6.1 Strategic Temporality in and Beyond Turkey’s Refugee Situation

The findings of this in-depth case study provide insights for generalisations about how strategic temporality may operate in other refugee-hosting countries as well as specific findings about state responses to mass migration situations. Some key findings can be summarised as including a (1) complicated and fragmented legal system, (2) multiplicity of actors, (3) re-nationalisation and restrictiveness, (4) increased complexity and uncertainty in all layers of rules and practices, (5) consistent liminality experienced by refugees. These characteristics are observable in concrete policy practices in diverse sub-policy fields involving remote border controls, blocking reception, downgrading protection and slowing integration. As we showed, the concept of strategic temporality, along with its related components of liminality, uncertainty and complexity, is helpful for understanding state responses across time and sub-policy fields.

Our empirical chapters illustrate how strategic temporality at the governance level causes indeterminate liminality. Syrian displaced people often find themselves facing in-betweenness in waiting to cross borders, to receive reception accommodations, to access international or national protection and to enjoy integration. This prolonged liminality marked with ambiguity directs many Syrian refugees to invent strategic, but often temporal, coping mechanisms to survive. Some seek ways in which to stretch the boundaries of this liminality to overcome memories of the past, and to construct a future in Turkey, Syria or elsewhere not only for themselves but often for their children. Some reposition themselves to claim collective agency in the Turkish context within the limits of endless liminality and the dominance of strategic temporality.

From a governance point of view, our analysis — which incorporates various dimensions of Syrian mass migration— demonstrates the dominance of strategic temporality. First, mass migration constitutes a rupture in the earlier status quo, a change in established forms of policy-making and governance. State responses show continuities and changes within a country, even if it targets the same refugee groups (as in Turkey’s response to Syrians). Thus, early and late arrivals face different responses, which has also been observed in Jordan and Lebanon’s treatment of Syrians or in responses to refugees in many European countries (Stel, 2020, 2021; Şahin Mencütek, 2018). There is no sole causal link to explain these changes because multiple domestic, international, socio-economic and bureaucratic imperatives influence the content and implementation of policies. The relevance of these imperatives varies according to the dynamic context. For example, while foreign policy interests in the nearby neighbourhood where refugees originate appear to be the most determinant factor influencing border controls and reception policy choices, socio-economic factors may become more relevant for permanent protection and integration. Multi-drivers in policy-making inevitably lead to a politics of categories that blurs irregular migration and asylum. The ambiguities are not coincidental or a mere failure; instead, they are strategically constructed to serve control; they are strategically implemented when the temporal circumstances make it “needed”.

Temporality is a process that we have observed in all aspects of asylum and migration systems, affecting institutional frameworks and populations (both Syrians and other protection beneficiaries and host society members). Temporary legislation and policies, increased ad hoc-ism, excessive use of discretionary power, and bypassing institutional accountability measures are all different forms of temporal governance. The notion of uncertainty is experienced at all governance levels, and in our view, this is intrinsically related to strategic temporality. Looking at uncertainty from a processual perspective, we can also explain it with the concept of liminality—namely, a rite of passage through which the earlier status quo enters into a period of transformation. One characteristic of liminality is increased ambiguity. Applying this concept to migration governance may provide an in-depth understanding of the destructive consequences of protracted transitional regimes on human populations and the international refugee regime. Drawing a parallel with waiting times for asylum applications, the longer one remains in a state of liminal positionality and uncertainty, the more devastating migration challenges may become.

