The Refugee Issue in Turkey: Recommendations and Projections

This week the question of refugees was our topic of discussion at MASA, as we elaborated on the matter given new risks associated with the post-earthquake environment. We hosted Mr. Metin Çorabatır, the head of the Center for Asylum and Migration Studies, who has spent years dealing with refugees and migration on both a practical and intellectual level. We first laid out the history of migration in modern Turkey with Mr. Çorabatır and examined the relationship between refugees, migration, and the state. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to paint a framework on the matter of Syrian migrants.

MASA is of opinion that there should be a comprehensive policy revision on the question of migrants in Turkey, a position reinforced by our discussion with Mr. Çorabatır. This novel policy must tackle efforts to integrate migrants into society, as opposed to ensuring their return through negotiations with the Assad regime, as suggested by some opposition parties. Migration should be tackled at a more comprehensive level and policy should be made with the fact that the millions of Syrian resident in Turkey are now indeed part of the country. This runs counter to the current rationale which perceives Syrians largely as a community which is destined to leave Turkey – by both decision makers and particularly the opposition to Erdoğan.

The geographical restrictions imposed by Turkey on the 1951 Geneva Convention narrows the breadth of refugee and asylum claims thus making existing legal regulations lacking in the most basic areas, necessitating policy change. While we acknowledge and applaud the “open door” policy that Turkey has largely pursued, we still argue that significant steps should be taken to improve the conditions of refugees. While making this proposal, we utilize both a moral and rational perspective, arguing that migration will benefit Turkey immensely in the long run.

We feel that anti-migrant political stances have become particularly risky.  Such discourses could indeed cause mass sociological disruptions. Provocations carried out over refugee in the earthquake-stricken regions are no longer a matter of petty politics – but rather increasingly constitute a national security issue.

The state’s basic reflex on the question of migration is to produce ad-hoc solutions on surging migration. These ad hoc solutions have become more evident, especially since the 1990s, with increasing political instability and violence in the countries neighboring Turkey in the Middle East. The authorities generally envisaged that migrants would move to to third countries or their countries of origin, allowing them to stay in Turkey temporarily.

This basic policy principle continues to guide the state’s rationale. Although Syrian migrants are not showing any indication of returning en masse, with the conditions of the civil war lasting for the last 12 years, it is obvious that strategies at the state level are still based on a return that is expected to take place. Political discourses in favor of the integration of migrants have become increasingly costly and undesirable due to trends both in Turkey and globally, exacerbating this phenomenon. Currently, although political parties in Turkey argue for different routes for the return of migrants, most political actors voice that return is still the main objective.

We feel that this objective must change. A hypothetical agreement with Assad and mass scale voluntary return does not offer a solution to this issue. A return strategy that will include millions of people is riddled with logistical impossibilities and may also expose Turkey to serious moral sanctions, as it would most likely violate the principle of “voluntary return”.

The political energy that this topic is generating should be channeled towards questions of integration and social cohesion rather than an obsessive claim of return. Rather than conceptualizing migration as a socio -political problem, it would be more meaningful for decision makers to consider the issue as a historically grounded and unchanging fact. In lieu of short-term solutions, it has become inevitable for Turkey to develop a grand strategy that covers all aspects of migration.

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