Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Between Reception and Integration – By Zeynep Şahin-Mencütek • N. Ela Gökalp-ArasAyhan Kaya • Susan Beth Rottmann / Springer, 2023

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This open access book provides a comprehensive analysis of Turkey’s response to Syrian mass migration from 2011 to 2020. It examines internal and external dimensions of the refugee issue in relation to Middle Eastern geopolitics as well as the salience of controlling irregular migration to the European Union. The book focuses on policies and discourses developed in the fields of border management, reception, asylum and protection, and integration of refugees with an emphasis on continuities, ruptures and changes. One of its main goals is to compare differences in policy practices across provinces in order to better capture ways in which Syrian refugees claim agency, develop belonging and experience integration in the context of cultural intimacy, precarity and temporariness. By providing rich empirical evidence, this book provides a valuable resource for students and scholars in migration studies, political science, anthropology, sociology and public administration disciplines as well as policy makers, stakeholders and the general public.

Access to the book here


Just after the local elections in 2019, irregular migrants in Istanbul faced a months long crackdown. The Ministry of Interior from the Justice and Development Party
government (known as AK Party or AKP) gave Syrians until 20 August 2019 to
return to the cities in which they were first registered. Although the time period was
eventually extended, the internal controls for migrants became stricter. Migrants
found themselves frequently stopped by police, and officers visited registration
addresses to check if they were occupied. If irregularities were discovered, the official directive was that Syrians should be returned to the cities in which they were
first registered. For non-Syrian migrants without registration, the result of police
stops was often being confined to pre-detention centres. According to the Head of
the Directorate General Management of Migration (DGMM) of the time, Abdullah
Ayaz, “Operations in Istanbul target irregular migrants such as Afghans and
Pakistanis. Even if Syrians are found without registration at all, they are not
deported, unlike the claims in the media. It is not possible to issue deportation decisions legally about Syrians due to the conditions in Syria” (AA 2019).
However, lawyers and national and international human rights organizations
described the summer of 2019 as being terrible for all migrants in terms of the numbers of rushed deportations and full busses of people from Istanbul being taken to
border provinces and removal centres. There were reports of deportations of Syrians
who had been coerced into signing voluntary return forms. There is a common
belief among political commentators that the campaign in 2019 was driven by
domestic political motives and a desire to give the message that the Government is
solving the Syrian ‘refugee problem’ and maintaining ‘order and security’ in
Istanbul, where more than a million migrants live irregularly. The operation was
specific to Istanbul, raising questions about why the decision was not taken in
Ankara and other cities but instead remained a local initiative. It does not seem to
be a coincidence that it happened just after the ruling party’s loss of mayorship in the same city. A few months later, Turkey started a cross-border military operation
in Northern Syria, legitimized by the objective of repatriation and border security. It
seems that there were multiple intersecting political -both domestic and regional concerns and aims on the table at the same time, which had direct consequences for
the lives of refugees in Turkey. Not surprisingly, these and previous incidents created “a strong fear among refugees that panicked them specifically in election
times,” a humanitarian worker related. Many Syrian friends told us that they had not
left their apartments in months because they were terrified. Nevertheless, some
deportees returned to Istanbul after a few weeks, this time feeling more susceptible
to deportation, and many others tried to become less visible in public spaces.
Simultaneously, they become more vulnerable to exploitation in their informal
workplaces. Refugees’ precarious situation only worsened when COVID-19 arrived.
This incident in Istanbul in 2019 is only one among many that illustrate temporality, complexity and agency—some of main the topics of this book–within the
system of refugee governance in Turkey. Refugee governance is temporal because,
despite a long-term, flexible approach on the part of provincial authorities towards
the internal mobility of Syrians, the approach gradually changed when the political
actor(s) decided to enforce a reception rule stating that Syrians have to live where
they are first registered. The timing of the enforcement of this is strategic as it happened just after elections and just before a cross-border military operation. Once
again, it became clear that Syrians’ temporary protection status puts them in a precarious situation. The events in Istanbul in 2019 can also be seen as rather complex
because the regulations for Syrians and non-Syrians, such as Afghans and Pakistanis,
were quite different. This was clearly mentioned by the DGMM Director. The event
also illustrates the agency of migrants, regardless of their nationality or legal status,
as they looked for opportunities to re-migrate to Istanbul or found other tactics, such
as further invisibility to survive. Sadly, this situation is not a one-time occurrence
but is rather a recurring symptom of temporality and a complexity-centred approach
to refugee hosting in Turkey.
