Diaspora and Transationalism

/Diaspora and Transationalism
Diaspora and Transationalism2020-12-03T12:04:44+00:00

Transnational engagement of Afghan diaspora organizations

Ali Ahmad Safi |Ph.D. candidate, Department for Migration and Globalization, Danube University Krems 

Afghanistan has developed a very complex migration history since the mass exodus began when the Soviets’ army marched into Afghanistan in 1979. More than one in three Afghans have either been displaced internally or have migrated internationally. Little is known about the Afghan diaspora and the organizations that they form after settling in Europe. The question arises on how they engage with their beleaguered homeland while living in the diaspora. There is a huge research gap on how Afghan diaspora organizations are engaged in transnational activities that are home-oriented. This research investigates to what extent Afghan diaspora organizations contribute in the development of their home country.

Over the course of four decades, millions of Afghans have been forced to leave Afghanistan to seek international protection. Around five million live in the neighboring Iran and Pakistan who fled the war when the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979. A small number of affluent Afghans made their way to the Americas, Europe, and Australia. During the increasing arrival of refugees into Europe in 2015, nearly 180,000 Afghans applied for asylum, which as a result, increased the Afghan population in Europe exponentially. Such large displacement of Afghans has produced a ‘long-term multi-layered’ diaspora in the near and wider region. The data from five EU countries under study for this paper indicates that a total of 421,530 Afghans lived in Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden by the end of 2018 with Germany hosting 257,110 Afghans alone – the highest numbered compared to other countries.

Derived from the Greek language, diaspora means to “scatter” or “to disperse” and often refers to the dispersion of Jews from their historic homeland. Since the second part of the last century, the diaspora has proliferated to include a more dispersed population with both a voluntary and involuntary nature. In this blog, diaspora refers to “Afghans living outside Afghanistan.” Once settled in the destination country, the diaspora tends to form organizations out of their informal networks to “ensure continuity of their communities in the host countries” and also to extend support to the country of origin either in the form of development cooperation, political activism, or cultural representation. These organizations can vary in size; small, large, well-established, ephemeral, and unstable and at times limited only to the family members. The areas of their engagement, membership, and target group served are elements that determine the effectiveness of diaspora organizations. They, however, are not always effective and do not represent the entire diaspora from the same national or ethnic group such as the diverse heterogeneous Afghan diaspora organizations.

The diaspora organizations provide a social space for their co-ethnic migrant groups to interact with each other and build new identities as cultural mediators and representatives. They also provide social services to the children of their fellow migrants by arranging mother-tongue language classes, translation services, and maintaining their continuous ties and relationships with the communities of their home country. They encourage the flow of economic and social remittances to their country of origin and support investment as well. The diaspora organizations transform the ‘imagined community’ into a more tangible community of practice when they celebrate religious or national holidays. 

The Afghan diaspora organizations have evolved in the course of the last forty years. Since Afghans’ arrival in Europe especially since 2015 and 2016, the numbers have proliferated in size and number. The data on Afghan diaspora organizations was collected by Maastricht Graduate School of Governance at Maastricht University and obtained from the Danish Refugee Council Diaspora Program. The data collected through ethnographic methods reveal that there are a total of nearly 550 diaspora organizations in five countries under investigation. According to the data, Sweden and Germany are the leading countries with 133 and 129 diaspora organizations respectively.

This research employs Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) both as a research approach and analytical technique. First designed by Charles Ragin (1987), QCA is a systematic and case-based study approach. The objective of QCA is to analyze the phenomenon of complex causality and to apply it on a small to intermediate-N research design. The unit of analysis for the current study is the Afghan diaspora organizations in five EU countries with the largest number of Afghan diasporas.

To investigate the engagement of diaspora organizations using fuzzy-set QCA (fsQCA), a mix of primary and secondary data will be used. The primary data includes the ethnographic observations and field notes taken between 2015 and 2020 in five European countries. The secondary data includes the Maastricht University and Danish Refugee Council’s ‘Afghan Diaspora in Europe’ mapping in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. This research aims to select 50 diaspora organizations as set cases for the comparative analysis. The most relevant cases with similarity and diversity are selected with little to deep understanding of the cases by the author.

The fsQCA provides a unique opportunity to study the level and degree of Afghan diaspora organizations’ engagement in transnational activities particularly concerning the country of origin. The study has developed a number of conditions to evaluate the impact and intensity of diaspora organizations’ cross-border engagement. These conditions are categorized in economic and socio-cultural transnationalism in the ‘known community’ and the political transnationalism in the ‘imagined community’. The conditions are crucial, as they will determine which outcomes they generate. The data is presented in the form of a truth table and a test is carried out to check the consistency and the coverage of the data in a fsQCA truth table.

December 2020

‘The Super Migrants’? Social Upward Mobility in the Context of Labor Migration

Claudius Ströhle PhD Candidate,University of Innsbruck

In a column in the German magazine ‘Der Spiegel,’ titled “Die Super-Migranten” (‘The Super Migrants’), Samira El Ouassil criticized the overemphasis on the migration background of the scientists Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. The “‘ Prussian-Turk’ couple” (The Guardian) are the founders of the biotech company BioNTech, which made a breakthrough in developing a Covid19 vaccine. Şahin, as the son of a so-called guest worker from Hatay; Türeci, as a surgeon-daughter from Istanbul. Turkey now appropriates their success because they are from Turkey. Germany does the same because they are Germans citizens and an example of successful integration. This situation is remarkable and problematic. On the one hand, the emphasis on an ascribed ethnic origin of the scientists marks a division into ‘good’ (successful, well-educated) and ‘bad’ (uneducated, working in poor jobs) migrants, fueling a meritocratic agenda.

On the other hand, their research performance is entirely out of sight. Finally, it rarely happens that migrants are simultaneously acknowledged in both the country of origin and settlement. In this blog post, I want to elaborate on this very issue of accumulating social status in transnational spaces.

Social Class and Capital in Transnational Spaces

In her much-noticed study “Gastarbeiter. Leben in zwei Gesellschaften” (1984), the Austrian migration scholar Elisabeth Lichtenberger stated that the so-called guest workers are performing their everyday life in two societies, but also in two-class systems: being underclass in the allegedly temporary host society, due to less-than-average education, residual working, and housing positions; and simultaneously moving socially upwards in the place of origin, due to the accumulated capital and status abroad. The latter was displayed through extensive exchange of remittances, namely sending money and commodities, purchasing land and building houses in the place of origin, and bringing gifts during the summer visits. But, how can social status be transferred in cross-border settings?

