Author: RESPOND Team (Page 1 of 2)

Spotlight on RESPOND-ers: Ursula Reeger and Ivan Josipovic

By Ivan Josipovic (Austrian Academy of Sciences) and Ursula Reeger (Austrian Academy of Sciences).

The Austrian team of the RESPOND project is located at the Institute for Urban and Regional Research (ISR)[1] of the Austrian Academy of Sciences[2]. In this blog entry, we intend to tell a little bit more about the institution and its tasks and aims, the persons involved in the project, and how RESPOND evolved from our point of view. To start with the latter, our RESPOND journey started in May 2016 when Ursula was asked whether she was interested in a collaboration in the Horizon 2020 call “Europe and the global challenge of migration”. For the rest of the year, she was active in working on selected parts of the application and in December 2016, she took part in a working meeting in Stockholm, where she met some members of the future consortium for the first time. After the consortium received excellent evaluation results and full funding for RESPOND, Ursula as the PI in Austria made a lot of interviews with potential candidates and finally decided to ask Ivan Josipovic to join her in the Austrian part of the project. Ivan started to work at the ISR in January 2018.

What are the main tasks of ISR?

The ISR is the only spatial science oriented non-university research institute in Austria. It is first and foremost engaged in the analysis of structures and the dynamics of modern society in urban and regional contexts, analysing population and society in their natural, built and social environment. The ISR emphasises the multi-perspective and transdisciplinary approach to research which is also reflected in the various scientific backgrounds of its researchers. ISR places societal problems at the heart of the analysis. Our spatial focus lies specifically on Vienna, Austria and Europe, however, the comparative element beyond national boundaries is important.

Since 2016, our research projects are oriented along two research groups “Urban Transformation” and “Innovation and Urban Economies”. Ursula and Ivan are part of the first research group which focusses on urban and more and more also regional change due to immigration. The research group brings together interdisciplinary (geographical, sociological, anthropological, political) expertise in urban research and a strong emphasis on diversity analysis, local integration analysis, urban housing market matters and studies on interethnic relations, social cohesion and migrant entrepreneurship.

Ursula Reeger

Ursula started to work at the ISR in 1989 right after she had finished her studies in Geography with an emphasis in Spatial Research and Regional Planning at the University of Vienna. She received her PhD in Geography in 1999 with her thesis focussing on xenophobia in Vienna and its determinants. Her research interests include international migration and its impacts on cities, integration of migrants on the labour market and the housing market, interethnic relations on the local level and the governance of migration and integration. While conducting a lot of smaller projects focussing on migrants in Vienna together with her colleague Josef Kohlbacher, Ursula has also been part of international projects funded mostly by the EU during the past 15 years. Her membership in the IMISCOE network[3] from its very beginning in 2004 gave her the opportunity for networking on the European level and for being part of such international research endeavours. The most important ones are

  • IDEA[4] “Mediterranean and Eastern European countries as new immigration destinations in the European Union”, led by CMR at Warsaw University (FP 6, project duration 2007-2009),
  • GEITONIES “Generating interethnic tolerance and neighbourhood integration in European urban spaces”, led by the Geographical Institute of the Lisbon University (FP 7, project duration 2008-2011) and
  • IMAGINATION[5] “Urban implications and governance of CEE migration in Europe”, led by Erasmus University Rotterdam (JPI Urban Europe, project duration 2013-2016).

She has published on the mentioned topics in a wide range of journals and in edited books.

Ivan Josipovic

Ivan had just finished his master’s thesis when he joined Ursula at the ISR to work on RESPOND earlier this year. With a background in Political Science and Socioeconomics he has already gathered experience studying migration and European integration. His master’s thesis focused on the European border regime and different forms of sovereignty underlying certain rationales of border policies. The RESPOND project allows him to further dig into these and other migration related matters through empirical research. In Austria, the project has already entered the phase of fieldwork with joint efforts to collect data through interviews with important stakeholders but also beneficiaries of asylum and asylum-seekers.  Besides that Ivan is developing a research proposal for his dissertation.






A Field Trip to North Evros

By Lena Karamanidou (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Bernd Kasparek (Georg-August Universität Göttingen).


On our way from Orestiada to Alexandroupoli – the two largest urban centres in the border region of Evros, Greece – a young migrant, holding some Euro notes in his hand, tried to board the public bus we were travelling on. The conductor refused him: ‘Police. Papers. Then travel!’, he said in English. He acted within the confines of the European and Greek law: providing transport to an undocumented migrant is considered facilitation – helping a person with no legal status to enter or transit through a country – and carries heavy fines.

The previous day, one of our respondents told us that when migrants try to make their way towards the cities of Thessaloniki or Athens after leaving the Fylakio Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) or are released from detention, most have to pay their own fares. Previously, EU funding for Greece went through the UNHCR, and the UNHCR would use the funds to provide transportation to Thessaloniki. But since the funding is now going through the Greek state, no more transport is provided. Yet, as migrants normally cannot prove they are in Greece legally, they might be apprehended by the police on the way inland, re-arrested or just removed from the bus. Then they have to pay fares again.

This incident – however undramatic compared to other developments in Evros – encapsulated the interconnected nature of the European border management framework and domestic controls, and their failures. It also pointed to how actors on the ground can affect its implementation. The conductor did not call the police – at least not while we were on the bus.

The region of Evros. © OpenStreetMap contributors

Our visit to Evros – the north-eastern area of Greece that forms the only land border with Turkey, most of which is constituted by the river Evros (Maritza in Bulgarian, Meriç in Turkish) – happened almost by chance. We were invited to a workshop in Istanbul and given the proximity of the two locations, a four to five-hour coach trip away, we decided to seize the opportunity and conduct fieldwork. We had recently finished the project report on EU Border management and migration control, and Evros provided an opportunity to study in situ if and how the EU legal regime works in practice, and our interest in the country and the area is long-standing. We have both researched the impact of European legal and policy frameworks on migration and asylum policies in Greece for more than a decade. We both conducted fieldwork in Evros in 2010 and 2011, around the time of the deployment of the Rapid Border Intervention Team (RABIT) by the European Border Agency Frontex in the winter of 2010/11.

Seeing how border management and protection practices have changed since then was of great interest, given the numerous developments at the EU and domestic level. The deployment of the RABIT force, and the continuing involvement of Frontex in border surveillance and management activities – identification, nationality determination and interviewing migrants arriving at Evros. New structures such as the Regional Centres for Integrated Border and Migration Management – with two regional offices in Orestiada and Alexandroupoli – were created to facilitate the implementation of EU border management policies and the cooperation between EU agencies and Greek authorities. The Europeanisation of border management and the cooperation of the Hellenic security agencies and Frontex, according to our Hellenic Police respondents, improved professional practices – such as in nationality determination, screening and debriefing, undertaking risk analysis.

The detention centre in Fylakio, 2010. The later added containers are not in place yet. © wikimedia user:ggia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Europeanised border management practices were also supported by the reform of Greek asylum and reception systems. Fylakio, near Orestiada, was the first First Reception Centre – renamed into Reception and Identification Centre since the 2016 law introduced in response to the EU-Turkey statement – to be established in 2013. Before 2013, it existed as a detention centre for migrants, and has since been expanded by the ubiquitous container architecture characteristic of today’s migration management. While reception points to humanitarian procedures such medical screening, psychological support and vulnerability assessments, activities in Fylakio were also extended to border management activities, consisting of the identification, determination of nationality and fingerprinting of migrants arriving at Evros. While the RIC is based in the containers, the old concrete structure continues to serve as a pre-departure detention centre (PROKEKA) to facilitate detention and the implementation of Greek and EU return policies.

A view of the main square of Orestiada. Photo: Bernd Kasparek

So what has changed in Evros?