As elsewhere, the perception of crisis and related narratives has complicated matters, turning Syrian mass migration and, in general, international protection migration into a highly complex policy field, crosscutting diverse sub-policy fields and involving a multiplicity of actors. When mass migration is managed in and through crisis, actors in multilevel governance settings choose from a repertoire of possible and available actions, including strict non-admission, deterrence, restriction, ad hoc or welcoming responses. These responses may have historical roots, chosen from a repertoire of sedimented policy options applied when faced with a crisis-like situation or may indicate a ‘new’ discursive direction in policy-making. In each response, the scope of policies, the boundaries of institutions and the types of cooperation are re-negotiated and re-defined. Over time, responses are calibrated in line with various stakeholders’ immediate needs and long-term interests. As the Turkey case reflects, migration is governed in and through strategic temporality, and the notion of crisis is instrumentalised as a governance mode by multiple power centres – not merely populists – to mobilise resources and legitimise policy actions.

Despite the centrality of the state in designing policies, it is clear that we can discuss a local turn involved with carrying out subsidiarity roles. Non-state actors consistently navigate possibilities for participating in the spaces pertinent to refugee affairs. They play a considerable role in facilitating access to rights and services, and they increasingly become an essential part of the context. However, in many cases, the local turn has to be acknowledged with caution as part of state-centric response models because the efforts of non-state actors, intentionally or not, may rather comply with the state’s efforts to order migrants’ presence under the guise of social cohesion, protection, humanitarianism, etc. Non-state actors may be included in refugee governance in limited ways and only if they discipline their actions according to the dominant power relations and policy directions of the host country. Under these circumstances, they can be limited to eliminating inequalities and power asymmetries.

Finally, refugee agency is of utmost importance for understanding responses. Due to their legal precarity and temporariness, most refugees rarely take risks, such as participating in activities that involve confrontation with receiving state authorities. They generally cooperate with local actors or international organisations, but they are rarely included in the decisions that affect them. At the individual level, many refugees struggle to navigate such a complex and stratified system. In their everyday practices, they develop coping mechanisms to improve their reception conditions, empower themselves to have better protection and to achieve partial integration. Overall, they seek to overcome in-betweenness by moving to more permanent and dignified living conditions and by challenging the severe implications of temporality. Some local actors are also assisting them in navigating temporariness and to find belonging. Although this chapter has highlighted moments of agency and “success,” strategic temporality should not be viewed as anything other than a very difficult integration context.

In most research focusing on liminality, the notion of “being between” positions implies limitations to actions or a lack of agency. However, for forced migrants under strategic temporality, liminality is a semi-permanent state. There is no clear path out of liminality, only uncertainty, ambiguity and anxiety. Refugees cannot be certain about which actions to take and what the future will bring. Thus, our observations of displaced Syrians’ agency is an inspiring signal of their hope, perserverence and courage.

The unfolding of the case in Turkey in ten years, like elsewhere, provides well-grounded evidence that strategic temporality as a policy response creates a challenging condition for refugees; it contributes to controlling the mobility of migrants but is not able to entirely prevent irregular migration.

6.2 The Situation of Syrians and the Refugee Regime After 10 Years of Strategic Temporality

A mounting discourse about returning Syrians to Syria has replaced the initial discourses of welcoming reception, as explained in detail in Chap. 3. In the first years of mass migration of Syrians, a religio-political discourse of reception based on guesthood and the Ansar spirit was successfully implemented. However, since 2017, such a religio-political discourse is no longer embraced by an overwhelming majority of Turkish citizens. However, a growing discourse of cultural and religious intimacy is magnifying among Syrians in the face of their increasing socio-economic deprivation. Growing domestic societal and political tensions in Turkey have strengthened popular discontent against Syrians since 2017, which has led to the formation of xenophobic and even Arabophobic sentiments expressed by mainstream political parties, especially during electoral cycles.

While the ruling elite refrains from using a discourse of integration, silent integration is taking place as Chap. 5 illustrated. Considering that the discourse on return will pay off politically, the DGMM was reluctant to publicise the Integration Strategy Document and National Action Plan 2018–2023 (Uyum Strateji Belgesi ve Ulusal Eylem Planı 2018–2023), which the Ministry of Interior had already prepared in 2018. Also, Turkey has been muddling through with the integration of Syrian refugees without an officially recognised integration policy. Despite lacking an official national integration programme for many years and the rise of a return discourse (to Syria) among public officials and the media, there has always been a de facto national integration policy, including integration measures for employment, education, healthcare and citizenship. Recent developments at the national and local levels in Turkey, indicate that integration will most likely take more institutional forms in the years to come.

