The Strategic Use of Labels for Syrians in Turkey

By Lamis Abdelaaty
Submitted to Session P4810 (Refugees from Syria: State Policies, Humanitarian Aid, and the Lived Experience of Exile, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Even as Turkey took in close to three million Syrians at great expense, Turkish officials were referring to these individuals as temporary guests rather than refugees. Despite significant legal developments in the country, and particularly the recent formalization of a temporary protection regime, this choice of labels reveals the influence of underlying political trends on Turkish policy-making regarding refugees. This paper compares Turkey’s reactions to the Syrian inflow with its responses to previous refugee crises, including Iraqis in 1988, Bosnians in 1992, and Kosovars in 1998. In so doing, it demonstrates that the refusal to designate certain populations as asylum-seekers or refugees enables Turkey to opt in or out of what might otherwise appear to be generally-applicable, national-level policies. Through these strategic semantics, policymakers retain a freedom to maneuver in response to international and domestic political pressures.