Since 2017, crossings through the Evros border have doubled. There were 5,677 arrests of third country nationals in 2017. By the end of September 2018, there were about 12,442 based on the information given to us by the police directorates in Alexandroupoli and Orestiada. The increase in arrivals is partly explained by the rise in the number of Turkish nationals crossing into Greece, in all likelihood fleeing an increasingly oppressive Turkish post-coup regime. There was a peak of arrivals in April and May, but the trend of increased arrivals continues. Interestingly, the number of arrests and detections are at the 2010 levels that triggered the RABIT deployment.

It’s difficult to point to one reason for the increased use of the Evros route. One explanation given by the police related to the low water levels of the Evros river, making crossing easier and safer. But there are many other factors: most importantly, the collapse of cooperation between the Greek and Turkish authorities since 2016. While the Turkish coup was a factor, the arrest of two found without authorisation in Turkish territory marked yet another turning point. According to our respondents, this affected communication between border control authorities and cooperation on returns, which all but broke down. The exclusion of Evros from the EU-Turkey statement and hotspot arrangements is also significant: it makes it a better route for avoiding return to Turkey.

Little attention has been paid to these shifts, as the public focus remains on the Greek islands, the hotspots there, and the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement. However, there is a lot of concern locally. Some of the concerns raised by local residents touched on ‘qualitative’‹ changes: that the migrants arriving are not only Syrian refugees or families, but also other nationalities, single men and ‘criminal elements’ – the latter reflecting hostile representations of migrants in local and national media, but also long-term public discourses criminalising and securitising migration in Greece. There were concerns that a potential military intervention in Idlib, Syria would exacerbate the situation in Evros, while increasing economic and political instability in Turkey might have an impact on movements in the area. Evros, it was said in a dramatic fashion, ‘will blow up’.

Orestiada is located in proximity to both Bulgaria and Turkey. Photo: Bernd Kasparek

A Europeanised border regime?

In a sense, our visit in Evros was a case of déjà vu: some of the deficiencies is asylum and reception widely reported in 2010-2011 still persist. Despite the establishment of the Hellenic Asylum Service in 2013, a local regional office in Alexandroupoli and a mobile asylum unit within Fylakio, the examination of applications is lagging behind. The use of short term contracts for staffing asylum services – a side-effect of the country’s austerity crisis and difficulties in absorbing EU funding – was identified as a significant factor. The reception conditions in Fylakio are reported to be still lower than European standards of reception and detention. There was no doctor in the RIC for nine months and there are shortages in interpretation services. Conditions at the pre-departure detention centre are worse, with insufficient heating, sewage problems and the presence of stray dogs being mentioned both by our respondents and in media accounts. Due to the limited capacity in the RIC, the PROKEKA facility is used as an additional space  for screening procedures. This in itself points to different functions than those envisaged in the context of the EU border management regime – facilitating return. The strict separation of concerns which is part and parcel of all EU border and migration management strategems clearly breaks down on the ground.

The Europeanised border control regime also co-exists with a national legal and policy framework for controlling migration. According to Law 3386/2005, unauthorised entry is a criminal offence. Migrants entering Greece in an unauthorised manner are arrested and detained in border police stations, while the police obtain from the local administrative court an order that allows them to refrain from criminal proceedings. This order is normally issued within 48 hours. Only following this, migrants are directed to the Fylakio RIC if they are of a nationality considered to be of ‘refugee profile’ – with a recognition rate of over 75% in the EU. If they are not, they are detained, but then released, since the collapse of Greek-Turkish cooperation has affected the implementation of the Bilateral Readmission Agreement. Since 2014, Operation ASPIDA (Shield) diverted resources to Evros in order to enhance the border control capacities of the Hellenic Police, aiming at the deterrence (apotropi was the word used by one of our police respondents) of migration movements across the border. Some controls seem to have a local flavour. The hotel where we stayed, we were told, keeps two books for recording their guests: one for the hotel itself, and one for the police, who come and check who is staying there every night.

The new highway leading to the border crossing of Kipoi/Ipsala. Photo: Bernd Kasparek

However, the most disturbing practice we heard about was illegal pushbacks. Pushbacks – returning migrants to Turkey and across the Evros river in contravention to both the non-refoulement clause of the Geneva Convention and EU law – have been widely recorded by NGOs in the late 2000s and early 2010s. In 2017 and 2018 Greek and European NGOs documented illegal pushbacks across the Evros river. Based on the information we obtained, this practice continues. According to our informants, after detention in border police stations, migrants are put in vans, taken back to the border, put into boats and led back to Turkey. These accounts reflected testimonies compiled previously by Greek NGOs. While they seem to be conducted by Hellenic Police and Army personnel, it was also indicated to us that Frontex may be involved in this practice, or at least knows and tolerates it. However, we were not able to independently corroborate this.

The practice of pushbacks is both illegal and inhumane: it endangers people’s lives and prevents them from reaching the protection regime of the European Union. Local people defending migrants’ rights pointed to the lack of media interest, domestic or global. Unlike the incident of the three murdered women which occurred while we were in Orestiada, the pushbacks do not seem newsworthy. They are difficult to record or investigate: they take place in secret, at night, with small groups of migrants each time. Yet, the Europeanised border regime fails to account for localised border practices that violate the human rights norms it purports to respect.

Poland – Legal and Policy Framework of Migration Governance (a brief summary/few remarks)

By Monika Szulecka (Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw), Marta Pachocka (Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw) and Karolina Sobczak-Szelc (Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw)

The development of Poland’s migration and asylum policies and laws date back to 1989 when political and socio-economic transformations began. At this time, the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) experienced important changes, ranging from the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) and the establishment of new states and governments to the economic development and progressive integration of some post-communist states within Western Europe. The geopolitical changes in the region brought an ‘opening’ of borders in Poland. Waiving restrictions in passport policy contributed to increasing mobility both from and to Poland. Importantly, Poland as a country between the East and the West also became a transit country for economic migrants and asylum seekers. The attractiveness of Poland as a country of destination increased along with its accession to the European Union and joining the Schengen zone. And, the EU accession contributed significantly to the outflow of Polish nationals to the EU labour markets. At the same time, however, it also influenced the development of migration policies and laws, which became necessary not only to react to observed phenomena (a reactive policy characterised the 1990s in particular), but also to manage external migration to be the most profitable to the country and its economy while attracting desirable migrant workers to the Polish labour market.

The history of asylum seekers and refugees in Poland is strictly determined by the region of origin of foreigners seeking protection in Poland. For more than two decades, foreigners applying for a refugee status at the Polish-Belarusian border (usually at railway BCP in Brest/Terespol) have been mostly from the Caucasus region (formally Russian territory). The migration and refugee crisis experienced by Europe in 2015 and in the following years did not influence the demographics of arriving migrants and asylum seekers in Poland. These were rather conflicts or political and economic disturbances in countries to the east of Poland that shaped the demographics of asylum seekers and foreigners granted international protection. The consequences of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ or problems encountered by countries in the Middle East were to some extent reflected in Poland’s experiences of admitting asylum seekers. One example is the very high rate of recognition of applications for international protection submitted by citizens of Syria. However, asylum proceedings linked to inflows from the Middle East did not dominate in terms of the overall administration of asylum applications submitted in Poland.

Since 2015, new intensive debates about possible solutions to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ have prompted Polish policy-makers to introduce reforms to both international protection and immigration law. With arguments pointing to the need of avoiding problems with admitting asylum seekers and conflicts related to differences in culture and religion, the new Polish government of October 2015 has been refusing to implement both relocation and resettlement schemes proposed by the European Commission within the framework of the European Agenda on Migration (EAM) issued in May 2015. Instead, it emphasises the involvement of the Polish government in offering help in the regions of origin (and considers this kind of assistance to be the most effective solution). The government has also been working on legal amendments aimed at accelerating asylum proceedings in circumstances when there has been a potential misuse of asylum procedures, such as cases in which the foreigner’s intention was to get into Poland in order to enjoy the possibility of moving freely, although not always lawfully, to countries perceived as more attractive and more supportive for asylum seekers. The direction of proposed changes in law reflects the emphasis placed on internal state security, whereas the developments observed since late 2015 have raised concerns about respect for human rights, particularly in cases of arbitrarily denied or restricted access to asylum procedure and push-backs of potential applicants.