Van Hear recently argued that class had been eclipsed in migration studies by considering other forms of social difference, affinity, and allegiances such as ethnicity, gender, generation, and religion. But, “patterns and outcomes of migration are shaped by the resources migrants can mobilize, and those resources are largely determined by socioeconomic background” (p. 101). Both the resources and their potential mobilization can be explained with Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of capital. He distinguishes between economic (economic resources and assets), social (networks one can mobilize), and cultural capital (family-based competencies like tastes, skills, education, or knowledge). These forms of capital can be converted and transmitted; if they are perceived and recognized as legitimate, they occur as symbolic capital, vaguely translated with social status or power. Sociologist Susan Eckstein criticized that migration scholars used this capital concept while ignoring the fact that it was established in a national, Western framework. In her study on remittances between the United States and Cuba, Eckstein argued that families share capital across the borders of nation-states, which is therefore embedded in broader institutional structures (e.g., national laws on sending/receiving money or purchasing land) and cultural practices (e.g., social pressure in/on migrant communities or collectively shaped ways of investing). Thus, if families mobilize and convert various forms of capital across the borders of nation-states, they can create “transnational capital,” “which enables individuals to draw on their (family’s) past mobility and to weigh in transnational experiences and knowledge to their benefit.” (Silke Meyer, p. 276). Now then, how can someone accumulate symbolically, transnationally acknowledged capital in the home and host society, like the scientist couple Türeci & Şahin? In the last section, I will provide an empirical example to approach this question, drawing on an ethnographic research project (“Follow the Money. Remittances as Social Practices”), in which we examined the effects of remittances in the migration-nexus Stubai Valley (Austria) and Uşak (Turkey) from the 1960s until today.

Remittance Houses as Switch Boards of Capital Conversion

In the first years of migration, most of the so-called guest workers in the Stubai Valley sent money to their families in Uşak. They did this to pay back their migration costs, support the family’s daily expenses, renovation of the house, or acquire agricultural machines. After a couple of years, the migrants themselves started to purchase land and build houses. Interestingly, not in their home villages, but the city of Uşak. One explanation could be a transformation of class: most migrants still considered returning to Turkey. But not anymore to life as a farmer in the village, but as a laborer in the city. The desire and practices of building “remittance houses” are documented in multiple migration corridors. I argue, that these houses are switchboards of cross-border capital conversion when analyzed from a perspective of class. I want to outline four aspects: First, the processes of purchasing land and building houses depend on cross-border economic, social and cultural capital, namely raising the money, having someone to supervise the construction place and knowing the local logics of real estate prices, bargaining, etc. Second, the houses’ interior design symbolizes its builders’ transnational life trajectories, comprising rural and labor elements and displaying “taste diaspora.” Third, as lots of the houses stand out because of their shape or size (see also the project “Migrating Spaces”), they have multiple effects on the local society. On the one hand, the houses can evoke further emigration as they are materializations of a successful migration project; on the other hand, they lead to envious glances and rifts between migrants and non-migrants. Fourth, even if the houses are acknowledged as symbolic capital in the place of origin, this is often not the case in the place of settlement. Local interviewees in Stubai Valley considered the migrants’ investments as economic disloyalty, displaying failed integration. They defined the migrants’ status based on the investments they made in Stubai Valley.


The theory of capital (Bourdieu) extended with a cross-border angle and applied in a multi-sited ethnographic research setting provide a useful toolbox to analyze social mobility in the context of labor migration. However, in public as well as scientific discourses, migrants from Turkey and their descendants are often approached from the respective national perspectives: As immigrants in Austria, they have to be loyal, participate actively and invest in situ; as emigrants of Turkey, they have to remain faithful to their place of origin, come over for visits and bring foreign currency. This approach creates a non-dischargeable situation, which hinders the legitimation of cross-border capital accumulation. Thus, we need to apply a transnational lens that implies the multi-placed experiences and belongings of migrants to contribute to a normalization of transnational lifestyles. Then, the publicly overemphasized migration background of the ‘Super-Migrants’ Şahin & Türeci could take a backseat.

December 2020

Lea Bergstein and the Hebrew Dance

Migrating Gestures and Conceptions

Lukas Czech PhD Candidate, University of Salzburg

In my PhD research, I investigate the artistic work and professional life of the dancer-choreographer Lea Bergstein (1902-1989). I first got to know some of Bergstein’s choreographies during a visit in Israel in 2007, when my family from kibbutz Ramat Yohanan in the Haifa region invited me to join the yearly ceremony of the cutting of the first crop, the Omer Festival. Since 1946, members of the local community perform Bergstein’s dances, which are an integral part of the festival and today belong to the canon of Israeli folk dance. The enthusiastic choreographies and the festive character of the outdoor agricultural ritual touched me deeply. However, what struck me most that evening was, how strangely familiar these dances occurred to me—the visitor from Vienna. How could it be, that the performative character of a supposedly truly local folk dance was so close to my central European aesthetic and cultural perceptions?

Years later, the peculiar familiarity and closeness I had felt that evening, were the starting point for my doctoral research at Tel Aviv University. Studying Bergstein’s biography and work under a scientific perspective, I investigate her artistic career and work as developing from her professional education and up until her own major creations, like the Omer Festival at kibbutz Ramat Yohanan. Having received her professional training as a dancer amongst the vanguards of European Modern Dance in the early 1920s, Bergstein’s work in British Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948) was entangled with then prevalent efforts to generate a distinct Hebrew culture. This new Hebrew culture intended to strictly separate itself from any foreign culture as well as Jewish exilic life and emphasised an autochthonous relation to the notion of the biblical Land of Israel. (See: Itamar Even-Zohar, 2008). Zionist aspirations to express and represent the renewal of the Jewish nation, many of Bergstein’s choreographies are an outstanding example of the emerging kibbutz ritual culture and appear as the performative embodiment of the strongly idealised image of the new, sturdy and healthy, Eretz-Israeli Jew. Against the background of Bergstein’s migration from Vienna to British Mandate Palestine in 1925, I started to search for modes of cultural transmission and particular continuities inscribed in Bergstein’s oeuvre, in spite the strongly nationalistic and ideologically charged context of her work.

One of the central methodological keys I use to decipher and grasp the aesthetic and conceptional relatedness between Bergstein’s work in Palestine (and later Israel) and her roots in Europe, is to trace the—what I call—pedagogic genealogy influential on her creative output. Therefore I closely investigated the time of her professional education and early career in Vienna and Germany in the early 1920s as well as the work of her teachers and contemporaries in Europe. Thereby Bergstein’s studies at Valéria Dienes’ (1879-1978) Viennese studio and at the Vienna Laban School under Margarete Schmidts as well as her participation in Vera Skoronel’s (1906-1932) dance company at the United Stages of the Ruhr Valley (Germany), do place Bergstein in a direct line with famous vanguards of the modern European dance such as Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958) and Mary Wigman (1886-1973). Interestingly, Bergstein by far isn’t the only creator of the early Hebrew dance, who can be put in such proximity with European dance pioneers; and the influence of European modern dance on the dance culture of the Jewish settlement in Palestine is established. (See: Gaby Aldor, 2013). However, the knowledge about its modalities is general and mostly reliant on the respective dancers’ basic biographical data. As for my research, I set out to find concrete evidence for the influence of European modern dance on the new Hebrew dance culture in general and on Bergstein’s work in particular.