Conflict-induced forced migration has marked the last decade of flows in different parts of the world, from South Asia to Africa, and from the Middle East to
Europe. Protection, reception and integration policies, practices and humanitarian
responses to forced migration in contemporary Europe and beyond are of great concern for state actors, non-state actors, international organizations, institutions, private individual actors and people on the move. The so-called Refugee Crisis in 2015
and the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed again how refugees are vulnerable to
rapid changes due to external factors in different countries and across the world. The
vast majority of forced migrants are only able to reach neighbouring countries, such
as Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Jordan, Bangladesh, Colombia, Uganda and others.
One of these countries, Turkey, has become the main destination for forcibly
displaced Syrians from armed conflict since 2011. In 2014, Turkey became the
country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world, with more than 3.5 million Syrians. It also continues to be a country of asylum and a transit zone for irregular crossings of thousands of migrants to Europe, such as Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians
and others, who were also forced to leave their homes for political and economic reasons. The country’s response to migration, including the roles of its governance
actors, policies, politics and refugees themselves, is significant for broader regional
and global social, political, economic and cultural developments.
This book provides a comprehensive analysis of Turkey’s response to Syrian
mass migration from 2011 to 2020. It raises the question of how this receiving state
responded to the protracted refugee situation and asks: what are the implications of
its responses, and how do they change? We refer to a “refugee situation” as one in
which there is a context of confict-induced forced migration, including people displaced by crossing the national borders of their origin country without those individuals being able to claim or acquire official refugee status due to the regulations
of the host country, as in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and many other refugee hosting countries in the Global South.
In order to respond to the above questions regarding the receiving state’s response
to refugee situations, the book focuses on policies and discourses developed during
the reception, protection, and integration phases of accommodating refugees, and it
focuses on continuities, ruptures, and changes. One goal of the book is to identify
interactions and differences in responses across scales -transnational, national,
local, individual-; in other words, to examine how policies are translated into local
contexts, then how they are felt and experienced by refugees and how refugees
claim agency and develop belonging. We look for the ordering principles or mediating factors in the structuring of multilevel responses of various actors and shifts in
responses over time.
As an analytical starting point to defne a state’s response to refugee situations
and this response’s outcome, we suggest a novel abstract concept: strategic temporality. We find strategic temporality to be a useful concept to explain the complexity
of policies, practices, and experiences in governing refugee situations. Temporality
is a governance strategy that is intentionally produced to control and manage refugee situations. It has institutional, legislative and discursive components that all
shape policy instruments addressing displaced people. Temporality also helps to
describe asylum seekers’ experience of “being between” and their encounters with
locals and the state actors in the host country. We also see temporality in the interventions of local actors. We argue that strategic temporality shapes central state
actors’ treatment of the three policy fields of protracted refugee response: reception,
protection and integration. Non-state actors, including refugees, international,
national, and local actors- navigate and negotiate this temporality. The simultaneous
charting of different scales of the migration governance system tells an expansive
story of migrant journeys towards full participation in their host societies, constrained by strategic temporality. To better understand experiences at the different
scales and accordingly to further elaborate strategic temporality, we introduce three
key supporting concepts: liminality, uncertainty and complexity. Liminality refers
to the experience of finding oneself temporally or spatially in-between positions. By
uncertainty, we mean that actors lack comprehensive knowledge and predictability
about the future of the refugee situation. These actors include both policy makers
and implementors as well as civil society members, host communities and displaced
people themselves. Complexity refers to the complicated legal and institutional arrangements that emerge in response to the refugee situation on the one hand and
to entanglements of issue areas (e.g. security, economy, societal dynamics) influencing the policy and politics on the other hand. There is no hierarchy among these
supporting concepts. However, liminality is more helpful in explaining the situation
experienced by refugees, while complexity and uncertainty are useful for understanding the dynamics embedded in the structure. Four more concepts: multi-levelness, stratification, local turn and agency are discussed in detail below as further
ways to specific the governance system and the multifaceted responses on the part
of actors to strategic temporality.
