Geospatial Intelligence Report

Tracking the changes in Syrian refugee camps in Turkey

Key judgments

Turkey’s practice of weaponizing migrants as a negotiating tool with the EU has continued under Erdogan’s recent policy to block the movement of migrants, citing safety concerns with COVID-19. Erdogan has closed borders with its disputed neighbor, Greece, over EU migrant policy concerns and receiving EU funding. Turkey has kept migrants within its borders under tight sanctions and actively uses its harsh policy on migrants as a deterrent to future hopeful refugees. This report aims to present the most significant changes in Syrian refugee camps in Turkey with the use of geospatial tools. Analyzing these facilities through satellite imagery helps policymakers understand the structure of these camps, which is essential to create an effective counterterrorism strategy that includes such soft targets. For this purpose, the GoogleEarth software and its specific features were utilized as well as various secondary sources to deepen the analysis.

Tracking the changes in Syrian refugee camps in Turkey

Refugee camps in Turkey are often located in isolation far from population centers to allow for the activities of refugees to be better accommodated. The COVID-19 global pandemic has highlighted the inequalities and lack of WHO-recommended practices being employed in most camps, including but not limited to, unsanitary living conditions, close-quarter living situations, inaccessible fresh food resources, resulting in increased risk for the refugees that live there. The scope of this analysis is limited to Syrian refugee camps that are currently registered in the Southeastern regions of Turkey. Turkey has used migrants as a political chip in negotiating financial assistance from European partners and the EU. Turkey had a slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic and did not quickly implement restrictions, which resulted in sudden harsh regulations for existing refugee camps. In most instances, this did not allow refugees to have freedom of movement that they once enjoyed.


The UNHCR report of Turkey (above) lists all of the known refugee camps of which the international community knows to date. In accordance with standard practice, i.e. using Google Earth satellites to locate physical changes, and used images on Google Earth to look at camps when they were founded compared to their modern day development. Refugee camps have often been moved around Turkey due to concerns over insurgencies or scarcities of resources.

Altinözü Camp

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Altinözü Camp, shown above in 2010, was agricultural land that did not house any temporary or permanent residency of refugees. Later on however,, this camp came to house ~2,666 people, indicating that the living conditions of the refugees in this agricultural geography are confined to a relatively small living space.

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

Above, the development of the camp encroaches into neighboring farmland with temporary housing in the first image. By the second and final image (right), the housing developments appear to be a permanent settlement structure designed to house refugees for a longer, more sustainable period of time. As of July 2020, that same area is populated by temporary residencies to house the refugees fleeing persecution in other countries.

Yayladağı Camp

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Yayladağı Camp has seen a drastic reduction in its physical size since its capacity was downsized in 2017, a capacity level that remains the same in 2020. Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic urged Ankara to act quickly in creating refugee camps that were permanent facilities instead of temporary housing. In the initial photograph, the camp’s staging area was an agricultural farm center that housed no permanent or temporary buildings. At its highest capacity, the camp had permanent and temporary facilities stretching over two large land plots; this was most likely a response to the influx of refugees fleeing Syria. The refugee camps have since been downsized because of Turkey’s desire to move migrants out of the country and concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Apaydin Camp

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Apaydin Camp has seen a consistent expansion of its permanent housing facilities. Unlike the trends seen in most refugee camps amidst the global pandemic, Apaydin has expanded to house the increased population of displaced migrants within Turkey. Additionally, Turkey changed out temporary facilities with permanent ones because of the geographical locations of the camps.

Sarıçam Camp

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Sarıçam Camp has rapidly expanded due to Turkey ‘weaponizing’ migrants as a political tool to achieve goals related to EU migrant policy. Sarıçam hosts around 8,000 migrants to date. The Sarıçam camp has seen most developments play out because Turkey intends to house migrants permanently due to concerns over COVID-19, and political relations with its neighbor, Greece. Greece has called upon Turkey to house more migrants because of the Greek nation’s economic inability to support an increased population. This has brought about the weaponizing of migrants by Turkey, in order to gain concessions from the EU and Greece. Sarıçam’s temporary housing facilities have been updated with permanent housing to ensure that people would have the ability to stay in the location for an extended period.