I framed the immediate years before and after Bergstein’s migration as a crucial period and fundamental for my investigation. In regards to sources and documentation, particularly the temporal distance and ephemeral peculiarities of the medium were challenging. While some of Bergstein’s original choreographies are accessible through their continuous performance, like those of the Omer Festival, they were also subject to deliberate and unconscious changes throughout the last decades. Beyond that, Bergstein left behind an extensive private collection that proved to be of tremendous value for my research, as it covers almost the entire span of her personal and professional life. Thereby the cross-examination of numerous handwritten notes, recordings and books filled with her own comments and thoughts, for example, allowed me to relate Bergstein’s philosophical conception of dance to Isadora Duncan’s interpretations of Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) influential notions on dance as most immediate and natural expression of body and soul. Particularly valuable, though, were photographs depicting Bergstein in various dances throughout the 1920s. While these pictures don’t allow comprehensive conclusions about the general quality of these dances, they do offer a glimpse of Bergstein’s self aestheticisation at particular moments along her artistic career. Visiting numerous archives throughout Israel and Europe, I got hold of visual material also portraying Bergstein’s teachers and colleagues. I eventually managed to carve out characteristic and aesthetically similar physical expressions and even identical positions immediately relating Bergstein to some of her (European) contemporaries. Also, I could show, that particular poses remained part of Bergstein’s bodily vocabulary and repertoire for decades and became part of some of the dances which today are referred to as particularly Israeli.

Bergstein indeed devoted her artistic work to the search for an authentic bodily expression of the new Hebrew society, by means of a truly original (local) dance and willingly adapted her artistic expression to the changed socio-cultural and political context of the Jewish settlement in Palestine. Bergstein’s body and mind though, clearly functioned as agent and archive of incorporated cultural knowledge implemented (deliberately or not) in her creations, which then could be understood also through the prism of diaspora or exilic art. The drastic notions of cultural continuity and the peculiar similarities to European modern dance, thereby particularly question the notion of a distinct Hebrew cultural expression through dance. Understanding Bergstein as situated between (at least) two worlds, two cultures and two languages, and—on the backdrop of her migration—as “transcultural subject” (Silvia Spitta, 1995: 24), the migrating gestures and conceptions apparent in her work then and above all, suggest human cultural production as (trans-)cultural and diverse (rather than nationalised and local!) continuum.

December 2020

Transnational many identifications and their opponents

Fatma HaronPhD Candidate,University of Innsbruck

“Where are you really from?” is one but not all kind of question that form the normality of individuals with more than one national identification. By national identification I do not refer to citizenship in this article. It is almost an obsession to find out that one single identification of a person. The question of what a human being is constituted of and shaped by expects clear answers. Since when did having an identity become normal? And why is it challenging when it does not fit with the “normal” single identification? Novalis already said, the complete human being lives in many places and with many human beings at the same time. These words I infer with transnationalism and identification.

In this article I will discuss the concept of many identifications that are connected through transnational networks and scrutinize how it is shaped through narratives and interpellation by the case study of women with Turkish origin in Tyrol. By de-centering the old understanding of identities in migration studies I analyse how the process constantly changes the sense of identification and how narratives play a crucial role. The empiric data for this research is acquired through ethnographic interviews with women in villages in Tyrol who have family ties to Turkey.

Narratives are shaping identifications  

Any identification type that does not resemble an ordinary fit is challenging both the academic research but also the daily life. It also causes conflicts within individuals through the identification by the other and representation as Stuart Hall points out.

In modern societies national culture develops, and cultural identity and national identity seem like something everyone must have, although it is formed through representation and is not automatically acquired. The more facets and many identifications a subject inhabits the bigger the confusion gets, such as being an Austrian-Turkish, Turkish-Austrian or Telfer-Uşaker woman; I spare the other aspects such as being Muslim and Modern (at the same time!). The more stories are told about one’s identification the more unstable it becomes when it is not fulfilling the “expectations”, and is physically and culturally unstable (see Hall).

Yuval-Davis considers narration as a form of how identities are practised and constructed, thus the narrative approach is considered to theorize identification and not only the belonging to a group. It determines agency and subjectivity, as Spivak already mentioned. However, belonging is an emotional attachment within a dynamic process in everyday practice that seems to be naturalised and the positionality depends on the exclusion from or inclusion in certain groupings. But who decides the access to certain groups, and including or excluding one? Unfortunately in many cases not the minority group itself.

Which narration about Turkishness exists and conflicts with the identifications?  

The dominant narration that misrepresents non-Europeans is very crucial, because it infers that the values of the represented migrant group, as Talal Asad describes it, are considered to be offensive to the Western ones.  This narrative nourishes from the emancipation of the Western woman through victimization of the other woman. In this case, the non-Western Muslim woman with transnational ties to Turkey has to play the role of the victim as Mohanty says. The Muslim woman still has to negotiate her position within both the Turkish and Austrian community. The crisis arises because the identity depends on the other’s recognition and is forcing unity and stability. I see identity as anything but this.

The contemporary modern society we live in is in constant change, and so are the identifications. If we take one more step forward and take a look at transnational migrant societies, the concept of stable identifications becomes more obsolete before it can ossify. Within these unconsciously chosen categories, identifications are always in contrast to someone else’s identity. By de-centering this old fashioned question in migration studies it is in my interest to understand and analyse how these constantly changing categories work? When they change? According which setting and what narrative one identification increases or diminishes?

The rigid differentiations between many identifications is mostly between political or ethnic identity, whereas I understand them in a plural way; such as familial, social, generational, gender, status, political, religious, ethnic, national and translingual etc. These are transforming in a transnational space, which leads to the fact that some societies are not aware of this fast proceeding concept nor are they ready to acknowledge it. The reasons for this are the different experiences and comparisons. To be more specific: a young girl with Turkish parents who was born and grew up in rural Tyrol identifies with what she sees and compares herself to, namely the parents, peers, and friends. The friends can be Turkish and Austrian. The image of her is shifting according to settings, allusions and images of the other. The other in this case can be the parents but also the non-Turkish environment. She starts to become Turkish through all the existing narratives about Turkishness, no matter how she describes herself. In my interviews all women confirmed the narrative about Turkish women being traditional, practicing Islam, and thus opposing modernity and are victim to patronizing men. Therefore, in this case it portrays that a Turkish woman does not fit into the modern western society. However, she might identify herself as modern and also westernised and eventually part of the society that produces those narratives on her homogenous unfitting.  This is where the confusion starts and leads to constant negotiation of self and differing from the other and the rest; and the endless striving for affirmation. In fact the women holds more than one identification but is expected to stick with one that she is told to. On the one hand the Turkish community asks her to ”be more Turkish and keep roots!” and on the other hand she is expected to ”try to be more Tyrolean!” while she admits that she actually wants to find her routes!


Which story about Turkishness can be changed and renegotiated? The difficulties of acceptance of many identifications are on many levels in the society but also in academic studies, since a certain type of one single identity is dominating the discourse. It is a very banal example that serves to emphasise the mechanisms of why it is rejected or why both the many identifications and the society struggle with this concept. Transnational many identities within the vast networks, multiple homes and identifications are moved, exchanged and evolved proceeding fast.

Therefore I ask how self-understanding is shaped through transnational lifestyles and narratives from Turkey and Austria about Turkishness.

December 2020

Challenges of Researching Mobile Intimacies: Adapting an Ethnographic Approach During Covid-19

Mona Röhm | PhD Candidate, University of Salzburg

2020 hit all of us with unexpected challenges. Nation-states, communities, and individuals have been facing life-changing and radical constraints due to the Covid-19 crisis since early spring. Uncertainty and a lack of foresight became an integral part of our everyday lives.

Within my PhD project, I am focusing on the negotiation of intimate relationships of Afghan migrants, which questions, among other things, belonging and exclusion in the context of romantic relationships. To talk about intimate topics requires a trusting relationship with my interlocutors, which is only possible by establishing long-term relationships. Thinking practically and pragmatically, in ethnography this means at least several meetings with the same person, in order to gain trust. Even under normal circumstances, this approach is demanding and time-consuming. Since spring, we are facing restrictions that were set in place to contain Covid-19, starting with a lockdown in March. This measurement included an official directive to stay at home and avoid going outside, closed cafés and restaurants, and travel restrictions within Austria and was followed by a summer under the umbrella of social distancing and with few public events. With rising infection numbers in Fall, we are currently in the second lockdown in Austria. So, where to start with the plan to conduct intensive ethnographic research with Afghans in Austria and Iran?

Starting the second year of my PhD project in the middle of a pandemic forced me to put many of my plans on ice and ultimately adjust my research approach. My initial plan to go to Iran in November 2019 was postponed to February 2020 due to the nationwide demonstrations against the Iranian regime at the time. Following a visa rejection, it was once again delayed for April 2020, which proved impossible as we entered the worldwide Covid-19 crisis in mid-March. Consequently, I decided to focus on Austrian fieldwork.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in Europe, we did not know much about the health consequences of catching the virus or the impact on our social and professional lives. When I talked to my colleagues, who also conduct qualitative interviews, the strategies to handle data collection during a pandemic were as different as the individuals themselves. I noticed, based on my own and my colleagues’ experiences, several aspects affecting the decisions and strategies of contacting new people for a research purpose in times of contact restrictions. I’m going to elaborate on three of them that I find especially relevant.

First, as researchers, we carry a responsibility towards our research participants not to harm them through our research. In social science, this responsibility mostly refers to negative social or political consequences interlocutors could face when sensitive statements they make during an interview fall into the wrong hands without proper anonymization or is misinterpreted. Nevertheless, not to harm research participants also includes considering their physical and mental well-being that should not deteriorate as a result of research, for example, through retraumatization. In the current crisis, the responsibility towards the physical well-being of interlocutors also means to think about and plan according to measurements that can be taken in order to not to become a carrier and spreader of the virus – possibly infecting the interlocutors when meeting them face-to-face. Therefore, between the two lockdowns, I had to decide where, how, with whom, and how long meetings with interlocutors would be possible and responsible regarding not spreading the virus and a find way of communication that feels safe.

Secondly, as there is no general recipe for qualitative research during a pandemic, it is also important to consider who your research participants are. As my research focuses on Afghan refugees, most of my interlocutors experienced war and living conditions that were and are characterized by exclusion and discrimination. Trust issues toward official authorities and language barriers led to confusion about the virus and appropriate behavior, especially in the pandemic’s first months. In this light, I had the impression that managing everyday life at that moment was more important for them than being involved in biographical narrative interviews. Moreover, the situation posed particularly difficult for interlocutors facing worries for family members in other parts of the world. Another factor that characterizes the interlocutors within my project is that we do not share the same first language. To overcome language barriers, it proved essential to see face impressions when talking, preferably sitting face-to-face. Having to conduct interviews wearing a mask, on the phone, or via meeting online, has therefore proven to be not ideal for creating an atmosphere where research participants are willing to talk in detail.

Finally, there are also difficulties in realizing qualitative research in these times on an institutional level. As a researcher, I am affiliated with an institution; in my case, the University of Salzburg that is concerned with its own obligations and risks that employees should or should not undertake. Since March, the official procedure for ongoing research projects includes the instruction to continue research as usual. At the same time, the university communicated strict hygiene and social distancing rules regarding contact with colleagues and students. These different strategies pose a contradiction for research projects that focus on a qualitative research approach.

Consequently, every researcher has to decide situationally and based on their specific research design about fieldwork possibilities. Nevertheless, balancing the university’s directions with the practicalities of the field is particularly challenging in an ever-changing environment. In addition to the university related practicalities, the numbers of social events, or group gatherings that fit for participant observations are minimal. On a regular basis, interview appointments are cancelled on short notice due to the current health-related uncertainty or an officially ordered quarantine – either by research participants or by myself.

After giving some insights into the methodological issues and considerations of ethnographic research during a pandemic, I want to continue with a positive perspective on how I adapted my research methods concerning our current living situation. First of all, I put the plans to conduct fieldwork in Iran aside and focused on my research in Austria to avoid travel restrictions. Further, although switching to online interviews is not a substitute for face-to-face conversations, I was able to intensify existing relationships through online communication. For example, with one research participant, whom I already met several times, text and voice messages and video calls became relevant sources. The positive aspect of these kinds of additional data is that research participants can send them whenever they want to and whenever they think about a topic they might like to share with me.

Nevertheless, meeting somebody in person is still necessary to get to know each other. In the style of “Fieldwork on foot,” I will continue meeting people for walks, following Ingold’s approach of “word follows word as foot follows foot.” Walking and talking together is not a substitute to sit down with a person in a quiet and protected surrounding, but can be an inspiring environment to let thoughts and experiences flow as they come through walking together in the same rhythm.

All in all, data collection is much slower in times of Covid-19. The crisis encourages us to think about our methodological approach and challenges our data collection strategies – even more than we already do when applying qualitative ethnographic research methods.