Positing strategic temporality as the key encompassing characteristic of Turkey’s
response to Syrian mass migration enables us to bring more than a few theories and
arguments about refugee responses together, including multilevel governance, bordering, assemblage theory, governmentality, ethnography of migration, politics of
migration and agent-based theories. This book is particularly engaged with multilevel governance theory, which describes institutions and their relations across levels of policy. We argue that multilevel governance with a “centralist mode” and a
“local turn” ft our case, and these features are driven by this strategic temporality.
This research further develops the multilevel governance framework by zooming in
on interactions between institutions and legal and discursive structures. Moreover,
strategic temporality helps us to explain transformations over time observed in these
This book challenges the approach of taking refugee policies as a unitary field
and suggests unpacking the refugee response by dividing it into reception, protection and integration policy fields. Strategic temporality is reflected in all three areas
of governance, from the initial stage to changes in policies over time. In the case of
Turkey, reception is temporal in being mainly ad hoc in practice and discourse via
the idea of guesthood, hospitality and cultural intimacy. The temporality of protection is explicit, reflected through the adoption of temporary protection status in
legislation and co-constitutive practices causing legal precarity and stratification.
Integration also shows strategic temporality in its uncertainty and ambiguous fructuation along an integration-(dis)integration/exclusion spectrum over time.
Given that we understand Turkey’s response to Syrian refugee migration through
the lens of strategic temporality, an important question is: who or what makes this
temporality strategic? Turkey’s response is multilevel, with a centralist government
and state institutions dominating the feld but cooperating with non-state and local
actors to get support. These institutions undoubtedly have political interests linked
to the refugee issue, such as regional or international concerns in security, political
economy and foreign policy, and public policy and service provision. Thus, they act
strategically as part of the state’s refugee response legitimized within hospitality
and guesthood discourses that are embeded temporally. However, institutions are
not the sole actors, with local level actors, including refugees themselves demonstrating significant agency. Even non-state actors negotiate this strategic temporality
with centralist institutions and thereby open space for themselves to act through
subsidiarity. Refugees navigate this strategic temporality to claim belonging and to develop coping mechanisms for survival, and they often feel partially included
despite broader conditions of precarity and uncertainty.
The following section explains the concepts used to describe refugee response
mechanisms, starting with our key concept, strategic temporality. Then, we describe
our understanding of governance and how we conceive strategic temporality as a
governance strategy. We also explore how our sub-concepts of liminality and uncertainty are part of strategic temporality and how strategic temporality as a concept
addresses common findings in the broader field migration studies. The section that
follows is a discussion of complementary sub-themes, such as multi-level governance, the local turn and subsidiarity, which will help us to address the main features of governance from an institutional perspective. Here, we address three
dimensions of governance, namely institutional, legal, and discursive. We show that
the concepts of stratification and differentiation contribute to expanding the scope
of analysis by bringing in social and legal lenses. Next, we will visit the concepts of
guesthood and hospitality to explore the discursive dimension of strategic temporality. The final section of the chapter describes the role of the refugee agency within this analytical framework.

About the Authors
Zeynep Şahin-Mencütek is the Senior Researcher at the Bonn International Centre
for Confict Studies. She leads a comparative project on return and reintegration. She
is also a research affliate with the Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Migration
and Integration at Ryerson University to conduct joint research on transnational governance of migration. She held the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research
Fellowship for Experienced Researchers (June 2020-May 2021) and an international
fellowship at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg (2019-2020).