This text is based on the report entitled “Poland – Country Report: Legal and Policy Framework of Migration Governance” (M. Szulecka, M. Pachocka, K. Sobczak-Szelc, Global Migration: Consequences and Responses – Working Paper Series, 14 September 2018, p. 65–66) therefore in order to better understand the socio-economic, political, legal, institutional and policy context of migration governance in Poland, we encourage you to read our full publication which is available within the framework of RESPOND’s Working Paper Series Global Migration: Consequences and Responses. 

Governing Migration in Italy: The Legal and Policy Framework (and Its Pitfalls)

By Veronica Federico (University of Florence), Silvia D’Amato (University of Florence), Andrea Terlizzi (University of Florence) and Paola Pannia (University of Florence).

In the last few decades, Italy — traditionally an emigration country — has gradually turned (also) into an immigration country. Since 2014, Italy is receiving the highest number of non-EU citizens looking for international protection and economic opportunities in its history. Following a first peak in 2011, when 62.692 people arrived in Italy by sea, migration flows have decreased in 2012 and then increased again to reach a new peak in 2016, when 181.436 non-EU citizens landed on Italian shores. In 2016, 34.3% of residence permits were issued on grounds of international protection (asylum and subsidiary protection that in Italy are not differentiated and grant refugees the same status) and humanitarian protection (the national form of temporary protection for people that do not comply with the Geneva conventions’ criteria but are still in need of protection). The share was 11.8 % in 2011. Though the number of international/humanitarian protection permits has increased, between 2011 and 2016, residence permits issued for family reasons have always constituted the majority (around 40% of total permits each year). By contrast, permits released on grounds of employment reasons have been constantly decreasing (from 34.4 of total permits in 2011 to 5.6% in 2016).

The Italian Constitution provides few rules directly addressing asylum, migration and the legal status of foreigners. Article 10 affirms that “the legal status of foreigners is regulated by law in conformity with international provisions and treaties”, and that “a foreigner who, in his home country, is denied the actual exercise of the democratic freedoms guaranteed by the Italian constitution shall be entitled to the right of asylum”. Furthermore, other constitutional provisions contribute to enhancing the national standards of foreigners’ rights. For example, article 2 “recognises and guarantees the inviolable rights of the person” (establishing the so-called “personalist principle”), and article 3 establishes the equality clause, affirming that “all citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions”. International conventions and jurisprudence, especially the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the equality clause and the personalist principle have frequently been invoked by the Italian Constitutional Court, as well as ordinary judges, to secure the fundamental rights of foreigners. Indeed, the judiciary has played a crucial role in promoting, extending and guaranteeing foreigners’ legal entitlements.

In the past several decades, the national policy on migration has been lacking in organic, coherent and effective instruments of planning and management. The Consolidated Law on Immigration (that is the framework legislation in this policy domain) dates back to 1998, and it provides the fundamental principles on foreigners’ legal status and a number of detailed regulations (such as the normative provisions concerning entry and stay). However, it fails to provide a solid and thorough basis for the regulation of asylum and migration. Indeed, asylum regulation relies on a number of legislative decrees transposing EU Directives, while an organic and comprehensive law has not been enacted yet. Moreover, responsibility for asylum and migration management does not belong to one single governmental body, as it is scattered among different institutional entities emanating from different levels of government (national, regional and municipal), and it also involves the third sector.

Toward undocumented migrants there has been a sort of “schizophrenic” attitude, so that political narratives of harsh repression against illegal migrants have been cohabiting with the recognition of basic welfare rights to undocumented migrants and with a series of “regularization acts”.

In order to limit and restrain migrant landings on its coasts, Italy signed a number of acts of international cooperation with several countries, such as Tunisia, Sudan and Libya, which agreed to prevent migrants from reaching the Italian territory, in a sort of “externalization of borders control”.

Following the launch of the hotspot approach by the European Commission in May 2015, in its European Agenda on Migration, and according to the September 2015 Council’s Decisions n. 2015/1523 and 2015/1601, five of them have been opened in Italy (Lampedusa, Messina, Pozzallo, Taranto, Trapani –the one in Trapani has been closed in march 2018 and the Lampedusa one is partially working). Hotspots, originally conceived as operational support to the relocation process, have soon turned into hubs where policies of migration control are enforced, confirming the securization wave in migration legislation, where the need to contrast the irregular migration and to guarantee the public security has been translated into restrictive measures on expulsion and detention.

Very recently (4 October 2018) the Ministry of Interior issued a law decree (which has to be converted into an Act of Parliament in 60 days or it will become null and void) on “Special temporary permits, international protection and immigration”. The decree aims at narrowing access to the national measure of temporary protection, the so called humanitarian protection, reducing the typology of cases it can be applied for [it is worth noting that this is the status into which the large majority of people in need of protection falls – in 2017, 59% of the applications ended up in a refusal, 16% in asylum and subsidiary protection, 25% in humanitarian protection]; at reserving the SPRAR protection and integration system (the system of protection and integration carried out at local level) to refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary and humanitarian protection only, whereas up until today also asylum seekers benefited from this successful mechanism of migration governance; at extending the period of permanence in the Centres for repatriation from 90 to 180 days (and in case they are overcrowded in special “border centres”); at referring the asylum seeker eventually convicted of a serious crime to the authority responsible for determining the status of  refugee (Territorial Commission), which should immediately audit the applicant and take a decision on his/her asylum application. Moreover, the decree also includes the provision of citizenship revocation in the case of major criminal offences relating to terrorism.

Introducing RESPOND’s Working Paper Series – Global Migration: Consequences and Responses

This Working Paper Series features the work of RESPOND researchers and is open to all scholars working on related topics.

The first set of papers analyze the socio-economic, political, legal and institutional context of migration governance in Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the European Union as a whole. The papers are an incredible resource for scholars applying a comparative legal framework or for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of migration policy in Europe.

Click this link to access the papers.

To submit a paper for consideration for inclusion in the series, send an e-mail to: or

RESPOND in Turkey: Reflections on Migrant Framing, Fieldwork and Hope

Discursive Frames of Aliens in Turkey: “Migrants”, “Guests”, and “Foreigners”

By Ayhan Kaya (Istanbul Bilgi University, European Institute).

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

The current state of Syrians residing in Turkey is mainly constrained by the ways in which the Turkish state actors have so far framed them. What I see is that growing societal tensions at local level in different parts of Turkey, be it big metropolitan cities like Istanbul, or the neigbouring cities in the Syrian border like Şanlıurfa, partly originate from the state of temporariness, which was instituted and reinforced by the religious rhetoric of Ansar spirit. In this short intervention, I want to discuss how the outsiders have been framed by the official texts and state actors in Turkey in relation to their ethno-cultural and religious identities.

The reception of Syrian refugees in Turkey is mainly based on a discourse of tolerance and benevolence driven from path-dependent ethno-cultural and religious premises dating back to the Ottoman Empire of the late 19th century as well as to the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1920s. The vocabulary, which has been used to identify the Syrian refugees, represents a kind of continuity with regards to the naming of “migrants”, “guests”, and “foreigners” since the early days of the Republic. For instance, the Law on Settlement (İskân Kanunu in Turkish, 1934) is one of the foundational legal texts defining the ways in which the Turkish state has identified the newcomers. The Law on Settlement was adopted in regards with the arrival of ethnic Turks in the early years of Republic. The Settlement Law (Law No. 2510 of 1934), provides that only migrants of Turkish culture, with an objective of settling in Turkey, can obtain immigrant status (Art. 3), and that those of non-Turkish origin will not be accepted as immigrants in Turkey (Art. 4). This Law has been reformed in 2006 but its main understanding of who can be an immigrant has not been substantially altered.

