Charles Simpson, Zeynep Balcioglu, and Abdullah Almutabagani, write: At first glance, the March 2016 EU–Turkey deal, which gives visa-free travel and 3 billion Euros ($3.3 billion) in relief aid to Turkey if it stems the flow of refugees to Europe, seems to have worked. Turkey now hosts three times the number of Syrian refugees as all of Europe, and according to data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), there has been a dramatic drop in the number of refugees moving from Turkey to Greece since the deal was enacted. However, for many refugees, the real reason behind the decrease in refugee flows into Europe lies in their own widespread preference to remain in Turkey, where they perceive a better life is possible.
Earlier statistical analysis by Oxford University researchers found the drop in migration predated the EU-Turkey deal and therefore could not be causally connected. A series of interviews with Syrian refugees confirm this trend, indicating most refugees interviewed wanted to stay in Turkey and were using their socioeconomic resources to facilitate integration. Many of those who did travel to Europe found life there was not necessarily the paradise they anticipated and in many cases communicated back to Syrians in Turkey that the journey’s risk was not worth the reward.
Those refugees in Turkey with the resources to do so are buying homes, learning Turkish, starting businesses, enrolling in schools, and forming communities. They face a range of obstacles, including health service inadequacies, a language barrier, and racism. Not all refugees in Turkish cities are lucky: while many refugees in Turkey have found informal work, most are underemployed, underpaid, and have a difficult time finding jobs that meet their qualifications or educational level. Still, most of those interviewed—even those who had lived in Europe or had close relatives living there—reported a preference for life in Turkey over Europe. Turkey offers them looser enforcement of employment regulation, more established Syrian communities, a familiar religion and culture, and geographic proximity to Syria that gives hope for return. Three communities are particularly illustrative of the appeal Turkey holds: Fatih and Sultanbeyli in Istanbul, and Manisa near Izmir. [Continue reading…]