She also served as Senior Researcher for the Horizon2020 project titled
RESPOND: Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond. She
received her PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of
Southern California in 2011. Previously, she served as Assistant Professor in Turkey
and achieved the rank of Docent in the feld of International Relations in 2018. Her
research examines the governance of migration, return migration, diaspora politics and
Middle East politics. Besides her monograph, Refugee Governance, State and Politics
in the Middle East (Routledge, 2018), she has published chapters in edited volumes
and articles in internationally refereed journals, including Geopolitics, Journal of
Refugee Studies, Journal of Global Security Studies and Third World Quarterly.
N. Ela Gökalp-Aras is the Senior Researcher at the Swedish Research Institute in
Istanbul (SRII). She recently served as the Principal Investigator (PI) for the
“RESPOND: Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond
Project” Horizon2020 Project and was the co-leader of “Refugee Protection
Regimes and Comparative” and “Prescriptive Analysis” Work Packages. She has a
BA degree in International Relations from Ankara University (2000) and an MSc
(2005) and a PhD (2013) in Sociology from the Middle East Technical University
with a PhD dissertation that she analysed the EU’s irregular migration policy and its
implications in Turkey. Her research and teaching experience focuses on European
integration, EU–Turkey relations, international organisations, international migration (irregular and transit) and asylum regimes, border management, security, international human rights, research and project management. Dr Gökalp-Aras published
one co-authored book, many articles for international peer-reviewed journals, including International Migration Journal, Comparative Migration Studies and the
International Spectator, and chapters in several edited volumes, reports and policy
briefs. She is the Director of the Migration Research Centre of the Association of
Development, Migration and Social Policies (DEMIS-MIREC) and one of the editors of the International Journal of Human Mobility (IJHM).
Ayhan Kaya is Professor of Politics and Jean Monnet Chair of European Politics of
Interculturalism at the Department of International Relations, Istanbul Bilgi
University; Director of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence; and a member of the
Science Academy, Turkey. He is also ERC Advanced Grant Holder for the Project
called PRIME Youth Project. Kaya has actively participated in FP7 projects and different Horizon 2020 research projects on populism and Turkey-EU relations. He
received his PhD and MA degrees at the University of Warwick, England. Kaya was
previously a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Robert
Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, Florence, Italy, and Adjunct Lecturer at the
New York University, Florence in 2016-2017. He previously worked and taught at
the European University Viadrina as Aziz Nesin Chair in 2013 and at Malmö
University, Sweden, as the Willy Brandt Chair in 2011. He is specialised in European
identities, Euro-Turks in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Circassian
diaspora in Turkey, the construction and articulation of modern transnational identities, refugee studies in Turkey, conventional and nonconventional forms of political
participation in Turkey, and the rise of populist movements in the EU. Some of his
books are Populism and Heritage in Europe: Lost in Diversity and Unity (London:
Routledge, 2019); Turkish Origin Migrants and Their Descendants: Hyphenated
Identities in Transnational Space (London: Palgrave, 2018); Europeanization and
Tolerance in Turkey (London: Palgrave, 2013); Islam, Migration and Integration:
The Age of Securitization (London: Palgrave, 2012).
Susan Beth Rottmann is Assistant Professor at Özyeğin University with expertise in
qualitative research methods, migration, transnationalism, gender, ethnicity, religion
and politics in Europe and the Middle East. Dr Rottmann obtained her BA degree in
Comparative Religion from Cornell University in 2001, her MA degree in Anthropology
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006 and her PhD degree in Anthropology
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012. She has received several major
research grants, including a Fulbright-Hays DDRA and grants from the Social Science
Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the
American Research Institute in Turkey and the Institute of Turkish Studies. Rottmann
was the Principal Investigator of the Özyeğin University team and a co-leader of the
integration work package for the Horizon2020 project, RESPOND: Multilevel
Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond. Rottmann has published in a
wide variety of international peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of Refugee
Studies, Migration Studies and Critical Sociology. Her recent book, In Pursuit of
Belonging: Forging an Ethical Life in European-Turkish Spaces (Berghahn Books –
2019) draws on an established tradition of life story writing in anthropology to convey
the struggle to forge an ethical life as a Muslim woman in transnational space.

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