Moreover, it continued to be the main legislative text dealing with immigration, and it determines who can enter, settle and/or apply for refugee status in Turkey. However, it also provides the individuals of Turkish descent and culture with the opportunity to be accepted as “immigrants” and refugees in Turkey (İçduygu, 2015b). For instance, Uzbeks, Turkomans, Bulgarian-Muslims and Uighurs migrating to Turkey from different parts of the world are named as “migrants” (göçmen in Turkish) in the official documents as well as in everyday life as they are ethnically of Turkish descent. In this regard, there are two other terms which need to be elaborated further: “guest” (misafir) and “foreigner” (yabancı).

Photograph of the Avcılar district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

In the official literature, the term “guest” has been hitherto used to refer to the refugees with Muslim origin but without Turkish ethnic origin coming from outside the European continent. Kurdish refugees in 2000s and Syrian refugees in 2010s were named as “guests” since Turkey officially does not accept refugees coming from outside its western boundaries. Bosniac and Kosovar refugees seeking refuge in Turkey in 1990s set up an exception as they were coming from the western borders of Turkey, and had the right to apply for asylum in Turkey according to the geographical limitation clause Turkey decided to keep together with Congo, Madagascar, Monaco in the 1967 Additional Protocol of Geneva Convention on protection of refugees removing the geographical limitations.

The term “foreigner” is often used in the official texts as well as in public to refer to those who are not neither Turkish nor Muslim. These groups are not also able to be incorporated into the prescribed national identity, which is mainly based on what I call the holy trinity of Sunni-Muslim-Turkish elements. Accordingly, not only the non-Muslims coming from abroad but also autochthonous groups such as Greeks and Armenians are named as “foreigners”, or “local foreigners” in legal texts.

To this extent, a more recent metaphor to qualify the role that the Turkish state and the pious Muslim-Turks should play for Syrians in Turkey has been the Ansar spirit (Arabic for helpers). As a metaphor, Ansar refers to the people of Medina, who supported the Prophet Mohammad and the accompanying Muslims (muhajirun, or migrants) who migrated there from Mecca, which was under the control of the pagans. The metaphor of Ansar originally points at a temporary situation as the Muslims later returned to Mecca after their forces recaptured the city from the pagans. Hence, the Turkish government has used a kind of Islamic symbolism to legitimize its acts on the resolution of the Syrian refugee crisis. The government leaders have consistently compared Turkey’s role in assisting the Syrian refugees to that of the Ansar, referring to the Medinans who helped Muhammad and his entourage. Framing the Syrian refugees within the discourse of Ansar and Muhajirun has elevated public and private efforts to accommodate Syrian refugees from a humanitarian responsibility to a religious and charity based duty.

Then the PM Ahmet Davutoğlu, in his speech in Gaziantep, one of the most popular destinations for the Syrian refugees in the Syrian border, publicly stated that the inhabitants of Gaziantep are a city of Ansar: “Gazi[antep] is an Ansar city now. God, bless you all.”[1] Similarly, President Erdoğan used the same discourse in his speeches in 2014 and afterwards: “In our culture, in our civilization, guest means honour, and blessing. You [Syrian guests] have granted us the honour of being Ansar, but also brought us joy and blessing. As for today, we have more than 1,5 million Syrian and Iraqi guests.”[2]

The discourse of Ansar has continued until recently, Deputy PM, Numan Kurtulmuş, referred to the same rhetoric when he introduced the right to work granted to the Syrian refugees under temporary protection: “The reason why the Syrian refugees are now settled in our country is hospitality and Ansar spirit that our nation has so far adhered to. There are other countries that cannot do anything when encountered with a few hundred thousands of refugees. But contrary to what the rich and prosperous countries could not do for the refugees, our country did its best for the refugees as a generous host, friend, brother and neighbour.”[3]

The main common denominator of the ruling political elite is that the Syrian refugees are being portrayed and framed by means of an act of benevolence. Hence, the assistance of the state to the refugees is accomplished based on charity, rather than universally recognized rights that are supposed to be granted to refugees fleeing their homelands. But the problem is that Turkey is far from naming the Syrian refugees as “refugees”. Therefore, the state actors tend to cope with the issue not through universal law, but through the laws of religious charity and benevolence. Such as religious-based discourse with regards to the reception of Syrian refugees in Turkey was also embraced by the bureaucrats working in the migration sector.

[1] Akşam, 28 December 2014, accessed on 7 June 2017.

[2] Hurriyet, 8 October 2014, accessed on 7 June 2017.

[3] Ajans Haber, 11 January 2016,, accessed on 8 June 2017.

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

Passages of Hope…Notes from the field

By Aslı Aydın (Istanbul Bilgi University)

BİLGİ Team conducted the micro level interviews in the European continent of Istanbul from the end of July to the mid-August 2018. In the fieldwork, under the supervision of Professor Ayhan Kaya, we conducted 20 interviews from different regions in Arabic with the assistance of a native Arabic speaker Ahmed Fahmy, a student from Lund University, Sweden.

Photograph of the Avcılar district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

We contacted our Syrian interlocutors through some civil society organizations. The Refugee Center of Şişli Municipality, Mavi Kalem Social Aid and Solidarity Association, SGDD-ASAM, Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migration, and Qnushyo Syrian Culture Center in İstanbul, which is the Advice Hub of the RESPOND Project, have been very helpful in finding our interlocutors. We are grateful for their support. They were all very supportive throughout the process.

Photograph of the Avcılar district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

The interviews were mostly conducted in the headquarters of these civil society organizations where our interlocutors were already very familiar with and felt very comfortable. We also visited some of the interlocutors at their homes and had the chance to meet their families. In every home we were welcomed and in every visit we were served Syrian Coffee. The interviews lasted approximately one or one and a half hour each. I conducted the interviews together with Ahmed, our Arabic translator. I must admit that the men we interviewed were very shy unlike the women, and they mostly avoided eye contact.

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

We had the opportunity to meet many refugees with different stories. We are so thankful to them for letting us in their everyday life and for sharing their experiences with us. There were hard moments sometimes, especially when they were telling us about their experiences of crossing the border. This was one of the most sensitive moments in their journeys. Some of them crossed the border easily, some of them faced difficulties, and some could make it to Turkey with their families, but some others could not.

Photograph of the Balat district, home to many Istanbul migrants. Credit: Asli Aydin (2018)

It was observed that the interlocutors whom we contacted through Şişli Municipality were more vulnerable in contrast to the others whom we contacted through the NGOs. Şişli is in the very centre of the city, run by mayor from the liberal-minded social democratic Republican People’s Party. Refugees who are involved in social and cultural activities tended to be more comfortable with the questions and feel self-confident during the interviews. Although they also had traumatic experiences, they all try to cope with the difficulties of adopting a new life in İstanbul – a city that offers a lot, but also takes a lot, from everyone. The fieldwork experiences have reminded us of once again, how crucial it is to have hope, no matter what you have experienced.

The UK’s ailing asylum seeker dispersal policy: Where to from here?

By Catherine Hirst (University of Cambridge) and Naures Atto (University of Cambridge).

Glasgow – the local authority which houses the most asylum seekers in the UK.[1]

The Policy

There has been much criticism of the UK’s asylum seeker dispersal policy. Introduced as part of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the objective of the policy is to redistribute asylum seekers receiving state support around the UK to prevent their concentration in the south-east of England. Local authorities choose whether they will allow asylum seekers to be housed in accommodation in their area, with only 121 local authorities out of 453 participating in the scheme as at September 2016.[2] For those local authorities that do participate, there is a Home Office-mandated limit of one asylum seeker per 200 people, although this has in some cases been exceeded, for example in Glasgow.[3]  Since 2012, the provision of asylum seeker housing has been sub-contracted by the Home Office to three private sector providers, who then must liaise with participating local authorities about suitable housing options. These contracts will be replaced in 2019, and are currently out for tender. Even if a local authority has given permission for asylum seekers to live within their boundaries, they can still refuse permission for a specific property to be used when approached by one of the three private service providers.[4]

The Problems

Multiple problems with the policy have been identified. First, asylum seekers are being housed in the poorest parts of the UK, such as in Glasgow, Northern England and in Wales. According to analysis conducted by the Guardian, 57% of asylums seekers are accommodated in the poorest third of the UK, while only 10% are placed in the richest third.[5] Some councils are doing far more than others, with 35.5% of all asylum seekers housed in 10 local authority areas. Six of these are in the poorest 25% of the UK.[6] This is particularly problematic as local authorities are responsible for the provision of services such as education and basic health care to asylum seekers, however they do not receive any additional funding from Westminster.[7] This puts additional strain on already disadvantaged areas. The reason for the concentration of asylum seeker housing in poorer areas is in part due to wealthier councils not volunteering to participate in the scheme, even when they have suitable accommodation available.[8] It is also because the three private sector sub-contractors are incentivised to source cheaper accommodation (in poorer parts of the UK) in order to keep costs down. This has become a particular issue given that two of the three companies have been running at a loss on their Home Office contracts.[9]

A second problem with the system has been an undersupply of housing for asylum seekers. The Home Office contracts with the three providers have not been sensitive enough to fluctuations in asylum seeker numbers, with the providers finding it particularly difficult to source accommodation with the spike in asylum seeker numbers since 2015, coupled with the low participation rate of local authorities. This has meant asylum seekers have been housed in temporary dispersal accommodation such as hotels and hostels, sometimes for several months.[10] Problems include difficulty accessing third sector and government services, inadequate provision of food, and housing vulnerable groups in hotels which do not meet their needs.[11]

A third problem with the dispersal system is that in some cases the accommodation provided has been severely inadequate. There have been reports of poor maintenance standards, filthy carpets, rats, bed bugs and even a house posing an asbestos risk.[12] Sub-standard accommodation, delays in addressing known issues as well as time lags in moving asylum seekers to more suitable accommodation are due to shortages in asylum seeker housing, as well as the limited budget of the Home Office contracts.[13]

Ways forward

In terms of addressing the first problem – designing a dispersal system that doesn’t disproportionately burden poor areas – the UK could look to other countries. For example, Germany uses the Königstein formula to disperse asylum seekers – a quota assigned to each state based on both population size and tax revenue. Population is given a one-third weighting, while revenue is given two-thirds. In 2017, North Rhine-Westphalia had the largest quota of asylum seekers at 21.14%, while Bremen had the smallest at 0.95%.[14] The quota is revised annually. Not only is the wealth of each state built into the dispersal mechanism, but the dispersal mechanism is compulsory, meaning that regions can’t opt out, unfairly placing pressure on those that opt in. The system largely works in terms of asylum seeker distribution, with only small variations from the allocated quota.[15]

To deal with the second problem – the undersupply of asylum seeker accommodation – the central UK Government should stimulate more local authorities to participate in the dispersal scheme and prevent the withdrawal of those that currently do. Beyond mandatory participation as is the case in Germany, the UK could give municipalities more control and input into the process, so it is more appealing for them to sign up on a voluntary basis. A 2016 report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee recommended the following to increase local authority participation: give local authorities more flexibility by devolving the procurement of asylum seeker housing away from the Home Office, provide local authorities with additional resources to assist service expansion to new asylum seeker arrivals, allow a larger window of time for local authorities to consider requests to use specific properties in their area (currently only 72 hours), and greater collaboration with local councils in the redesign of the programme to ensure their concerns are addressed.[16] An additional incentive for local authorities to house asylum seekers could be the identification and matching of resources and talents of the new arrivals with the needs in specific areas. This could motivate local authorities to welcome asylum seekers and develop a policy for their fast integration in society.

The third problem – the sub-standard accommodation provided to some asylum seekers – is in large part a financial one. If the Home Office provided more funds to the private sector providers, higher quality properties could be rented, and urgent repairs conducted expeditiously. There are some positive steps in this direction. When extending the existing contracts until 2019, the Home Office increased funds in order to hire more property managers to closely monitor and improve accommodation standards. It also allowed for increased funds to the private sector providers if there are increases in the number of asylum seekers, so that appropriate additional properties can be rented.[17]

Although there are multiple ways in which the UK’s current dispersal policy could be improved, the Government is continuing on with a tender process which looks remarkably similar to the previous iteration. A sliver of hope is offered by Home Office plans to meet with stakeholders in order to discuss issues and concerns.[18] Whether the degree of policy change needed will in fact take place, remains to be seen with the new contracts being rolled out next year.

[1] Home Office, 2018. Table as_16_q: Asylum seekers in receipt of Section 95 support, by local authority, as at end of quarter, Immigration Statistics, 22 February. Accessed 17 September at:

[2] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, pp.16-17. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[3] Lyons, Kate and Duncan, Pamela, 2017. ‘It’s a shambles’: data shows most asylum seekers put in poorest parts of Britain, The Guardian, 9 April. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[4] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, p.16. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[5] Lyons, Kate and Duncan, Pamela, 2017. ‘It’s a shambles’: data shows most asylum seekers put in poorest parts of Britain, The Guardian, 9 April. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[6] Lyons, Kate and Duncan, Pamela, 2017. ‘It’s a shambles’: data shows most asylum seekers put in poorest parts of Britain, The Guardian, 9 April. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[7] Lyons, Kate and Duncan, Pamela, 2017. ‘It’s a shambles’: data shows most asylum seekers put in poorest parts of Britain, The Guardian, 9 April. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[8] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, p.19. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[9] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, pp. 3, 49-50. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[10] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, pp.20-21. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[11] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, pp.21-22. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[12] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, p.27. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[13] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, pp.24-30. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[14] Asylum Information Database, 2018. Country Report: Germany, March, p.63. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[15] Katz, Bruce, Noring, Luise and Garrelts, Nantke, 2016. Cities and Refugees: The German Experience, The Brookings Institution, 18 September. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[16] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2017. Asylum Accommodation, Twelfth Report of Session 2016-17, 17 January, pp.19-20. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[17] Goodwill, Robert, 2016. Asylum Accommodation – Written Statement – HCWS335, UK Parliament, 8 December. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:

[18] Hill, Amelia, 2018. UK’s asylum dispersal system close to ‘catastrophic failure’, The Guardian, 6 September. Accessed 13 September 2018 at:


Fieldnotes from a Border Province, Şanlıurfa, Turkey

By Zeynep Şahin Mencütek (Swedish Research Institute, Istanbul).

Conducting fieldwork is a way of collecting data, verifying hypotheses, answering key questions and filling in gaps. It is also a key to gaining different visions about the themes and arguments, which have been proposed in the designation stage of the social research. Beyond fulfilling these research tasks, I find fieldwork to be a personally very enriching experience as a political scientist. My last field work in Şanlıurfa, Turkey this summer validated my ideas about the benefits of field research. I was in this province to conduct micro and meso level interviews within the context of RESPOND. After busy, tiring and stressful days in the field, I ended up with more questions than answers, the collection of life stories, unfinished sentences, but deep meaningful looks and heart touching scenes. So, this field research –similar to my earlier experiences- became a merger of emotional experiences with the scholarly endeavour. More than what I learned from semi-structured interviews, to be honest, I was enlightened by the experience itself and ordinary daily conversations.

