, primarily Syrians, within a year in a bid to secure endorsement by Ümit Özdağ, chairman of the far-right Victory Party (ZP). Even Erdoğan, who had previously promoted an open-door policy toward refugees, signaled a change in stance ahead of the elections, further highlighting the shift in the political climate surrounding the refugee issue.
In the end Erdoğan secured another five years when he defeated Kılıçdaroğlu in a runoff on May 28, further extending his two-decade rule.
However, this tough stance on refugees, coupled with increasing nationalist rhetoric, stoked existing anxieties and anti-refugee sentiment among some segments of the population, resulting in an increasingly hostile environment for refugees in Turkey.
The growing anti-refugee sentiment is rooted not only in political rhetoric but also in the social and economic challenges the country faces. Refugees are often blamed for exacerbating these issues, despite the complexities of the underlying problems.
Syrian refugees, the largest refugee group in Turkey, have reported increased fear and concern over potential forced repatriation to Syria.