Cevdetiye Camp

Image 1: January 17, 2011 Image 2: September 13, 2012

Image 3: September 25, 2016 Image 4: November 16, 2016

Image 5: May 17, 2018

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Cevdetiye Camp has expanded to a size of over 10,000 migrants due to Turkey’s migrant policies and COVID-19 response.This camp has become an overflow camp due to its large nature and geographic isolation. Cevdetiye is one of the largest refugee camps in Turkey and additionally houses permanent living facilities at present. The camp is located near a mountainous region in Turkey and is in a remote population center of Turkey. The development of the Cevdetiye camp indicates positive developments in the standard of living for refugees in Turkey.

Elbeyili Camp

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Elbeyili Camp has undergone some of the most drastic developments out of all the refugee camps in Turkey. Elbeyili houses mostly temporary facilities in its remote agricultural location and is distant from most significant population centers in Turkey. COVID-19 has locked down and restricted most of the freedoms refugees might have enjoyed outside of the complex, but the camp has been outfitted with regulatory measures to keep the migrants protected.

Kahramanmaraş Merkez Camps

Camp A:

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

Camp B:

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

The Merkez Camps are outfitted with modern amenities, as considered by refugee camp standards. The camps have permanent structures in order for refugees to be settled in place more comfortably and to have access to a normal lifestyle. COVID-19 measures have locked down all of the Merkez camps to their remote locations, far away from population centers and confined to agricultural settlements.[2]

Secondary sources

In the case of refugee camps, secondary sources are essential to determine the camps’ exact geographical location to better understand the living conditions of inhabitants.

While all refugee camps are registered and documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they are often challenging to locate due to their geographical position. A great example of this is the Altinözü Container Camp. Even though it is marked on the UN Agency map, its exact position is problematic to determine. A Twitter post suggests that the camp can be found around the town of Boynuyogun, and it is situated 500 meters from the Syrian border. Utilizing the measurement tool, our team was able to identify the camp 523 meters away from the Turkish-Syrian border.

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

An opinion piece published by Jakarta Globe provides a sense of living conditions in such camps. It reports that the Kahramanmaraş container city consists of two-container-high blocks, and each can accommodate five individuals.[3] Bedrooms, a kitchen, solar power, running water, TV, and a washing machine are granted for the refugees. Furthermore, small hospitals, supermarkets, schools, mosques, football pitches, and other facilities can also be found in the same camp. According to the article, every refugee is given 100 Turkish Lira monthly that corresponds to approximately 28 USD. The aforementioned football pitches can be seen in each refugee camp through satellite imagery. They are real-size courts that contribute to the wellness of both children and adults.

Source: GoogleEarth 2020

Despite all equipment, the camps remain crowded and their capacities exhausted, which does not favor one of the most emerging issues of today’s era: the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities. Moreover, the Turkish government has yet to publish any specific policy addressing how to handle the virus amongst the thousands of Syrian refugees.


Refugee camps in Turkey are often located in isolated locations far from population centers for the activities of refugees to be better accommodated. The Satellite images pointed out an increasing disparity of the amount of camps located and being maintained in Turkey, as well as necessary space and developments for existing facilities. Furthermore, secondary sources are essential to be utilized along with satellite pictures to find the exact location of the facilities and to gain a better understanding of living conditions in these camps. It is also essential to highlight a technical error in the GoogleEarth software. For the search term “Altınözü, Hatay, Turkey,” the application’s result is located somewhere in the South Pole. This misguidance makes the identification of the Altınözü Camp slow and difficult.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] Syrian Refugee Camps and Provincial Breakdown of Syrian Refugees Registered in South East Turkey, By Reliefweb, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 International License.

[2]Coronavirus Pandemic Impacts Turkey’s Approach to Displaced Syrians, Reliefweb, March 2020,

[3] Opinion: Inside Turkey's Refugee Camps, Jakarta Globe, July 2017,

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