Şanlıurfa is a province sharing the longest border with Syria and has three official border gates, namely Akçakale, Mürşitpınar, and Ceylanpınar in different towns of the province. It has become quite an important site for the settling of Syrian refugees in Turkey since 2011. Although it is a relatively less visible and less studied province in the context of refugee research in Turkey (compared to Gaziantep), it hosts more Syrian refugees than Gaziantep. As of August 2018, Şanlıurfa hosts 470,296 Syrians according to official statistics of Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), while the province’s population is 1,985,753, making Syrians 23.6% of the total population. Only other two border provinces, Kilis and Hatay host a higher per capita concentration of Syrian refugees than Şanlıurfa does, 95,5% and 28,06% respectively, while this concentration is 3,75 in İstanbul which hosts 564,189 Syrians, the highest number among Turkish provinces.[i] Şanlıurfa also has three refugee camps (officially called temporary shelter/accommodation centers), which host 67,682 Syrians, the highest number among the other nine provinces having similar camps.[ii] Until 2011, Şanlıurfa could be characterized as a province of internal emigration, but the Syrian civil war substantially changed the character and demography of the city. Not only having a border city but also having a high number of Arabic and Kurdish speaking locals made the city an attractive place for Syrians to arrive and settle town, even though the province has very limited job opportunities, and mainly has an agriculture-based economy.

My fieldwork occurred between July 10th and August 2nd in Şanlıurfa’s most crowded three towns, namely Eyyübiye, and Haliliye which are at the city center, as well as Siverek which is 95 kilometers away from the city center.[iii] I also paid a short visit to another town, Ceylanpınar, which is a border town having both a border gate and a crowded camp (hosting around 22,000 refugees). In Ceylanpınar and Siverek, I also found an opportunity to interview Syrian refugees living in rural areas which provided insights about rural-urban comparison.

In the month-long fieldwork, I was able to conduct 34 interviews with meso-level actors and 24 interviews with Syrian refugees. Semi-structured interviews took place from 20 minutes to 2 hours, conducted in Turkish, English, Arabic and Kurdish. I was lucky to work with a very handy translator and cultural mediator, Ali Akbaba who definitely eased my work in the city center. I was not that lucky in terms of weather, which was around 50C and which made going around quite difficult. I have a full range of observations about the response of Şanlıurfa to the Syrian mass migration, which I would like to share, but it is not possible considering the limits of this blog entry. It may be useful to share a few of them in line with the thematic focus of the RESPOND to give you a sense of the refugee situation in the province, leaving broader discussions to the reports and publications.

Turkey-Syria border, border wall, photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 22 July 2018.

In terms of border controls, both micro and meso level actors in the province reported that it was very easy to cross the Turkey-Syria border with or without passports until 2015. Very few interlocutors stated that they encountered difficulty or any type of violence during their crossing to Turkey, except in cases in which they face armed militias on their journey inside Syria. Particularly, my interviews with locals in Ceylanpınar, and a site-visit to the border gate and border fences provided a better understanding of how the “open border” policy worked in practice and how close Turkish and Syrian towns are. Also, interviews demonstrated how the situation on the other side of the border was desperate and urged Syrians to flee. In the words of a local, “even dogs, cats and birds fled from Rasulayn (Syrian border town) to here due to the bombings, they got very afraid, we also heard all these bombardments for three years, our windows broke down, at least ten local people from our town died due to the shelling.”[iv]

Border monitoring tower of Turkish soldiers, photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 22 July 2018.

Since 2015, it seems that not only fighting on the border cooled down, but also the Turkish state gave up its open door policy.  There have been more controls on the part of the state and new measures, but according to the interlocutors, it is not impossible to cross if smugglers are well paid and risks are taken. I made a visit to a town to see one of these new measures, a “security wall” which is modular and four-meters high. I was told that “a few holes under the wall were already opened and villagers help those who wish to cross these holes.”[v] As a local man wisely put it, “a smuggler is a person who becomes a smuggler if there is an opportunity to do so.” It seems there are still some opportunities for smugglers. Nevertheless, border crossings are very limited compared to “the mass crossings of hundreds of thousands on daily basis” in the first four years of the war. [vi]

A Syrian couple with two kids from Kobani were given the old school of the village to settle down by the muhtar. They are not supposed to pay rent which gives them financial relief. Photo taken in Karakoyun village at Siverek by the author on 15 July 2018.

Another dimension of border controls is returns. During my interviews and site visits, voluntary return does not seem as pertinent even though many Syrians expressed their willingness if conditions in Syria become safe and liveable, while locals have been very much looking for the urging of Syrians’ return by Turkish state authorities. An answer of a local authority (muhtar) to my question about integration was: “integration? Do you mean their long-term stay here?  The only solution is the quick return of all Syrians.”[vii] I came across some exceptions to the current practices about voluntary return. During my visit to the village of Siverek, Karakoyun, I learned that 200 families fled to this village from Kobani at the end of 2014, but almost all of them except two families returned their home in Syria within two years.   My interviews with the remaining two families who settled in the old school building made it clear that these families did not return as they do not have financial resources over there and plan to go back if they accumulate money to buy a house in Kobani.  Moreover, I heard about the forced return of dozens of male Syrians, including detention for the purpose of return, which happens if there is an alleged accusation regarding a person’s links with any terrorist organizations. Such returns are organized with the cooperation  of the DGMM and the Security Forces and take place in a short time period, such as in a week.

A female local villager and a Syrian refugee. Local villagers provided food and other material aid to the Syrian refugee family since 2014. A friendship and integration are observable in the relations among them. Photo taken in Karakoyun village at Siverek by the author on 15 July 2018.

RESPOND’s other thematic focus is on reception. In the case of Şanlıurfa, the main providers of the first material needs of Syrians (such as house equipment) used to be local communities, including neighbours, previously arrived family members and relatives from same ethnicity or tribes. Local community-based humanitarianism is very much observable in the province. There has been also growing institutional humanitarianism with the arrival or establishment of a plethora of INGOs, NGOs, faith-based local NGOs, as well as community organizations established by Syrians. Although interviewed representatives from these organizations reported delivering assistance, very few refugees said that they received kind or cash aid from such organizations, while many reported getting aid from neighbours.  The most beneficial institutional social assistance is the debit card that is provided monthly by the Turkish Red Crescent with the funding of UN’s Emergency Social Safety Net program as well as cash assistance to school children. Informal work and these debit cards seem to be the main livelihood source for many of them. Registration and accessing to ID cards has often been an easy process for Syrians.

News about the humanitarian assistance provided by Şanlıurfa İnsani Yardım Platformu (Humanitarian Aid Platforms), which is an umbrella organization of 84 local NGOs. Photo taken in Şanlıurfa city center by the author on 29 July 2018.

Refugee camps are also a vital part of reception policies. I have visited a tent camp in Ceylanpınar. As opposed to international and Turkish authorities’ description of camps as “five-star camps”[viii] or being an example for “how to build a perfect refugee camp,”[ix] what I visited is barely satisfactory. It is a tent camp with an extremely poor infrastructure, particularly a bad road and common bathrooms, a small tent school without any garden or playground, but a high level of surveillance in and outside of the camp. Although these conditions may be thought of as acceptable in the first two years, it is not acceptable in the seventh year of refugee hosting. It may be the case that infrastructure was fine when it was established but it definitely, needs renovation. I was told that there are around 18,000-22,000  refugees living there, in summer time the numbers decrease because camp residents undertake seasonal agricultural labor with their families.

Entrance of Ceylanpınar tent camp. Photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 23 July 2018.

Another thematic emphasis of RESPOND is on protection. This theme is increasingly on the agenda in Şanlıurfa. This is not only because the province has a large refugee population, but also many international NGOs opened their branches or extended their programs there. They and national NGOs have a strong protection dimension and almost all have case management programs providing individual mental health and socio-psychological support as well as community centers providing community empowerment. Moreover, the Turkish Red Crescent and Provincial Director of Family and Social Policies Ministry whom I also met, have been quite active in collaborating with INGOs as he considers that “all these INGOs operate in fields which fall under the ministry’s service area and it is important to know what they are doing on the ground.”[x]  Prevention of child labor and education of children are two safe areas where INGOs and provincial state authorities sought ways to collaborate effectively.

