Coming to Turkey as an Asylum Seeker/Refugee

This guide was written by Başak Yıldız Orkun, Managing Partner at Orkun & Orkun (info@orkunorkun.com) in collaboration with Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 20 May 2017. The law and practice in Turkey change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

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The scope of this guide

This guide covers the rules surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey.

You may also want to watch the video version of this guide or download the audio (MP3) guide.


Turkey is the world's largest host country of registered refugees. Almost all of the refugees in the country come from Syria - there are some 2.7million displaced Syrian citizens currently in Turkey.

Despite this, expats have, in the main, been largely unaffected by the refugee crisis.

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of refugees are in the east of Turkey - far away from the traditional expat outposts on the Mediterranean coast.

Those refugees who decided to make the journey to Europe did cause some short-term upheaval; but it was very brief, and was cracked down upon swiftly and effectively. Turkey was unwilling to compromise the area's tourist market. Towns like Bodrum which, due to their proximity to the Greek islands, would seem likely to be most affected, are completely unaltered.

Istanbul, another destination for expats, has been impacted more obviously. This is an interesting article on the subject.

Refugees from Syria

Turkey is a party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. However, Turkey’s instrument of accession to the 1951 Convention limits the scope of the Convention’s application to European asylum seekers. So, asylum seekers from (say) Syria or Iraq do not qualify.

Most refugees seeking asylum in Turkey are from non-European countries.

Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection (2013) instituted major changes in the country’s asylum system, but most current asylum seekers are placed under what is known as ‘temporary protection’, expecting them (eventually) to settle in another country rather than being accepted as refugees for settlement in Turkey. 

On 22 October 2014, the Turkish Council of Ministers issued a regulation on temporary protection, under Article 91 of the Law on Foreigners and International Protection. According to Article 1 of the Temporary Protection regulation, the regulation applies to Syrian nationals, as well as stateless persons and refugees from Syria - including those without identification documents.

Because of the influx of migrants from Syria (well over 6 million by April 2017), the Turkish authorities have, over the years, expanded their rights and protections, but they remain barred from gaining regular refugee status and instead are classified as beneficiaries of temporary protection.

As part of the temporary protection regime, Syrian nationals, refugees and stateless persons from Syria seeking international protection are admitted to Turkey and will not be sent back to Syria against their will.

Under the terms of temporary protection, the authorities provide for refugees’ basic needs and also furnish social services, translation services, IDs, travel documents, access to primary and secondary education, and work permits. Applicants for protection may be obliged by the authorities to live in designated reception and accommodation centres or in a specific location, and to report to the authorities in a certain manner or at certain intervals.

The responsibility for registration of Protected Persons is distributed among each city district's main police station – to avoid waiting in long lines at one central location. The documentation required to obtain the new Protected Person ID was made simple - a rental contract along with any kind of proof of identification issued from Syria, such as a national ID card, army service booklets, family registration papers, Syrian driving licenses or even expired passports. No fees are required.

Other refugees – from Europe

There are very few of these.

Because of its location, refugees have been coming to Turkey for many centuries - long before the 1951 Geneva Convention created the official status of ‘refugee’. Turkey is an original signatory of the Geneva Convention.

What is a refugee?

For refugees from Europe, Turkey accepts the definition of a refugee contained in the Geneva Convention:

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Turkey also accepts the second limb of the convention's definition of a refugee as somebody:

“...who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

How can somebody claim refugee status?

If a person wishes to claim refugee status in Turkey, he or she must do so immediately upon arrival in Turkey.

In practical terms, this means that - if they arrive by conventional means - they must do so at the point of entry and at the time of entering the country. If they arrive by unconventional means (for example, in a rubber dinghy) they must claim refugee status within two working days of their arrival in the country.

Failure to claim will usually result in their being sent back to the country from which they came. However, this is subject to the restriction in the Convention that a government of a contracting state may not return a refugee to a territory where:

“...his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social or political opinion.”

Because of the number of recent applications from Syria, special arrangements have been put in place. These apply to applicants arriving after 2012. The applicant is issued with a “special protection card”.

What is the effect of claiming refugee status?

Once an asylum seeker applies for refugee status, their presence in the country is immediately made legal until the outcome of their application is determined. This is the case even if they arrived in the country illegally.

They immediately become entitled to health and social security benefits. After 6 months they can apply for a work permit.

Although their presence in Turkey is legal, they are not permitted to work until their claim is accepted and they are granted refugee status.

If the claim is allowed, the refugee will be allowed to remain in Turkey for a maximum of five years. If the circumstances that gave rise to their fear disappear or reduce within those five years, they may have to return home. If the circumstances continue, they can apply for a further permit to live in the country. This will be for another period of five years. If the circumstances at the end of that period still do not permit their safe return to their own country, they will be granted unlimited leave to remain in Turkey.

Once a person has been granted refugee status they will have the right to live, work and claim benefits in Turkey.  They can then either work as an employees or for themselves.  They also have the right to apply for their spouse and any children under the age of 18 to join them.

What if the claim is refused?

Subject to the restriction in relation to returning people to countries where their life or liberty is in danger, a failed asylum seeker - i.e. someone who is not granted refugee status - will be returned to their country of origin.

Legal advice

It is still rare for asylum seekers to seek legal advice. Most deal directly with the immigration services. This is understandable but, probably, foolish.

Humanitarian Residence Permits

Humanitarian Residence Permit may be granted if:

Holders of Humanitarian Residence Permit should register themselves to the Address Registration System within 20 days of being granted the residence permit.

The remits are valid for a maximum of one year (renewable).

Can you claim state healthcare on a Humanitarian Residence Permit?



In Turkey as in anywhere, it is important to be prompt and accurate when filing for asylum. Professional help should be sought if at all possible. Mistakes can be very costly.

Other guides of interest

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Turkey Country Guide
Essential facts and figures about Turkey
Click to see this guide
Turkish Residence Permits
How residence permits work in Turkey
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey as a Student
Visa & immigration information for foreign students
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey to Work
Visa & immigration information for foreigners wanting to work in Turkey
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey to Start a Business
Visa & immigration information for foreigners wanting to set up their own business in Turkey
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey to Join Your Family
How do you join a family member who already has Turkish residence?
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey to Retire
Visa & immigration information for foreigners wanting to retire in Turkey
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey via Residence for Investment
The "golden visa"
Click to see this guide
Coming to Turkey on a "Turquoise Visa"
The special Turkish visa for people valuable to the country
Click to see this guide
The Immigration System
The rules surrounding visas in Turkey
Click to see this guide

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
Residence in Turkey
Government information (in English) about the types of residency permit available for Turkey
Residence in Turkey
Application form for Residence Permit in Turkey
Government application form for residence (non-working) permit in Turkey
Application form for Residence Permit in Turkey
How to Get a Work Permit in Turkey
From the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey
How to Get a Work Permit in Turkey
Citizenship Information for Turkey
Click the 'citizenship' tab.
Citizenship Information for Turkey
Information for Refugees in Turkey
From the United Nations.
Information for Refugees in Turkey

Readers' Comments


Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Başak Yıldız Orkun

20 May 2017


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