Protection has continued to be managed through temporary protection status, but with restricted mobility and development of policy instruments to enable returns, as elaborated in Chap. 4. The fear of being sent back to Syria increased even more after Turkish armed forces started a comprehensive military operation on the Turkish-Syrian border in October 2019 to create a safe zone planned for the return and settlement of around one million Syrians under temporary protection. The Turkish ruling Government continues to pursue a politics of subsidiarity by delegating reception and integration processes to local municipalities, NGOs, faith-based organisations, and refugees without sparing resources from the national budget. Under these circumstances, international funds from the EU are crucial for providing services to refugees under temporary protection.

Given that the ongoing economic crisis is coupled with the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing domestic political and societal fragility in Turkey, the continuous ambiguity of their temporary legal status has made Syrians more concerned than ever about their prospects of being able to stay. Legal precarity, challenges in survival and ongoing ambiguity about the future have made some Syrians consider onward migration as a way of claiming their agency. Irregular passages from Turkey to the Greek islands still continue despite the fact that there was a sharp decrease in the immediate aftermath of the EU-Turkey Statement. Despite the hopes of crossers, the waiting conditions of Syrians in Greece is not less challenging than it is in Turkey. The fire in the Moria Refugee camp in September 2019, leading to the death of a woman and a child, revealed once again the misery of refugees on the Greek islands waiting for another rescue operation.Footnote 1

Ten years of refugee-hosting has displayed how migration has been used as leverage by the Turkish Government against the EU because the EU is mainly concerned with halting refugee flows before reaching its borders. It seems that Turkey will benefit from playing the “refugee card” in the near future because of the EU’s further policy plans regarding migration partnerships. The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, published in September 2020, explicitly mentions Turkey as the reference case and foregrounds the importance of the EU-Turkey Statement as a model. On the one hand, the Pact emphasises the role of third countries and the importance of collaboration with them, and it highlights the significant role of Turkey; while on the other hand, it strengthens the EU’s return policies and provides flexibility to both the Member States and third countries to foster collaborations. The EU Pact emphasises cooperation with countries of origin and transit to contain and control departures and to allow for repatriation. One of its critical elements is the promotion of tailor-made and mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries. Despite its failures, the EU-Turkey Statement has served as a blueprint for other countries, and the EU Pact confirms expectations regarding similar bilateral cooperation with non-European countries. After five years in operation, the future of the EU – Turkey Statement remains an essential and highly discussed question. However, both the shift to “return” in Turkey’s national migration and asylum policies and the stress on cooperation with transit and third countries, such as Turkey in the New Pact, give a clear idea about possible future collaborations between the EU and Turkey. The European Commission has already proposed an extra 3,5 billion EUR to help Turkey host Syrian refugees over the next three years (DW, 2021). In all likelihood, liminality, uncertainty and complexity will continue for Turkey’s Syrians, while the international context allows Turkey to play out strategic temporality as the main feature of its refugee governance.

