A New Challenge for Urban Planning in Turkey – Socio-Spatial Impacts of Forced Migration

Tolga Levent

European Spatial Research and Policy, Volume 26, Issue 2 (2019)



This study describes the socio-spatial impacts of Syrian refugees on Turkish cities and suggests ways in which urban planning might address these impacts. Since 2011, more than 3.6 million Syrians refugees have settled in Turkey, the majority in cities. Syrian refugees have tended to concentrate in certain cities. The first group of cities includes İstanbul, Bursa, İzmir, and Konya—important metropolitan cities with high levels of economic activity, cultural diversity, and fewer problems related to social acceptance. In these cities, refugees as a percentage of the resident population are relatively low. The second group includes cities (including Kilis, Hatay, Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep, Mersin, Adana) located close to the Syrian border.

The author identifies four interconnected socio-spatial impacts of Syrian refugees, which pose challenges for urban planning:

  • Concentration in specific locations within a city: Most Syrian refugees have limited financial resources and so seek out residential areas with the lowest rents (typically informal housing) and within easy reach of informal jobs. In certain locations, increase in demand for housing has led to increases in housing prices and rents.
  • Increase in residential densities: In neighborhoods where Syrian refugees are concentrated, densification occurs through the use of single residential units by multiple households. This leads to inadequacy of social and technical services, insufficiency of green areas and playgrounds, and diminished quality of life.
  • Formation of new patterns of land-use: In residential areas where Syrian refugees are concentrated, residential units are being transformed into commercial units.
  • Production of symbolic boundaries difficult to permeate: In cities where Syrian refugees are concentrated, informal neighborhoods emerge with high levels of ethnic concentration. Refugees are displacing existing social groups to other parts of cities. According to the author, Syrians have limited interactions with other social groups, and so it is possible to observe “symbolic boundaries which are difficult to permeate” and a “ghettoization process”. Local communities perceive that Syrian refugees are causing increases in housing rents, unemployment and crime, and that refugees are causing public health problems and consequently decreasing the quality of life for residents.


Additionally, there are several socio-economic, cultural and political barriers that limit refugees’ integration including: language barriers; legal and administrative obstacles; reduced access to social networks; reduced knowledge of the local environmental and social context; inadequacy of skills for the urban labor market; lack of representation; and discrimination and xenophobia. Moreover, social tensions and conflicts with local communities have increased.

The author asserts that urban planning institutions have not responded to the impacts of large inflows of Syrian refugees—there have been no spatial plans or planning decisions that consider Syrian refugees. Most Syrians are not willing to return to their country, and so it is likely that the impacts and urban problems will become protracted. The author argues that under the pressure of mass migration, increasing urban resilience should be the main objective of urban planning. In particular, “the existence of self-sufficient small urban areas with a predetermined level of empty housing stock might also provide suitable living conditions for migrants. These parts might help not only to absorb a certain number of migrants but also to control urban rents. This should be reflected in urban development plans since these plans are the basic outputs of urban planning.”



Syria | Turkey