Pragmatism, moral responsibility or policy change: the Syrian refugee crisis and selective humanitarianism in the Turkish refugee regime

Umut Korkut*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article scrutinizes how the Syrian crisis affects the management of Turkey’s refugee regime. It also analyses how the Turkish government has treated the Syrian refugees preferentially in comparison to refugees of other nationalities. The article illustrates that the current Turkish humanitarian assistance to refugees is selective, and it predominantly welcomes those that have religiously, ethnically and politically acceptable backgrounds to the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development Party) ideology in government. This attitude is merely in line with the selective application of what remains as the anomaly of the Turkish asylum regime, that is, it limits itself to accepting asylum applications only from European nationals. This geographical limitation dates from the time when Turkey adopted the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1961, while having published a declaration that it would admit only aliens coming from Europe due to the geographical region in which Turkey is located. Non-European asylum seekers who qualify for the internationally accepted ‘refugee’ definition are granted the right of temporary asylum (Asylum and Migration Legislation, 2005, pp. 13-14) in Turkey, while the UNHCR deals with their cases to find a country of settlement. This process can take years in many instances, and these refugees can neither leave their places of temporary residence nor be afforded any employment rights while waiting.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalComparative Migration Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2016



  • moral responsibility
  • policy change
  • pragmatism
  • Syria
  • refugee crisis
  • Turkey
  • humanitarianism

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