Iraqis in Turkey

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Iraqis in Turkey
Total population
50,000 to 460,000 (estimate)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Mainly Istanbul with communities in Ankara and Bodrum.
Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmen
Neo-Aramaic (incl. Mandaic)
Predominantly Islam with a significant Christianity minority (Syriac Christianity and Eastern Catholic) and a small number of Sabean-Mandaeans.
Related ethnic groups
Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, Iranians, Mizrahim, Turkmen

Iraqis in Turkey includes Turkish citizens of Iraqi origin, Iraqi-born citizens and Iraqi refugees.


Turkey experienced a large influx of Iraqis between the years of 1988 and 1991 due to both the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf war,[2] with around 50,000 to 460,000 Iraqis entering the country.[1] However, Turkey took a different approach following the 2003 invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the government took strong measures in ensuring there be no mass influx of Iraqis for the third time.[1] Thus, despite an approximate of two million Iraqis fleeing to neighbouring Syria and Jordan, only 10,000 had arrived in Turkey.[1]

Gulf War[edit]

Large movements of Kurdish refugees took place after revolts that broke out in Kurdish areas in northern Iraq during the Gulf War (August 2, 1990 – February 28, 1991) were curtailed by raids of the Iraqi military.[3]:27-28 While Iran allowed 1.3 million Kurds into its borders, Turkey attempted to block the entry of more than 450,000 Kurds who were headed its way in an attempt to flee violence, leaving them trapped in the Iraqi-Turkish mountain range.[3]:22,32 In an attempt to avoid a humanitarian crisis, a US-led force intervened in northern Iraq, establishing a security zone and a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds.[3]:29 Backed by UN Security Council resolution 688, operation Provide Comfort represented the first time the military was involved in humanitarian emergencies.[3]:30 The 450,000 Kurds were brought down from the Iraqi-Turkish mountain range into flat areas on the Iraqi side of the border near Zakho and Donuk, where the US Army set up refugee camps, handing them to be managed by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[3]:39-40 The Kurdish refugees were first protected by coalition military, and once they left, by UN guards.[3]:46 Historically, this was the only time that Iraqi refugees were in camps.[4]:117

The Kurdish issue seriously tested UNHCR’s protection mandate, as while it is obliged to protect and assist people who are outside of their own countries, the refugees camps were located inside Iraq. At the same time, UNHCR could not persuade Turkey to accept the Kurds into its area as states are obligated not to return people to situations where they might be persecuted, but they could not be forced to provide them asylum.[3]:38 UNHCR promoted voluntary repatriation,[3]:41 and by June 1991 all Kurds who stayed at the camps near Iraqi-Turkish border had returned to their towns in northern Iraq.[3]:43

2003 Iraq Invasion[edit]

In an attempt to prevent large movements of Iraqi refugees into its country resulting from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Turkish government tightened its security at its border with Iraq. As a result of Turkey’s efforts, only 6,000-10,000 Iraqi refugees made it to Turkey, of whom 5,400 were registered in 2008.[4]:99 In 2007, UNHCR had 8 national staff in Turkey.[4]:120

Profiles and locations[edit]

Iraqis are predominantly situated in Istanbul[5] and opt to seek refuge in Turkey for it is relatively easy to enter and the application for asylum are processed faster than in both Syria and Jordan.[5] The charity Caritas has urged the assistance of both Christian and Muslim Iraqis whom endure inhumane treatment in Turkey.[6] The Iraqi Assyrian community in Turkey constitute one of the largest Catholic communities in Istanbul,[2] most of whom are women.[2]

In November 2010, there were 5,235 Iraqis in Turkey registered by UNHCR. Of those, 59.7% were male, and 63.9% were between the ages of 18-59. Additionally, 49.3% originated in Baghdad, and while 47.3% arrived to Turkey in 2010, 7.8% arrived prior to 2006. While 36.4% are Arab, 28.5% are Assyrian, and 6.2% are Kurd. Finally, 41.5% of registered Iraqis in Turkey are Christian, 34.2% are Sunni, and 10.9% are Shia.[7]

In January 2011, there were 6,600 registered Iraqi refugees and 1,700 registered Iraqi asylum seekers in Turkey.[8]


Despite Turkey being Iraq's only neighbour to be a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Turkey has restricted the possibility for Iraqis, like all non-Europeans, to be issued refugee status.[1][5] Under customary Turkish law, the rights of Iraqi refugees are no different to those of a 1951 UN Convention refugee, expect that their stay is not permanent and they ought to be resettled in a third country.[1] The UNHCR aids Turkey in resettling Iraqis in third countries through deciding the cases of ones that have applied for refugee status in Turkey by applying procedural and substantive international refugee law.[1]


UNHCR views repatriation (return migration) as the best long-term solution for refugees, but it is questionable whether Iraq has the capacity to absorb a large number of returning refugees at this point in time.[4]:154 Even though there are relatively few Iraqi refugees in Turkey, there are close to five million displaced Iraqis – internally and externally.[4]:161 Prior to returning to their home countries, basic conditions are preferred to be present to ensure a successful absorption of refugees. These include law and order, basic safety, property rights, and access to essential services such as healthcare, education, water, and electricity. When large numbers of refugees are involved, state institutions should be strong and capable to adequately handle and absorb the return of such a massive scale. Presently, Iraq has not met all of the above conditions.[4]:155-162

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g The Iraqi Refugee Crisis and Turkey: a Legal Outlook
  2. ^ a b c Catholic Relief Agency Sheltering Iraqi Chaldean Refugees in Turkey
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ogata, Sadako (2005). The Turbulent Decade: Confronting the Refugee Crises of the 1990s. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Sassoon, Joseph (2009). The Iraqi Refugees. London: I.B. Tauris. 
  5. ^ a b c Flaccavento, Delizia (2010-02-13). "Far from Iraq". Bite Magazine. Archived from the original on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  6. ^ Iraqi Christians and Muslims mistreated by Turkey
  7. ^ "Statistical Report on UNHCR Registered Iraquis". UNHCR. 
  8. ^ "2011 UNHCR country operations profile - Turkey". UNHCR.