6.3 A Perceived Mass Migration ‘Risk’ From Afghanistan in Mid-2021

Although this book focuses on Syrian migration, it is important to view Turkey’s refugee-hosting in its broader geopolitical context and in terms of potential regional risks that could generate displacements. Turkey lies at the intersection of Asia, Europe and Africa, making it a transit crossing route for migrants who intend to reach Europe. Its neighbouring regions consist of several unstable and fragile states (e.g. Iraq, Syria, Georgia). Moreover, as a middle-range power, Turkey is likely to get actively involved in several foreign policy actions in the conflicts emerging in Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa (e.g. Afghanistan, Ukraine, Libya, Azerbaijan) in the last two decades. All these structural and junctural features as well as continuing political and geopolitical alterations, make Turkey one of the important hubs for mass migration movements and the spillovers of protracted refugee situations, such as that of Afghans. The relationship between foreign policy and migration was once again clearly demonstrated by developments in Afghanistan in 2021 and subsequent migration movements. The actions of states, especially military or political interventions, can often lead to unforeseen or untargeted mass migration movements (Teitelbaum, 1994). The US entered Afghanistan on security grounds due to the 11 September 2001 attacks to create a more moderate government, and they decided to withdraw after 20 years in 2021, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. Migration from Afghanistan is not new but rather continued for decades. Pakistan, Iran and Turkey rank first as transit and destination countries in the Afghan migration movement. With the strengthening of the Taliban in the country and Iran’s more rigid policies since 2018, Iran had become even more of a transit country, while Turkey’s role had increased significantly as the second transit country before Afghans headed their way to Europe.

In the summer of 2021, almost everyone agrees that “a larger crisis is just beginning” for Afghanistan (UNHCR, 2021a). Afghans’ fleeing the country in search of refuge is definitely a humanitarian consequence of this political ‘crisis’. UNHCR reports that around 3.5 million people have already been internally displaced by violence– more than half a million since the start of 2021 (Ibid.). The Taliban has quite a bad reputation for mistreating women, minorities or any opposition to its regime. Besides violence and the risk of persecution, there are other “push” factors for Afghan refugees, such as a shrinking economy, poor service provision and lack of food security, among other things. Afghans seeking asylum elsewhere would probably have to embark on so-called “irregular migration” pathways because there is little chance for regular, safe and dignified migration for survival. The only remaining path is through Pakistan or Iran (or recently Tajikistan) if they re-open the borders to accept more on top of the officially registered 2.2 million Afghan refugees already in these neighbouring countries (UNHCR, 2021b). Estimates of the number of undocumented Afghans double this figure, making it one of the largest and oldest cases of protracted displacement in the world. Afghan refugee flows are likely to influence neighbouring countries as well as Turkey and Europe.

Previous research focusing on Turkey’s border management shows that the potential size of refugee flows will most likely not be less than those peaks in 2018 and 2019 when more than 200,000 Afghan irregular migrants were apprehended by Turkish security forces (Gökalp-Aras & Şahin Mencütek, 2019). The Turkey-Iran border is a critical crossing point for Afghans who seek refuge in Europe via Turkey. This border is marked by mountainous geography and harsh climate conditions in winter, making crossings deadly but still possible with the guidance and exploitation of smugglers. Since 2016, Turkey has installed more border restrictions to halt these crossings by building modular concrete walls, optic surveillance towers, ditches, and thermal cameras, and deploying security forces to patrol gaps along the border. Afghans have been consistently pushed back to Iran, or their asylum requests have been denied.

Nevertheless, thousands of Afghans have been able to get into Turkey. The majority of them remain unregistered and they are not granted any refugee status. As of September 2021, there were 1,435,455 Afghans in Pakistan and 780,000 Afghans in Iran, 116,403 asylum seekers and 980 refugees in Turkey (UNHCR, 2021a; b). Afghans benefiting from international protection in Turkey are reported to be 22,606 people for 2020. Afghans constitute the highest number of irregular migrants (DGMM 2021a, b). Although their exact numbers are not officially known, there are estimated to be around 300,000 based on the number of people apprehended, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (CNNTürk, 2021). Many of the Afghan migrants, who are undocumented young males, live in extremely precarious situations, particularly in İstanbul, where they are subject to the harsh informal working conditions of manual labour jobs to survive (GAR, 2021a). Due to a lack of legal protection, they fear arrest, detention, and subsequent deportation.