December 2020

Should I stay or should I go? Roots Migration of highly skilled people of Turkey origin from Austria to Turkey

Hakan Kilic | PhD Candidate, Department for Migration and Globalization, Danube University Krems

“Well educated Turks are increasingly returning to Turkey” (DW, 2010). Newspaper articles like these have been appearing increasingly in the media coverage of the last 10 years. The research on migration between Austria and Turkey is largely on guest-workers and concomitant family migration. Although the statistics do not provide information on how many of the returnees from Austria to Turkey are highly skilled persons, it can be assumed that the number is very significant (Kilic/Biffl, 2019). It should be noted that in 2018 for the first time in the history of bilateral migration, Austria has a negative migration balance with Turkey. In other words, more people are migrating from Austria to Turkey than vice versa (Standard, 2019). It should also be noted that this particular return is not a classic return like after retirement. Root Migrants are the descendants of guest workers, i.e. the 2nd and 3rd generation, most of whom were born and/or grew up in Austria. Their return can therefore be described as a roots migration. They return to the country where their parents or grandparents came from (Wessendorf, 2007).

Migration research has been dealing with the topics of return migration and the migration behaviour of highly skilled migrants for quite some time, whereby the special focus, i.e. the return migration of highly skilled migrants, has only gained attention in recent years. In migration research there is also no consensus on the definition of the term “highly skilled”. While some researchers see the most obvious starting point for defining highly skilled in the level of education (Borjas, 2005), others see the classification of the profession as crucial (Bouvier and Simcox, 1995). From the perspective of Turkey, there is a clear definition of who can be considered highly skilled, for which special support programs and scholarships are also available to encourage these people to return. “Those with internationally accepted studies in the academic field, those who have come to the forefront in a scientific, industrial and technological area that is considered to be strategic in terms of our country, or those who have made or are anticipated to make significant contributions to the national economy in terms of exports, employment, or investment capacity, shall be deemed as qualified foreigners” (International Labour Force Law, 2016).

In contrast to the highly skilled people recruited by Turkey, for whom certain policy measures must be implemented, other highly skilled people are returning or considering returning. However, preparation is necessary for a successful return or return intention, which requires the mobilization of resources (Cassarino, 2004). Social capital plays an essential role in this respect because any migration decision, including the return of highly skilled migrants, is in one way or another connected with their resources. For Robert Putnam, social capital contributes features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit (Putnam, 1995). In addition, the adoption of social capital should strengthen democratic structures, promote institutional and economic performance and provide integration of migrant communities and enables participants of the whole society to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives (Putnam, 1996).  That means, that highly skilled Turkey origin people can also act as “bridge people” and shape the interactions between the host and migrant societies, which can have a positive influence on the whole social life e.g. Integration of Turkey origin community. In order to be able to perform this function and enable cooperation between societies, there must be trust in society as a whole and the possibility of generating social capital. According to Cassarino it is especially highly educated second-generation migrants, who have accumulated social capital in the host country but face challenges in getting adequate recognition and jobs, as a result they tend to become root migrants (Cassarino, 2004).  Social capital therefore plays an important role both in social cohesion and in the decision-making process of migration.

The motivations and factors that trigger a migration process among highly skilled migrants are  diverse, e.g. discrimination experiences, sense of belonging,  and go beyond simple economic reasons such as better income (Aydin, 2013).

In the social science discourse, the aspect of ‘unfavorable career prospects’ is one of the main reason for the emigration of highly skilled people of Turkey origin (Pusch/Aydin, 2011). Although migration may be job-related, it is not always the unsuccessful or disadvantaged, but rather career-oriented and development-minded individuals who have aspirations (van Mol et al., 2017).

According to a study from Austria, about four out of ten foreign employees feel very or quite discriminated in work and occupation (SORA, 2003). According to another study, decision-makers make their hiring decisions based on non-functional criteria such as ethnicity or “cultural characteristics” (Janßen/Polat, 2005). Further, it shows from studies that applicants with Turkish sounding name, although German mother tongue, citizenship and same/similar education, have far less chances for an interview (Kaas/Manger, 2010).  Negative experiences in the labor market and in social life, which are perceived as discriminatory, increase the willingness to leave Austria for Turkey.

Although highly skilled Turkey origin people of the 2nd and 3rd generation have their living center in Austria, the question of belonging arises for many. In addition, it must be noted that there are no secured numbers of high skilled Turkey origin persons, which are necessary for a representative sample. In two different studies from the years 2009 and 2013 in Austria, 66% (Ulram, 2009) and 46% (Statistik Austria, 2013) of people of Turkey origin feel a sense of belonging to Austria. For most of them, however, identification with or a lack of a sense of home with Austria plays a rather subordinate role. The vast majority choose neither the German nor the Turkish identity and show a hybrid identity (Aydin, 2013).

It is necessary to investigate first of all possible motivations/factors and the importance of social capital for the migration of highly skilled Turkey origin people from Austria to Turkey in order to evaluate to what extent the emigration of this specific group is eventually relevant for integration process.

December 2020

Creating a transnational identity

Sophia Kremser | PhD Candidate, University of Salzburg

“Flexibility” is the main quality that leads research projects to success in 2020. One positive effect of Covid-19 is that it forces researchers to be very flexible regarding project planning and the organization of data collection processes. Furthermore, conducting field work in so-called “red list countries” due to Covid-19 cases requires either a maximum of courage, or the flexibility of adapting research designs. On top of that, introducing a project on migration and mobility, which is dependent on the researcher’s mobility itself, requires a good sense of humor in relation to the pandemic times we currently experience. Therefore, I muster all my courage and humor to introduce my PhD project on how global church practices and faith narratives of Nigerian Pentecostalism stimulate the creation of a transnational identity that shapes individual’s mobility and migration practices.

Focusing on how migrant’s cross-border practices both form and change political, economic and cultural contexts my main attention is drawn to the religious aspect of the theme. Religious belonging does not only link migrants to coreligionists in the home and host countries. Far beyond migration global religious movements unite members, wherever they live with fellow believers around the globe. In this sense transnational narratives play a significant role by tying individuals and communities into a larger common constituencies. Along these transnational ties migrants are enabled to maintain a homeland connection in religious affairs, transform religious practice in their homelands and export different versions of faith with political or social consequences in the host society. Consequently, migrant transnational practices involve and have an influence on religious phenomena. This includes patterns of organization, personal and group identities, intergroup relations, modes of practice and faith. As a result, processes of migrant transnationalism support significant forms of religious transformation within these patterns.

Apart from religious transformation caused by transnational church practices and narratives the created transnational identity shapes mobility and migration practices. Consequently, the interaction of religious practices and transnational migration and mobility culminates in a Christian movement called Nigerian Pentecostalism.  Nigerian pentecostal churches are active in today’s societies, use recent communication methods, media and marketing, generate international networks of transport and mobility and have a focus on prosperity. The networking strategy of pentecostal initiatives involves social and religious practices that contribute to the claim of a transnational identity and have an impact on the transnational development of migration and mobility. On a personal level faith narratives serve as an interpretation frame for migration and mobility practices. Both global church practices and faith narratives of Nigerian Pentecostalism play a key role in forming a transnational identity that shapes people’s migration and mobility practices. Next to transnational church practices and narratives, people’s aspirations of personal success, better living conditions and the pursuit of mobility add to the dynamic of constructing a global identity.

Methodically my PHD project is based on a qualitative approach combining participant observation and problem-centered Interviews (PCI). Within the data collection process fieldwork is conducted in different cities of Austria, Germany and Nigeria. Lock down realities, the situation of “red list” countries and people’s attitude rather not attending in-person meetings required a great data collection flexibility. A theoretical sampling process helped to practice this flexibility by jumping back and forth between data analysis and the collection of new material. Even though the pandemic slowed down the process of data collection I was able to collect a good amount of observations in various church locations and interviews with respondents from different branches in Austria, Germany and Nigeria. I focused on one specific church of Nigerian Pentecostalism and its global network that is a prime example for the construction of a transnational identity and a proclaimed high mobility status of church leaders and members. Another reason focusing specifically on this church is the practiced women leadership, which is very unusual for the men dominated leadership of Nigerian pentecostal churches.

In consequence of having to postpone my second planned research trip to Lagos in Nigeria from August to December this year, I focused on interviewing in the church branches in Germany and Austria. This interview phase illustrated that the investigation of the church headquarters in Benin City, Nigeria is my next step. Another positive effect of pandemic times was the home office situation. I was able to spend the time it previously took me to get from home to my work on my data analysis and started an open coding process. The first five interviews I coded already gave me an insight how church practices and narratives stimulate the creation of a transnational identity. Despite some difficulties of getting an overview and conceptualize the codes, I was able to map out first concepts and theory approaches. One assumption is that global church practices and faith narratives of Nigerian Pentecostalism stimulate the creation of a transnational identity that shapes individual’s mobility and migration practices. My next step is to test this hypothesis within another data collection phase in Benin City Nigeria in December this year. Though the current situation is not in favour of planning a research trip, I am looking forward to collect further interview data in the church headquarters in Benin City, Nigeria. In previous interviews the church’s headquarters turned out to be an important global player in the worldwide church network in relation to transnational communication practices and holding international gatherings. My intention of planning a field trip to Benin City in December requires a great flexibility in changing travel plans and adapting my research design. Simultaneously, I am ready to go back to a deeper analysis of my so far collected data, which will make a future fieldtrip even more successful. Whether being able to carry out the fieldtrip to Benin City or not, a great flexibility in planning and adapting my research design is required to successfully carry out the PhD project – and not to forget the permanent companionship of courage and humor.

December 2020

The Impact of Collective Remittances on Community Resilience: A Case Study on Rural Health Infrastructure in Burkina Faso

Eric Bayala| PhD Candidate, University of Innsbruck

Since colonial times the region of Central East in Burkina Faso and especially the province of Boulgou has been the place of outmigration because of forced labor, ecological conditions and the epidemic of onchocerciases (sleeping disease). People of this province were sent as forced workers to Ivory Coast and Senegal. Others left the region and went to Ghana or to another region of Upper-Volta, today Burkina Faso (Blion and Bredeloup, 1997; Zongo, 2004).

My PhD project investigates, which impacts collective remittances of a diaspora group have on the resilience of the rural community and their household members. Literature on remittances generally refers to money sent by migrants to their family members in their country of origin. Besides such financial remittances, my research looked into the role of social remittances e.g. social relations between diaspora members and members of their home community, which transmit knowledge, skills and attitudes in Niaogho in Burkina Faso. For this purpose, a field research was conducted from April 2018 until March 2020 in Italy and in Burkina Faso. It focused on community resilience (in terms of financial, social and environmental capital), aimed to highlight the impact of the collective supports of diaspora, trans-migrants, and returned migrants who live in Lombardy (in Italy) on community health pathways in the rural municipality of Niaogho (Burkina Faso). Two community projects that were financed by a diaspora association in Italy are studied in a case study: the construction of a health center and of a drugstore. To measure the impact of these collective investments, I conducted a household survey in Niaogho. Furthermore, data from the government of Burkina-Faso, experts’ interviews and focus groups complemented the data generated. A final workshop validated the data and results.

Objective of the field research and Methodology

The research aimed to uncover the effects of investments in health infrastructure by diaspora of Niaogho and the related changes of social practices on the resilience of households as well as of the entire community of Niaogho. The PhD explores type of social remittances that diaspora and transmigrants generated through their interactions with household and community members in Niaogho. We further look into the type of social remittances and their transformative their effects first at household level and then at community level. In fact, the field research focused on health-related interventions, both in terms of infrastructure and in terms of knowledge transfer regarding prevention and cure of diseases. However, research highlights the intervention of a woman group of the hometown association called “Association des Ressortissants de Niaogho en Italie (ARNI)” in Niaogho. This woman group of ARNI works with women of Niaogho on topic related to healthcare.


Firstly, results show that the construction of a second health center enables the division of the municipality of Niaogho into two sanitary areas. Yet, more women from remote areas of the municipality have access to health center. Further, results indicate that supports of health infrastructure by diaspora organizations have not only a positive impact on the accessibility and quality of services, but also reinforces the knowledge and practices of the populations toward malaria, infectious diseases, mother child health and hygiene. Members of the diaspora are taken as role models in terms of health-related behavior.

Secondly, interactions of Diaspora, transmigrants and return migrants with community members of Niaogho generate social and cultural forms of remittances. For example, regarding prenatal and postnatal advices, results revealed the strong influence of men in the family planning, especially the one who live in the diaspora. In fact, if the family planning or the contraception was long the “ business “ of women, nowadays numerous interventions in health sector in Burkina Faso try to integrate men in the mother and healthcare programms. But, men living abroad influence the behavior and attitudes of their wives in Niaogho. Moreover, the use of contraception raises problems for some couples, especially the one who are religious, traditional or women whose husbands live abroad. Others results regarding trust, suggest that trust reinforces the share, the circulation and acceptance of health related knowledge and information. Trust is an important component of health seeking behaviour. Without trust in health workers, patients would not regularly visit the health centers. Moreover, trust and health outcomes may mutually affect each other for the wellbeing of patients and there is positive relationship between the use of healthcare services and trust.

Thirdly, during their visits to Niaogho, migrants transmitted and share through advices, norms and valued that acquired abroad. Indeed, awareness raising activities and health advice by diaspora women group help to reduce cases of diseases. These activities are beneficial for the entire community members of Niaogho and the education and awareness activities are conducted with volunteers from Italy in collaboration with local health and social workers from Niaogho for all community members. The knowledge transferred by diaspora for family planning, mother-child-healthcare are diverse appreciated by families with diaspora connections and the one without diaspora connection.

