More on Turkey

Turkey is an upper middle income, developing country whose economy is the 17th largest in the world. It is rated 72nd out of 188 in UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Index. With a footprint that bridges Europe and Asia, Turkey shares borders with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan enclave), Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece and Bulgaria. It was a founder member of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in 1961 and is currently in negotiations for accession to the European Union.  

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more people have fled from that conflict to Turkey than to anywhere else. The number of refugees registered by the Government of Turkey passed 1.5 million in December 2014, and 2.5 million in January 2016. Turkey now hosts more refugees than any other country in the world.

The sheer scale of the refugee influx has required an innovative approach by the Government. The vast majority of Syrians under Temporary Protection (SuTP) live in communities, not camps, and Turkey is financing the bulk of the response itself. Registered SuTPs are guaranteed access to healthcare, education, social services and the labour market. They may also access utilities and communications services, and hold bank accounts in Turkey. With the assistance of UNHCR, the Government’s Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has put in place an Electronic-based Aid Distribution System (EYDAS) to provide SuTPs in need with timely assistance. 

Legislation that will allow SuTPs to apply for work permits is in the pipeline. In the meantime, however, only those with residence permits may apply, and by December 2015 fewer than 7,000 work permits had been granted. Limited access to livelihoods has spurred further migration of SuTPs within Turkey, particularly to Istanbul which hosts some 20 percent of them, and to areas where informal work is available. Originally concentrated in settlements and camps along the Syrian border, SuTPs have now dispersed throughout the country, many of them living in suboptimal housing and struggling to earn even a minimum wage. 

About 273,000 Syrian refugees still reside in camps.  WFP, in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC), provides food assistance for over 156,000 vulnerable refugees living in 11 camps. We also provide assistance to more than 80,000 (as of end of February) most vulnerable people living in host communities and plan to expand this aspect of the programme in 2016.

Facts about Turkey

  • Population of around 78.74 million (December 2015)
  • 1.62 percent lived below the poverty line in 2014
  • Life expectancy is 75 years

Current issues in Turkey

  • Syrian refugee influx

    The exodus of refugees from Syria has placed a huge economic and resource burden on the region as a whole and on Turkey in particular. By January 2016 the Government had spent an estimated US$8 billion on its response.  

    Given the immense destruction in Syria, even when the war eventually ends most refugees will be unable to return home until reconstruction is well under way. This raises questions about how to sustain Turkey’s response long-term, at both national and local levels. Not only is it vastly expensive to support this many people, it puts huge pressure on municipal authorities tasked with delivering services. 

    Inevitably, tensions between host communities and refugees might arise from time to time; however, these are being addressed. The Turkish people have been immensely generous to their guests, but are increasingly worried about the impact of the crisis on rents and wages at the lower end of the housing and labour markets.

    The most likely solution will be a combination of humanitarian and development responses that enable the refugees to become both economically self-sustaining and productive in terms of Turkey’s GDP. How to achieve that, however, remains open to debate.

  • Food availability

    Turkey has achieved its goal of halving the number of undernourished people in its population and has been identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as one of the 79 developing countries that achieved their hunger target – reducing the prevalence of undernourishment and the proportion of underweight children under 5 years of age.

    However, the influx of refugees has increased the size of host communities by up to 30 percent. The impacts have been significant: rent prices and competition for employment opportunities have all increased, making it more difficult for both hosts and refugees to afford nutritious food. 

  • Population growth, and water availability and contamination

    Although water is relatively plentiful in Turkey compared to other countries in the region, availability per capita is inversely proportional to population and has been impacted by rapid population growth since the 1960s. Then, the population of Turkey was 28 million; now it is almost 80 million; and by 2050 it is forecast to reach more than 93 million.  

    Increased demand for food is placing considerable stress on both surface supplies and non-renewable groundwater reserves.  Furthermore, the Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) has stated that industrialization and population growth have contributed to contamination of water resources in certain parts of the country. All of these factors have adverse effects on agricultural irrigation and thus food security.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Turkey

WFP’s work in Turkey aims to assist Syrian refugees resident in camps, and the most vulnerable ones living in host communities. By purchasing the bulk of our food commodities for the Syrian Regional Emergency Operation, and a large proportion of those used in our operations worldwide, we are helping the Turkish economy as a whole.

  • Helping Syrian refugees in camps

    In October 2012, WFP, in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent, introduced an Electronic Food Card Programme for Syrian refugees resident in camps. Each household is provided with an e-food card to which a monthly allowance per family member is uploaded, enabling them to purchase nutritious food items from contracted shops within and without the camps. 

    Because the shops are contracted by WFP, we can oversee and monitor both the quality and quantity of stock. This allows us to ensure that enough nutritious and fresh products are available for refugees to purchase at competitive market prices.

    The programme has improved camp-based refugees’ nutrition and helped them avoid negative coping strategies.  It has also benefited the host country: between 2012 and the end of 2015 WFP’s Electronic Food Card Programme has injected nearly US$140 million into the Turkish economy. 

  • Helping Syrian refugees in host communities

    WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent are working with national and local authorities to support vulnerable refugees living outside of camps in Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Şanlıurfa and Kahramanmaraş through an e-food card programme, which we plan to expand in 2016.

  • Procuring food for WFP’s operations in the region

    WFP has a long history of large-scale food procurement in Turkey to support WFP operations worldwide and, more recently, the Syria Regional Emergency Operation. Between 2011 and 2015 we procured food from Turkey valued at over US$1 billion. Of those commodities, 60 percent was used in activities in Syria and the region.
    WFP’s investments in Turkey have increased exponentially and in 2014, for the first time, Turkey became WFP’s largest supplier of food commodities worldwide.

World Food Programme partners in Turkey

WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Turkey:

Featured Turkey publications

  • Turkey: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 593 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Turkey? Visit the Turkey publications archive