Two cell-phone store owned by Syrian refugees in a neighbourhood where Syrians live in high numbers at the city center of Şanlıurfa. Photo taken by the author on 28 August 2018.

Integration is also another policy field which RESPOND is trying to understand in local, national and regional levels. Şanlıurfa is a promising micro context to explore integration experiences, actors and factors involving the refugee integration process. The common language (either Arabic or Kurdish), kinship, religious belonging (to Islam), and conservative worldview appear as important facilitators of integration of Syrians into Şanlıurfa. Almost no one I interviewed reported difficulties about accessing health services. Unlike in other cities, such as İzmir and İstanbul, language does not appear as a barrier to get proper health services. Education services, particularly primary and secondary level education, are accessible to many Syrian children through temporary education centers. I visited three of them in different locations (in the city center, a camp and Siverek). Also, I was told that Syrian students who learned Turkish pursue education with their Turkish peers. According to the Provincial Vice Director of the Ministry of Education, in two years, all temporary education centers, including those in the camps will finish their mission and all Syrian students will be able to pursue education with their Turkish peers. While health care and education are not challenges for Syrians, it is not the case for access to the labour market. The city has a high unemployment rate, and this was exacerbated by the arrival of Syrians. Nevertheless, many interviewed Syrians reported that they have been working in informal jobs in various sectors. Construction and agriculture are the two sectors, which hire the highest numbers of Syrians, but these are the sectors in which exploitation and insecurity are the most common.  Many Syrians opened small stores and some medium-size companies in the province, signalling capital in-flow. Also, the province has high numbers of Syrian teachers, lawyers, dentists and doctors. Many are able to work in temporary and informal jobs. Local authorities take a flexible approach towards these types of entrepreneurs considering that “without cash assistance and working opportunities, there may be more tensions between locals and Syrians in the province.”[xi]  Interviews with Syrians from different class backgrounds demonstrated that class positively influences the relationships with locals and eliminates challenges about housing and access to sustainable livelihoods.  While locals’ social acceptance of Syrians seems positive, their concerns about them focus on crowdedness in the province, sharing parks with them, the rise of polygamy due to Syrian women marrying local men and the make-up that Syrian women wear. However, it is possible to smell increasing reluctance of locals to live with Syrians.

During RESPOND’s kick-off meeting in Turkey, Prof. Ayhan Kaya raised the question of hope in the picture of refugee integration, and I am adding there is also resistance and empowerment. I am sharing some scenes which I observed to give you food for thought for hope, resistance and empowerment which touched my heart:

– I met a young Syrian girl who lived with her parents and seven siblings (including a disabled brother) in a very small and extremely hot house. She has just completed her first year in the Nursing Department of the Harran University. She has taken a fellowship which she shared with her sister who is also the second year student in the Computer Engineering Department of a university in another Turkish city.

– I met a Syrian middle-aged painting teacher and a Syrian dentist. Both are seeking ways to form an association and build ties with unions for protecting the rights of Syrian teachers and dentists.

-I met two very young men who opened a telecommunication company which hired 15 Syrian young engineers. They were planning to open a new branch in İstanbul. They have just been granted Turkish citizenship, which is expected to ease the bureaucratic hurdles they must deal with.

-I met a famous photographer from Rakka.  Despite all the challenges and difficulties he faced, he has been continuously searching for how he may open a photo exhibition.  Fortunately, the Swedish Research Institute Istanbul will give him an area in which to exhibit this fall.

Inside of a refugee tent, Photo taken in Ceylanpınar by the author on 23 July 2018.

-I met a very lovely family in the refugee camp with two children. They transformed their 20-30m2 size tent into their home and a store. As you can see in the picture, the wife decorated the roof of the tent with her beautiful drawings; she made a small kitchen and garden with some greenery, and the husband made a very small but orderly bicycle repair shop in the front side of tent where he earns a little money.

Many more scenes are coming to mind, with some hope in them. In general, I felt the desperation of just asking questions but not contributing to the lives of refugees directly.  I was very much afraid to create an expectation which I cannot fulfil, but also I again observed how strong and resistant human beings are under very challenging conditions.

[i] Distribution of Syrians in the Scope of Temporary Protection by Province, Accessed 18 August 2018.

[ii] Distribution of Syrians in the Scope of Temporary Protection by Temporary Shelter Centers, Accessed 18 August 2018.

[iii] Şanlıurfa İlçelerinin Nüfusu, Accessed 18 August 2018

[iv] Daily conversation with two local women in Ceylanpınar, 22 august 2018.

[v] Interview with a local representative in Ceylanpınar, 23 August 2018.

[vi] Interview with a local representative in Ceylanpınar, 23 August 2018. Interview with a journalist who served in the reception at the Suruc, Akçakale border Gates in the 2014, Şanlıurfa, 25 August 2018.

[vii] Interview with muhtar in Eyyubiye, Şanlıurfa, 18 August 2018.

[viii] Erol Cebeci and Sally Judson, “Syrian Refugees in Turkey”, 4 April 2014,

[ix] “How to build a perfect refugee camp” New York Times, Accessed 19 August 2018. Accessed 19 August 2018

[x] Interview with the provincial director of the Family and Social Policies Ministry, in Şanlıurfa, 26 August 2018.

[xi] Interview with the muhtar of the neighborhood where Syrians live in high numbers and opened many small stores, 18 August 2018.

The Atmosphere of Fear Taking its Toll in Hungary

By Daniel Gyollai (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Umut Korkut  (Glasgow Caledonian University) 

The Syrian-born Canadian author and refugee activist, Danny Ramadan has been reported to be physically and verbally insulted due to his assumed Roma ethnicity at Sziget Festival in Budapest on 16th August 2018. The news perhaps comes with a shock to the general audience of the Festival, that is widely known for its cultural openness, the tolerance and respect for national diversity above all else. The assault may, nonetheless, be less surprising for those who are familiar with the current socio-political atmosphere of Hungary. The Fidesz government’s firm anti-immigrant stance and “hate campaign” brought a landslide victory for the governing party at the April 2018 General Election. Since that election the propaganda seems to have become incorrigible as the legislative machinery further curtails the rights of asylum seekers, targets civil society organizations, and threatens to dissipate the voice of dissent against the government. The most recent legislation creates a new criminal offence (‘Facilitating Illegal Migration’) that provides for the imprisonment of individuals, who extend legal assistance or humanitarian support for those third country nationals seeking asylum in Hungary. Notwithstanding the protest of a plethora of civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the so-called “Stop Soros” Bill and the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution on June 20, World Refugee Day.

While the government has sought the opinion of the Venice Commission on the draft proposal for the legislation, spectacularly in the end the government has passed the Bill without even waiting for that very opinion. The Venice Commission, however, approached the Hungarian authorities to withdraw the new Bill eventually as it establishes criminal liability for advocacy activities, threatening members of civil society organizations who provide lawful assistance to asylum seekers. In doing this, as per the opinion of the Venice Commission, the law not only constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of association and expression, but also criminalizes the initiation of an asylum procedure on behalf of migrants. Furthermore, an earlier draft proposal of the bill, submitted in February, included a 25% tax on foreign-funded civil society organizations. While this tax was later dropped from the draft Bill, the Finance Ministry was still outspoken to impose the special tax on civil society organizations whose activities involve “organising migration”. They have asked for the introduction of this tax as a separate piece of legislation. According to the Ministry, the tax is necessary as the fight against illegal migration puts an “extra financial burden” on the state.

There have been a series of amendments to the Hungarian Constitution some of which referred to the issue of migration. The most recent, the Seventh Amendment of the Fundamental Law went further than the previous one to ascertain that “no alien population would be settled in Hungary”, and it would be the responsibility of all public authorities to protect the “constitutional self-identity” and “Christian culture” of the state. As of now, it is unclear whether the EU is considering imposing sanctions of any sort against the new provisions of the Fundamental Law. According to its critics, however, the Amendment contradicts EU Law, and undermines human rights and the rule of law. Moreover, it provides that asylum seekers arriving at Hungary through the territory of a country “where they would not be exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution” shall not be entitled to receive asylum in Hungary. The Amendment further provides for the establishment of administrative courts. The new court system would fully substitute for the authority of regular courts in administrative cases, including asylum issues, and the President of the Administrative High Court shall be elected by the Parliament. This leaves the new court system to be monopolised by the government as it holds a two-thirds majority in the Parliament.

The EU has not been complicit with the developments in Hungary adversely affecting human rights of asylum seekers and the functioning of NGOs assisting asylum seekers. The most recent infringement procedure against Hungary by the European Commission is a response to the “Stop Soros” Bill and its incompatibility with the EU law, including the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. (N.B. further infringement procedures are ongoing against Hungary due to its non-compliance with, inter alia, the Asylum Procedures Directive, Return Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive.)

To make matters worse, those civil society organisations and activists who stand up for migrants’ rights are becoming increasingly under attack in Hungary. In June 2018, Hollik István MP, member of the governing coalition from KDNP Christian Democratic People Party, openly incited against Amnesty International right in front of its offices in Budapest. The politician marked the entrance with stickers, an action similar to when the Refugee Centre where the Jews lived during World War II was “signed” with a yellow star.

While at fieldwork in Southern Hungary in June 2018, we came across the impact of the fear and hatred campaign on everyday life. During our visit to Szeged, a county capital in Southeastern Hungary, we witnessed the complete oblivion of the locals of their proximity to the transit zone where asylum seekers are kept since September 2015 and the asylum seekers’ experience within. What is even more startling is that Szeged and the surrounding villages used to be at the forefront of the management of the 2015 refugee crisis, given its close proximity to the Western Balkan route across the Serbian border. During our visit many people expressed their relief that the city was no longer “occupied” by asylum seekers.

In conclusion, it looks as if despite the 2016 refugee quota referendum being inconclusive, the government has achieved its goal to foster a general feeling of fear among the public. While, on the one hand, the general public opinion on the European Union remains positive in Hungary, the anti-immigrant propaganda that has simultaneously bolstered anti-EU sentiments resulted in a victory for Fidesz, on the other. Witnessing these dual trajectories, we, therefore, raise the question, whether the conflicting attitudes towards EU policies are symptoms of the emergence of a new concept of Europeanisation that privileges the pursuit of certain conservative principles as opposed to those core liberal values the EU was founded upon and is to stand for.

In a nutshell: policies affecting Syrian refugees’ daily lives in Lebanon

By Risha Jagarnathsingh (Lebanon Support) 

Lebanon has been hosting refugees from, amongst others,  Palestine, Iraq, and more recently, since 2011, Syria. As such, Lebanon – praised by the international community for its hospitality, despite not being a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention nor to its 1967 Protocol – has the highest per-capita concentration of refugees globally; amounting to approximately 25% to 30% of its population being comprised of migrants and/or refugees.

Since the 1950s and 1960s, Syrian migrants have constituted a significant part of the Lebanese economy. After the end of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), Lebanon has adopted three bilateral agreements that, until today, legally constitute open borders between Syrian and Lebanon, and govern the presence of Syrians residing in Lebanon.

The eruption of the Syrian crisis in 2011 has resulted in an increase of Syrians in Lebanon, from estimately 300 000 to over 1.1 million in 2014 at the peak of the refugee crisis, leading the Council of Ministers to adopt a series of policies targeting Syrian displacement in October 2014, resulting from perceived threats to the country’s security, and political, economical and social stability. Under the heading “Reducing Numbers” these policies were adopted in an attempt to formalise, control and limit the presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and restricted their access to the labour market, in an attempt to protect Lebanese employment.

First of all, the scope of the UNHCR’s work was significantly limited, as they have been requested to no longer register refugees since May 2015, unless with the approval of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (with the exception of newborn children from registered persons).

One of the most radical measures was introduced by the General Directorate of General Security, the security agency responsible for ensuring the implementation of these policies, by releasing new regulations and categories for applying for and renewing residency permits on December 31, 2014. In addition, residency renewals were accompanied by a fee of 200 USD – a condition that most Syrian refugees are unable to meet, given that 76% of Syrians lives below the poverty line of 3.84 USD per person per day and 87% are already in high debts.

What is more, is that policies clearly distinguished between “refugees” (those registered with UNHCR) and “migrants”. Since January 2015, Syrian refugees registered at the UNHCR were to sign a notarised “pledge to not work” upon renewal of their residency permit, prohibiting their access to the Lebanese labour market. Although it has never been officially confirmed yet, this pledge was replaced by a “pledge to abide by Lebanese law” in June 2016, which in reality, due to work permits that are difficult to obtain, makes virtually little to no difference.

Additionally, the Ministry of Labour constrained access to the Lebanese labour market for Syrian “migrants” to the sectors agriculture, construction, and “environment” (i.e. maintenance and cleaning), announced in ministerial decrees that generally come out on an annual basis.What is more, Syrians who do desire to work within the restricted realms were required to obtain a pledge of responsibility since January 2015 by a Lebanese kafeel – a sponsor who is responsible for the Syrian’s legal acts.

These regulations made qualifying for legal entry and residency for most Syrians impossible. Today, approximately 74% of Syrians, aged 15 and older, are without legal status. Although numbers indeed appear to be “reduced”, the policy merely decreased the numbers of those with legal status. Although being slightly amended over time, these policies are still in effect.

Being without legal status has affected Syrian refugees’ daily lives to a large extent, limiting their freedom of movement, as they are prone to be arbitrarily arrested and detained when passing the many checkpoints, which are commonly well distributed over the Lebanese territory. Not only does this prohibit access to the labour market, education, or social and healthcare services, it also complicates civil processes, including marriage, divorce, and the registration of births, as well as deaths.

Importantly, the new policies and concurrent lack of legal status induced dependency dynamics affecting men, women, and children in various ways, facilitating large-scale manipulation, (sexual) abuse, and exploitation of Syrians in Lebanon by a variety of formal and informal actors. All these effects are contributing to the emergence of “negative coping mechanisms”, which are short-term, but detrimental strategies to handle  a stressful situation. For example, refugees self-limited their freedom of movement, of self-impose curfews, out of constant feelings of fear and a lack of legal protection and redress, often resorting to informal actors to secure their stay, livelihoods, or access to services. Other coping mechanisms are early child marriage, as this is “one less mouth to feed”, or child labour. In this context, ironically, illegality appears to be implicitly encouraged, rather than controlled, despite the fact that the latter was one of the objectives of the new policies.

Through a ruling on February 8, 2018, the State Council (the High Administrative Court) stated that adjusting the conditions for entry and residency is within the mandate of the Council of Ministers, but not within that of the General Directorate of General Security, that is responsible for its implementation only. In this vein, the introduction of categories for foreign entry and residency that prohibit many Syrians to legally enter or reside in Lebanon, has been annulled. Still, in reality, the categories still appear to be applied to Syrian refugees in Lebanon; after 7 years of crisis, living conditions of Syrians in Lebanon seem to deteriorate, rather than to improve, which affects long-term perspectives in the country. Worryingly, although “present conditions [in Syria] are not conducive for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity”, returns – whether voluntarily or not – are on the rise, with several hundreds of people already having returned to Syria, and thousands being in the process of awaiting to return.

For more on the Lebanese government’s policies and how they affect Syrians’ daily lives, refer to Lebanon Support’s series on Syrian refugees’ access to legal entry and residency, their access to the labour market, and access to healthcare. Based on these three reports, a policy brief, as well as an infographic (see below) have been published.

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