Migration and Transit

/Migration and Transit
Migration and Transit2020-10-05T13:14:15+00:00

“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