The burning question for the international community, specifically for the EU, if there is a significant rise in the number of Afghan refugees attempting to enter the EU from Turkey, is: how likely is Turkey to stop them? As we discussed in this book, the Turkish Government has strategically instrumentalised refugees for its foreign policy goals in its immediate neighbourhood and as leverage for negotiating with the EU for financial and political gains. Turkey may be expected to act again in the same way. However, its domestic concerns outweigh its far-reaching foreign policy goals when responding to and negotiating over refugees at this time. Therefore, a new possible deal between the EU and Turkey is less feasible than the EU-Turkey Statement. Such a deal is not politically viable for the Turkish Government if the EU only offers financial incentives. In the words of Turkish foreign minister Çavuşoğlu, “The approach that stipulates ‘Let me give some money, and you keep the refugees will not work” (Hürriyet, 2021). The protracted stay of 3.5 million Syrians for ten years has made Turkey more sensitive about receiving any other mass migration flows.

There are growing anti-refugee attitudes among the Turkish public turning into violent protests against refugees, including hate crimes and mobbing of the houses and stores of refugees. As elsewhere, refugees are blamed for unemployment, rent inflation, pressure over health and education infrastructures, changes in urban market spaces and rises in petty crimes. Syrians and Afghans are also accused of sexual harassment of girls, street fighting between children or employee-employer quarrels. A comprehensive review of media in 2020 illustrates that hate crimes against Syrians and other refugees are rising. At least 4 Syrians died, and 20 were injuredFootnote 2 in such hate crimesFootnote 3 only in the first nine months of 2020 (IHD, 2020). There have also been attacks targeting the houses, businesses, and cars of Syrians. Media outlets and human rights organizations report that state authorities tend to defend citizens in such cases at the expense of Syrians.Footnote 4 Refugees are reluctant to seek justice because they are afraid of deportation. Many of the rights violations and hate crimes/attacks are not recorded at all due to this fear (IHD 2020a). To illustrate the rise in tensions, in Hatay, in June 2020, five young Syrian males were attacked by 9 Turkish boys who were threatened them saying, “either return to Syria or we will beat you since you stay.” Footnote 5 In the fall of 2021, public anger also started to overwhelmingly target Afghans living in Istanbul.

Refugees become the new scapegoats for all of the societies problems and become targets of hate crimes. Being aware of uneasiness and societal tension, opposition parties further politicize the refugee issue through hostile populist discourses. They criticize the Government for “changing Turkey’s demography” or “treating refugees better than citizens” while they promise to send Syrians back to Syria if they are elected (GAR, 2021b).

In recent years, the governing AKP Party lost any leverage it had to support an open-door policy or to provision (even temporary) rights or services to any migrant group. Turkish President Erdoğan recently declared that “Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse” (FT, 2021). This speech was intended to comfort the public, who learned that he discussed migration and the situation in Afghanistan with the leaders of Germany, the UK, Greece, and Russia. Turkish politicians and the public are closely watching to see what protection efforts the EU, US and other countries offer to Afghans. Under these conditions and with a hyper-sensitive Turkish public, it will be challenging for the Government to legitimise any deal without some noticeable gain from hosting Afghans. Even running the Kabul airport will not be an attractive gain. Giving full refugee status or integration support is not likely to be part of the spectrum of responses offered by Turkey or any other regional country, leaving refugees even less protected at the end of such deals. Turkey may consider offering a temporary protection status, which poses a constant risk of repatriation. Given that a new deal with Turkey is highly desirable for the EU, EU policymakers should consider lessons learned from previous deals and negotiations.

Similar to the Syrian mass migration, Turkey’s role as a buffer country or border guard for the Afghan mass migration is a controversial agenda item. In Turkey’s foreign policy discourses, especially when the EU-Turkey Agreement is expected to be renewed, Afghan immigration is on the political agenda as an essential foreign policy bargaining instrument for Turkey. We are likely to see more strategic temporality in the governance of Afghan migration.