However, the financing of physical infrastructures affects health-related practices and behavior, especially through the interaction between diaspora women association and women groups in Niaogho.


Findings show that diaspora generates social remittances though their interaction with the local population in Niaogho have transformative effects and enhance health resilience of households and community members in Niaogho. Thus, diaspora shapes and prepares community members to innovate and to accept changes.

Positive behaviors acquired by the diaspora in their host countries and put into practice during their stays are often “copied” and “imitated” by the locals. Usually, migrants are highly respected by the locals population and they may influence culturally engrained practices, such as health-related behavior, gender equality, and trust.

Other findings suggest negative impacts of social remittances at the household and at the community level. In fact, there is a tendency of decreasing dependency on each other within the community in favour of institutional support through the health center and in favour of outside help and private health care (households with diaspora connection). If help from outside is fast and efficient, there is no need to turn to other community members in case of financial problems.

Migration enables a transfer of social capital and brings innovation, fosters changes in traditional communities (de Haas, 2007) and in daily practices toward health. In fact, the one with diaspora connection are more opened to health treatments, and there are better informed. But, they are less respectful toward health workers and there are less patient than the one without diaspora connection.

December 2020

“Permanent temporariness” of migrants and refugees:

A result of the new forms of international mobility regimes – evidence from the EU-Turkey migratory space

Ahmet Icduygu | Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Koc Üniversitesi

A burgeoning body of scholarly literature has focused on understanding the question of “permanence versus temporariness”, which reflects migrants’ dilemmas about their settlement decision in destination countries. Most studies in the field have focused on the cases of temporary labour migrants who turned into permanent settlers (Castles, 2006; Khoo et al., 2008). Other studies deal with migrants who arrived with the permanent settler status but returned home, or have been undecided about permanently staying, going back home or moving to another country (Icduygu, 1994; King, 2000). These studies detail how a variety of factors through various configurations have resulted in a significant shift in the decisions of labour migrants on settlement or return in regular migration settings (Vosko et al., 2014). However, some of their findings seem to be consistent with similar trajectories in the flows of irregular migrants and refugees in certain geographies, such as those in Turkey, or in the EU-Turkey migratory space.

Of course, there are considerable variations in how the lives of today’s irregular migrants and refugees are directed and manipulated by new forms of international mobility regimes, and how these lives are subject to a state of “permanent temporariness” (Bailey et. all., 2002). Here I briefly show that the dominant regimes of border crossings and international protection result in the creation of “transit countries” and a state of permanent temporariness in which irregular migrants and refugees (and/or asylum seekers) become prisoners of a life in limbo – neither fully tending towards integrating into the current host communities, nor strongly intending to go to their home communities. There is no doubt that some aspects of the uncertainties that irregular migrants and refugees face in the form of permanent temporariness are directly associated with “living in an age of uncertainty” (Bauman, 2007). By that, Bauman refers to fact that “in our contemporary societies with “liquid modernity”, many social forms and institutions cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives”. In this context migration is not an exception.

Beyond the general frame of the uncertainties of our time, one can argue that the sense of permanent temporariness is also related to the ways in which dominant international mobility regimes tended to regulate the cross-border movements, both non-forced and forced ones, thus creating conditions for “step-by-step” movements. Rather than bringing solutions to irregular border crossings, harsh migratory control measures, reception and protection policies have made migrant journeys difficult and complicated, causing them to resort to indirect strategies of moving to temporary destinations before reaching the “intended” final destination (Icduygu, 2000; Collyer et al., 2012). In other words, the current international mobility regimes have given rise to the emergence of transit spaces that host different groups of migrants with or without initial aspirations for onward mobility. Over the last two, or three, decades, the EU-Turkey migratory space exhibits these dynamics. For instance, the summer and autumn of 2015, in witnessing the mass flows of Syrian and Afghan refugees through Turkey to Europe, did not only reveal the complexities of migrants’ decision-making processes once they are en route, but also disclosed the tangled relationship between the decision-making of people on the move and the intended and actual policy outcomes of the international mobility regimes.

While the political turmoil, clashes, and economic hardship occurring in countries such as Afghanistan and Syria have pushed people from their homelands in the hope of a better life, security and protection from persecution, and while destination countries fail to offer better reception, protection, and integration measures, migrants, or refugees, may decide to stay in the country of transit if they find immediate safety, or choose to migrate onwards, if they are unsatisfied with the conditions in the transit country. Even returning home may appear as another step in these migratory trajectories. In short, the lives of migrants and refugees, become subject to the ongoing uncertain possibilities of settling in the current destination, moving further to another location, and returning home. All three of these options reflect the opportunities as well as risks under certain conditions.

In the migratory setting described above, migrants, or refugees, find themselves in an environment of uncertainty – in permanent temporariness. This environment creates a new and unprecedented setting for individuals and families on move, confronting them with a series of challenges never before encountered. These migrants, or refugees, have to deal with a variety of temporary undertakings and experiences that do not correspond to the kind of life episodes in which we tend to safely make plans and project our future. Under the condition of permanent temporariness, migrants, or refugees, calculate the likely gains and loses of acting, or not acting. Their strategies are often so tactical as to end commitments without regret and to follow new opportunities based on their convenience. Exploring these conditions is imperative to understand and explain the power of migrant (refugee) agency, which contributes to the ongoing mobility ventures under dangerous and difficult conditions of the current international mobility regimes.

September 2018

The role of external players in refugee politics in the Middle East –

Lebanese and Turkish policies towards Syrian refugees and geopolitical constellations

Lea Müller-Funk | Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam

Lebanon and Turkey have been extraordinarily open to the influx of Syrian refugees, at least until 2015. Up until today, they carry a large share of the global Syrian refugee population: Lebanon officially hosts over one million registered Syrian refugees (UNHCR, 2017) and has one of the highest refugee ratios worldwide, with a quarter of the country’s population being a refugee. Turkey currently hosts the world’s largest refugee population with 3.5 million registered Syrians in 2018 (UNHCR, 2018).

However, in both countries, the 1951 Geneva Convention is not applied to Syrians. Lebanese and Turkish refugee policies remain highly entangled with the historical context, their foreign relations to Syria and regional geopolitical constellations. Furthermore, these policies are, to different degrees, dependant on international funding and international organisations (IO). The fragile and volatile political situation in Lebanon and Turkey renders a long-term perspective for Syrian refugees extremely difficult.

The politicisation of Syrian refugees

In both countries, policies towards Syrian refugees are negotiated in relation to domestic and foreign policies, often boiling down to the question whether or not Syrians are perceived as political allies. Hence, discourse around Syrian refugees has become highly politicised. Syria’s occupation of Lebanon (1976-2005) has left its traces and until today, Lebanon remains politically divided between anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian forces. Hizbullah, which is part of the current government, continues to be substantially involved in the Syrian civil war, siding with Assad. Furthermore, the history of Palestinians in Lebanon has shaped the governmental position towards Syrians, leading to a no-camp policy.

Turkey, on the other hand, has become the host of major parts of the Syrian opposition, while the Kurdish conflict has grown into a core political issue ending a policy period of relative rapprochement in 2015. Last but not least, the Turkish military has been directly involved in Syria with two offensives in North Syria between 2016 and 2018 – against forces of ISIL and in Kurdish-dominated areas. These dynamics affect, to a large extent the degree of segregation and integration Syrians face in the country. In Lebanon, for example, the fear that Syrians – who are in their large majority Sunni – might change the confessional balance of the country has turned Christian leaders to become vociferous promoters of restrictive policies towards Syrian refugees (The Daily Star, 2018). In Turkey, due to president Erdoğan’s support of parts of the Syrian opposition, Syrians are perceived by large parts of the Turkish public as pro-Erdoğan. During the presidential elections, the move of the AKP government to grant Turkish citizenship to 50,000 Syrians, was heavily criticised by the opposition, who in turn promised to deport Syrians back to Syria, should they win the elections (al-Jablawi, 2018).

Legal contexts and the involvement of international organisations

Contemporary Lebanon and Turkey have very different types of statehood, shaping their respective policies towards Syrians (Dionigi, 2017). Lebanon’s political system continues to be fragile and dominated by confessionalism. As a result, Lebanon did not have a government between 2014 and 2016, partly explaining its ‘non-policy’ towards Syrian refugees and a stronger involvement of IOs compared to Turkey (Issa, 2016). Turkey’s government, on the other hand, has increasingly grown authoritarian since the failed coup d’état in July 2016, characterised by a two-year state-of-emergency, the repression of political opposition, civil society and critical media outlets.

Lebanon has always refused to be an asylum or resettlement country and solely regards itself as a transit country for Syrian refugees. Based on a Memorandum of Understanding, UNHCR can register refugees; yet, the Lebanese government does not give legal effect to UNHCR’s refugee status. Therefore, registered Syrian refugees are considered to be waiting for resettlement to another country, which is paradoxical given the number of actual resettlements (12,600 persons between 2013-2016). After an initial phase of open borders, the situation has gradually changed since 2014/2015, towards a partial recognition of refugee rights combined with increasing restrictions. The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, run jointly by the government and the UN, was a milestone for agreeing that the most vulnerable Syrians and Lebanese should be granted humanitarian protection. At the same time, new restrictions have been put in place with regards to entering the country and applying for and extending residence permits, leading to a situation where many Syrians live without valid residence permits. Furthermore, UNHCR registrations were suspended from 2015, and the right to employment was barred for those already registered with UNHCR.  This means that Syrians in Lebanon today face huge restrictions in their access to basic health services, work, and education and are often subject to exploitation in the workplace due to their irregular status.

Turkey has ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention, but with a geographical limitation: according to this, only Europeans can apply for asylum in Turkey. Syrians in Turkey are placed under temporary protection (TP), under the 2013 Law on Foreigners and International Protection. In contrast to Lebanon, it is the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) of the Ministry of Interior, which manages the registration of Syrians. The law is the result of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations and draws heavily on EU acquis: It includes the principle of non-refoulement, the right to legal stay, and the access to health and educational services. However, it does not offer protection from political persecution nor does it entail providing residency permits. Equally, TP does not automatically grant a work permit – Syrians are technically allowed to apply for permits in specific sectors with certain limitations; yet, in practice, work permits are difficult to obtain. Since 2014, the context has become increasingly restrictive: In 2015, travel permits were introduced to control the mobility of Syrians in the country, and borders have been sealed off, hindering Syrians in crossing the border legally. Lately, the government has also stopped registrations in several municipalities, such as Istanbul and Hatay. Citizenship, which has been technically opened to Syrians in 2016, seems the only opportunity for a long-term stable perspective; however, there is no clear application procedure and the number of people who have been granted citizenship is low.

The EU-Turkey Deal

In March 2016, the EU-Turkey Deal established a specific resettlement procedure between Turkey and the EU. This includes a 1:1 system whereby, for every Syrian readmitted to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian from Turkey should be resettled to the EU. In addition, the deal includes other incentives, such as financial aid, visa-free travel and progress in EU membership negotiations. Over two years later, the deal has not been fully implemented. Until November 2017, less than 2,000 individuals were returned, while thousands of people remain locked up in overcrowded detention facilities on Greek islands.

However, the number of boats arriving in Europe dropped significantly. A combination of factors are responsible for this decrease: Increasing entrance and mobility restrictions within the country, the sealing of the Balkan corridor, the appalling conditions in Greece, and the crushing of the smuggling industry in Turkey (Batalla Adam, 2017). Those who are forcibly returned to Turkey face an uncertain future: In Turkey, the principle of non-refoulement – in violation to the European Convention of Human Rights, which Turkey has ratified – is not an absolute right. On the contrary, due to a presidential degree it is possible to circumvent it under certain conditions – namely if there is a threat to public health, morality or order. This has been repeatedly used, for example, to send regime-critical Kurdish Syrians back to Syria. On the other side of the spectrum, the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey, the financial centrepiece of the deal, has supported projects in humanitarian assistance and migration management amounting to a total of €6 billion (2016-2019). The EU-Turkey Deal has hence effectively externalised the border control to Turkey, who in turn significantly benefits financially and politically of this agreement.

What do refugees want?  

Refugees’ subjective low life satisfaction, especially with regards to work, education and their legal situation, coupled with the perception of an impossible return to Syria are highly influential factors to consider to move on to Europe from Lebanon and Turkey. Syrians’ aspirations to return to Syria are generally high, but are at the same time highly conditional in regards to questions of security and stability: How to be safe? How to build a stable and dignified life? What infrastructure will be available in post-war Syria?

Central in this context is the question which government will be in power in post-war Syria: Many respondents, who sympathise with the opposition, stated that they would not return to a Syria under Assad, and suggested an international protection arrangement in former opposition areas as a condition for return. Another group of male interviewees fled to avoid military service. Deserters risk being killed or jailed and subjected to torture if caught (LANDINFO, 2018). Many of them would only return if there is an amnesty guaranteeing a safe return.

To design a comprehensive and effective EU asylum and migration policy, it is hence crucial to understand that Syrian refugees are being turned into a bargaining chip in domestic politics in the MENA region; despite the involvement of OIs and international financial aid, standards of protection in the region are considerably lower than in a European context; Syrian resettlement needs are not met and are increasingly combined with a restrictive border management; aspirations of Syrians in Lebanon and Turkey, to return to Syria or to move on to another country, depend on all of these factors.

September 2018