Emerging Refugee Influx in Türkiye Amidst the Russia-Ukraine War

Türkiye has emerged as a prominent hub, attracting a significant influx of refugees, mostly originating from Ukraine and Russia. However, the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia initiated a subsequent surge of migration from both nations. Individuals seeking refuge from the crisis have used a diverse range of methods to enter and establish residency in Türkiye, including acquiring “golden visas” and submitting applications for protection.

Türkiye has enabled people from both nations to seek temporary or permanent asylum inside its borders since the previous year. Türkiye’s policy towards the war may be described as ‘pro-Ukraine’, but it avoids an overtly ‘anti-Russia’ one.  As of September 2022, Türkiye had provided asylum to 145,000 individuals from Ukraine. The majority of refugees are concentrated in major urban centers like Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, as well as coastal regions. Approximately 7,130 individuals have submitted asylum applications. However, a subset of these individuals acquired alternative legal statuses, such as short- or long-term residence permits, employment, or other means to prolong their stay in Türkiye through the golden visa. As observed in previous instances in host nations, it is probable that a majority of the previously documented refugees either repatriated to Ukraine or relocated to different locations.

In 2023, both Russians and Ukrainians have often pursued the “golden visa” option as a means to get a longer or permanent stay in Türkiye. This option entails the government providing residency permits or citizenship in return for substantial expenditures. These include maintaining a minimum deposit of $500,000 in Turkish financial institutions or state funds, investing an equivalent amount in government bonds, or generating employment opportunities for a minimum of fifty individuals inside Türkiye. The purchase of real estate with a minimum value of $400,000 may occasionally make it easier to obtain Turkish citizenship quickly. Also, non-citizens have the opportunity to pursue other avenues to get short-term residence permits for a maximum duration of five years, with the possibility of renewal. These options include making a smaller investment at the Council of Ministers’ discretion, establishing a company in Türkiye, or purchasing real estate at a discounted price. The number of Ukrainian refugees acquiring residential properties in Türkiye saw a substantial surge of 106.4% over the period from 2021 to 2022. This surge increased from 1,246 homes to 2,572. The sale of 1,540 properties to Ukrainian buyers is evidence that this upward trend will continue in 2023.

Additionally, Türkiye has maintained a policy of accepting a greater number of Russian refugees during this time of war, including those who are attempting to avoid sanctions, flee the Vladimir Putin-led government, or relocate their lives and assets abroad. Before the invasion of Ukraine, Iraq was the primary country sending the highest number of short-term residents to Türkiye, while Russia ranked sixth in terms of short-term inhabitants sent. In the year 2022, there was a significant increase in the proportion of Russian individuals residing temporarily in Türkiye, with their percentage rising from around 4.8% to over 10% of the entire population. The decrease in numbers may be attributed to the significant influx of affluent Russian individuals who have obtained Turkish citizenship, subsequently opting to either migrate to other nations or return to their native country with the newfound privilege of unrestricted entry into Türkiye.

The acquisition of residential properties in Russia has also seen a notable surge amidst the ongoing conflict. In the period spanning from 2019 to 2021, Russian nationals emerged as the third most prominent group of foreign purchasers in the real estate market, trailing behind those from Iran and Iraq. However, in 2022-2023, they emerged as the leading group, constituting over a quarter of all foreign acquisitions. The number of homes purchased had a significant surge, escalating from 5,379 in 2021 to 16,582 in 2022, representing a remarkable growth rate of 208.3%. In the previous month, an additional 5,723 residences were acquired, suggesting that the surge in housing purchases during the wartime period is expected to last through 2023. The substantial increase in real estate acquisitions in Russia and Ukraine has resulted in a significant surge in domestic demand, leading to a situation where many Turkish individuals are unable to afford properties inside these regions. In Antalya, which is recognized as the main hub of Turkish beach tourism, rental rates have experienced a surge of more than 300% in some instances.

Türkiye is deriving several advantages from the presence of Ukrainian and Russian refugees. Türkiye has extended humanitarian assistance to the displaced individuals from Ukraine, such as medical supplies and accommodations. Firstly, this has enhanced Türkiye’s reputation as an empathetic nation in the global arena. Secondly, Türkiye has seen positive outcomes as a result of the arrival of proficient and knowledgeable Ukrainian laborers, who have made valuable contributions to several sectors of the Turkish economy, including but not limited to tourism, agriculture, construction, and information technology. Several Ukrainian migrants have initiated entrepreneurial endeavors in Türkiye, therefore generating employment opportunities and stimulating commercial activities. Lastly, Türkiye has enhanced its strategic alliance with Ukraine, a significant partner in the Black Sea area. Türkiye has shown its commitment to upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by providing military equipment and technology, including drones and corvettes. Türkiye has also served as a mediator, facilitating a peaceful resolution of the crisis between Ukraine and Russia.

Nevertheless, Türkiye is confronted with several obstacles and concerns arising from the influx of Russian and Ukrainian refugees. Türkiye is confronted with the social and cultural assimilation of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, who may encounter instances of discrimination, bias, or animosity from some factions within Turkish culture. Türkiye is faced with the challenge of maintaining a delicate equilibrium in its ties with both Ukraine and Russia, two countries now engaged in a state of war. Also, Türkiye must prioritize the protection and well-being of Ukrainian refugees, who face potential threats from pro-Russian or separatist groups. Further, Türkiye must dedicate enough resources and funding to assist the Ukrainian refugees, just like the Syrians. However, Türkiye is currently facing economic turmoil and has already given refuge millions of Syrians following the Syrian crisis. This additional influx will burden Türkiye’s economy and require constant support from UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations. In addition, Türkiye is confronted with the challenge of managing the diplomatic pressure and criticism emanating from some NATO countries and Ukraine, which may assert that Türkiye exhibits excessive amicability towards Russia due to geopolitical interests. Consequently, Türkiye is reaping advantages from the influx of Ukrainian and Russian refugees, but it faces potential challenges that require prudent diplomatic measures.

In conclusion, Türkiye has emerged as a prominent immigration hub, attracting refugees from Russia and Ukraine around the Black Sea. With the increasing influx of nationals from both countries, Türkiye has the potential to see the emergence of substantial economic hub over time in the region. This phenomenon would not only contribute to Türkiye’s cultural variety but also foster closer relations among the three nations involved.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She can be reached at ash77662[at]gmail.com