Refugees in Turkey are pushed into ghettoization in absence of integration policies

Photo: Afghan and Pakistani refugees waiting for daily work in Istanbul, Turkey.

The majority of Turkish society is resisting accommodating refugees, and migration policies are ineffective in integration, which is pushing refugees into ghettoization and causing social division, according to Professor Murat Erdoğan of the Turkish-German University Center for Migration and Integration.

Speaking before the Turkish parliament’s Migration and Integration Committee, Professor Erdoğan said although Turkey was accepting a large number of refugees, the country lacked a comprehensive policy for establishing integration and social cohesion. The problem has become more pronounced as the number of Syrian refugees entering Turkey has grown to 4 million since 2011.

Erdoğan advised that Turkey needed to revise its migration and border policies keeping in mind that arriving refugees are concentrating in specific cities and neighborhoods. “This means that half the city does not know they exist, while the other half is irritated by the large numbers of refugees in their neighborhoods,” he said.

He noted that local administrations had a great deal of responsibility for handling such ghettoization. “Refugees are a sociological fact in Turkey, and even if the war in Syria ends they will not return, so we need to implement effective policies to accommodate refugees,” Erdoğan said.

He stressed that Turkey’s borders were porous, resulting in a great deal of irregular migration. “Yes, there is an ongoing war in Syria, but we also see a lot of migrants coming from other countries, especially from the Iranian border. We cannot allow such a free pass into Turkey without thinking about integration.”

He added that most refugees were left to take care of themselves without any proper guidance: “We need to use the potential these people have to offer. Most Turks are ‘othering’ Syrians, and this is causing irreversible damage. We cannot allow refugees to be excluded from the labor market.”

Professor Erdoğan pointed out that even in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), 80 percent were against granting refugees political rights or work permits, arguing that refugees have become a “burden” to the country.

An estimated 3.6 million refugees have been granted temporary protection in Turkey. The majority of them live outside camps, in precarious and challenging circumstances.

The Turkish Red Crescent conducted a survey in 2018 which showed that most Syrian refugees were employed in irregular jobs that came with low wages as well as poor working conditions and exploitation. According to the survey this was especially true concerning female and child workers.

The increasing social tension has also been reflected in how refugees, and especially Syrian refugees, have been represented in the Turkish media.

According to the “Hate Speech and Discriminatory Discourse in Media 2019 Report,” published by the Hrant Dink Foundation, Syrian refugees in Turkey were the second most targeted group in the Turkish media, with 760 hate speech items. According to the report they were systematically coded as criminals, murderers and thieves who posed imminent security problems including terrorism. Syrians were also represented in the media as the reason for the current adverse economic situation in Turkey and rising unemployment numbers.

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