The Syrian refugee crisis and its implications for EU-Turkey relations

17 November 2015

The ongoing Syrian conflict has led to an acute humanitarian crisis, forcing people from their homes and resulting in millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees. While Lebanon and Jordan have received significant numbers, Turkey has registered over 2.5 million refugees, with many more who have arrived but have not been officially registered - meaning that the country has become the world’s largest recipient of refugees. With 25 registered camps, Turkey has been doing its utmost to provide support for these people. Many refugees, however, are also living in urban areas, with Syrian children a visible feature on the streets of Istanbul.

While the Syrian refugee situation in Turkey has been ongoing for a number of years, it only began to receive headline attention in the EU this year, as a large influx of refugees began to arrive on the EU’s shores after making the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea. The response from the EU has laid bare its shortcomings: European Council President, Donald Tusk warned on 12 November that the Schengen zone is in danger of collapsing because of the EU’s inability to cope with the flow of arrivals. While the only permanent solution will be an end to the Syrian conflict, this looks to be a long way off. Therefore EU-Turkey relations are important, as Turkey is the most relevant player in terms of managing the number of arrivals from the region to the EU. Since September, the EU and Turkey have been negotiating the so-called Action Plan for the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Despite claims in the media that the Action Plan is nearly ready to be signed, there are many things still to be agreed on. In this context, the European Policy Centre (EPC) organised a Policy Dialogue with a panel of experts on the Syrian refugee crisis, to discuss the possibility and implications of a workable Action Plan, the social impact of the refugee influx in Turkey and how the international community can best support Turkey in the medium to long term.