To what extent has Europeanisation impacted migrants in Turkey?

12 October 2015

Now that it is a candidate for EU membership, Turkey may also deal differently with migration and border control. Political scientist Beste Isleyen is studying this statement's validity, not so much through the lens of high politics, but instead by interviewing the people living the daily reality, such as border guards, police officers and the migrants themselves. Recently, she was awarded a Veni grant for her research.

Turkey is introducing measures to reform taxation, trade, democracy and migration in an effort to prepare for possible accession to the EU. Migration policy in Turkey, as in other Member States, will focus mainly on identifying migration risks, implementing pre-departure regulations, fingerprinting procedures etc.

Opposition to new policy

Isleyen will study how the daily realities of migration have changed in response to Turkey's new policies. 'Though there is no mistaking the official political stance in Turkey, I question how consistent this new policy is with the daily reality, and whether it has met with the opposition of those involved in it on a daily basis. Actually, I suspect it probably has.'
As one of its most surprising steps towards Europeanisation, Turkey has agreed with the EU to readmit migrants who cross into the EU via Turkish territory. 'Under the new rules, Turkey is required to detain migrants who depart from its shores for Greek waters and return them to Turkey, for instance. This is completely at odds with their previous instructions. It's unclear whether they actually implement these rules, or even feel motivated to.'

Not the easiest approach

Isleyen will interview at least 50 civil servants and officials, such as border police officers and guards along EU frontiers (with Greece and Bulgaria), migration and border control officials in Izmir and civil servants at the Turkish Ministry of the Interior, to gain input from all the parties involved. 'The entire study hinges on being in touch with the right people. I have every confidence that I’ll manage to do just that: I was born in Izmir, so I understand how things operate, how to approach people, etc.'

Immersion in the refugee experience

Isleyen is also interviewing refugees. 'They also have a valuable story to tell. What's life like for refugees? Many Syrian refugees have lived in Turkey for two or three years, so they can tell you a lot about their experiences and any changes they observe in the behaviour of border guards, for instance.' She is aware that interviewing refugees requires full 'immersion' in their experience. 'That means I can't just pop over for a quick interview and leave again; I have to actually live and stay among the migrants and go where they go. It's what I did in the preliminary study and I realised it took time to win people's trust. In the end they approached me, because they were anxious to tell their stories.'

Interviews lend - rather than undermine - credibility

But how reliable is the data, if research is based on interviews? Isleyen asserts, 'The stories of both the civil servants and migrants are essential. You hear their personal experiences, perceptions and ideas and any developments they notice. Their words give a much more reliable account of real-life events than any details high politics can provide. High politics only describe the ideal situation, the policy line.' 

Isleyen has already begun her research, which will take four years in total.

Published by  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences