Doctoral Student Finds Syrian Refugees Fleeing to Turkey Face New Obstacles

Bradley Wilson poses with a map outlining the Syrian refugee essential needs budget.
Photo courtesy of Bradley Wilson

Bradley Wilson poses with a map outlining the Syrian refugee essential needs budget.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, nearly 3 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey for safe haven. However, research by a University of Arkansas doctoral student shows these migrants are fleeing into areas of Turkey rife with earthquake activity.

"The migration patterns, in relation to the existence of fault zones and earthquake activity, is quite striking," said Bradley Wilson, a geosciences doctoral student. "Much of the migrated refugee population is settling in areas with long histories of deadly earthquake activity."

Wilson's study site in Southeast Turkey is home to two of the deadliest earthquakes of all time and accommodates about 60 percent of the country's refugee settlement.

One of the major problems Wilson's research has unveiled is that the refugee population is not accounted for in population models used for earthquake risk assessments in the region. In response, Wilson created his own population model. He started with the most recent Turkish census and then used refugee data to manually disperse refugees throughout his study site.

When using the refugee-inclusive population scenario in earthquake casualty estimations, Wilson found 25 percent increases in fatalities in regions with high refugee populations, decreasing to zero percent in areas without significant migrated populations.

"If you have a 25 percent increase on an earthquake that's estimated to kill 4,000 people, that's potentially 1,000 extra casualties," he said. "If you're thinking about distributing aid to a region, that's a pretty significant number to be missing."

Only 10-15 percent of the refugees in Turkey live in formal camps. Wilson, who is advised by Thomas Paradise, said this is unique compared to other Middle Eastern countries. However, it presents challenges for his research.

Refugee data is only available at the province level, but since refugees are allowed freedom of movement, their precise location within their provinces of registration is unknown. Additionally, there is a lack of information about refugee housing conditions.

"Because buildings play such a disproportionately large role in earthquake casualties, where refugees are located could have a big impact on loss estimations," Wilson said.

In the larger scheme of things, Wilson said his research is just a small portion of the continued understanding of how refugees in the area might be affected and affected differently than local citizens. He also acknowledges refugees have more pressing needs than their relation to earthquakes.

"I'm not trying to diminish the more immediate needs of refugees in the region, but that shouldn't come at the expense of thinking about how they impact natural hazards. We have the ability to include them in our forecasts," he said.

Wilson's research is funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a University of Arkansas Distinguished Doctoral Fellowship.

Wilson won the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Three Minute Thesis competition and will compete in the university-wide Three Minute Thesis final at 2:30 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 10 in Plant Sciences 009. The event serves as the capstone to the university's Graduate Education Week.

Contacts

Amanda Cantu, director of communications
Graduate School and International Education
479-575-5809, amandcan@uark.edu

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