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January 31, 2020

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The Long Road to Utopia: Integration in Turkey

Writers such as Orhan Pamuk and Can Dündar have described how torn their country has become between Western secularisation and the religious zeal thriving in much of the Middle East. Culturally speaking, Turkey represents a unique branding opportunity; two-in-one, or so it would seem from the work of these intellectuals. It’s no wonder, therefore, that it is also a country that attracts debate and analysis from a plethora of non-Turkish writers.

 

In recent years, the phenomenon of displaced people fleeing countries on Turkey’s borders has settled comfortably into the framework of international journalism. Journalists who have already explored the country’s considerable ambiguities now write about this popular issue. It’s an issue that takes time- not just in finding a solution to the “migrant crisis”, but in the literal footsteps that asylum seekers take. Anguish doesn’t last long, when viewed within the span of centuries, but during a decade’s worth of individual experience it can feel like a lifetime. Throughout the journey to safety and shelter, emotional fulfillment is the true Utopia that lies at the end of the proverbial road.

 

The quality of integration in a host country is, presumably, what brings this fulfilment closer to people seeking refuge. Tolerance, employment and adequate accommodation are key, as opposed to discrimination, apathy and a marginalised existence. Turkey seems to be facing challenges in delivering positive requirements, however. A recent article by Alan Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, highlighted the need to increase education and employment for Syrian refugees in the country. The clock is ticking for the social integration of these refugees, with a swift return to Syria constantly appearing on the horizon.

 

Apart from legislation surrounding temporary residence, one of the factors of this potential return is the money being pledged to help people inside Syria. UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mark Lowcock has made it clear that the arrival of pledges early this year strengthen the potential to plan improvements for Syria’s educational facilities and housing. The EU has pledged €560 million for the next three years, while the UN has appealed for $3.3 billion.

 

While serving a just, humanitarian purpose, the money being offered fuels the mass expectation that innumerable refugees will soon return to Syria. Public sentiment, if negative towards refugees, could be further inflamed by this expectation and a wave of departure may ensue. Capital, therefore, becomes a factor of the shuffling of bodies between nations, much like the 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU.

 

A lack of integration in Turkey boils down to a systematic mechanism when viewed from an individual’s perspective. Scarce emotional fulfilment can leave a gaping void in the march of time. This is particularly true in the case of countries that are slow to integrate refugees and asylum seekers socially and economically. Makovsky’s article, or report might be a better term, mentions that Turkey is slow to harness the skills of Syrian refugees in the workplace, with the country essentially “tiptoeing towards integration”. The route is sluggish, impoverished and painful.

 

Turkey has long been a destination for the displaced. All that can be said of this is summed up in an image virtually identical to all the others floating around in the media; people trudging along on an endless path. The antidote to the monotony and frustration is simple- the human heart. It’s there somewhere in the confusion, whether on the road from Damascus to Antakya, or in the queue for bread on a street in Kilis. All the same, it’s a metaphysical destination. The time spent until it’s reached, however, is a panorama of sentiments ranging from boredom to indignation to bafflement. The countless tents constructed, the piles of money pledged and the jumble of jobs sought are all part of the drowsy lullaby while we wait for the kettle to boil.

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