Migrant perceptions in Istanbul: Is it the economy?

By Mine S. Eder
Submitted to Session P5024 (Ethnographies of Everyday Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Political Economy;
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The aim of this research is to draw a preliminary map of how Turkish shopkeepers develop their perceptions toward irregular new migrants (“new” as of post 1980s) and explore the nature and the extent to which the intensity of economic relationships with migrants shape those perceptions. As is widely accepted, the incorporation of migrants to the economy and to the social fabric of the host country is a crucial issue. It is impossible to assess this incorporation process without taking into consideration the perceptions and the attitudes of the citizens regarding migrants. With the influx of 2.76 million Syrian “refugees” (who are officially not recognized as such, but is put under ambiguous “temporary protection” status in Turkey), this process has become even more complicated and more urgent. Understanding perceptions of citizens towards migrants can also help us make sense of the incorporation process and assess the effectiveness of the legal/economic and political management of irregular migration in Turkey.

The findings of this paper are based on a neighborhood-based fieldwork, which captures the perceptions of shopkeepers with various economic relationships with immigrants, in four districts of Istanbul, Osmanbey, Laleli, Kumkap? and Aksaray in which large numbers of irregular immigrants can be encountered. The research involved in-depth face-to-face one focus group in each district, and a small pilot survey. The fundamental characteristic of these four districts is that, they all host a considerable number of diversified migrant groups, who either reside in the neighborhood, engage in "shuttle trade,” send goods and food supplies to their home countries and/or work in different sectors so as to survive. In short, the migrant groups make part of the economic life, albeit a predominantly informal one. What are the factors that shape the perceptions of shopkeepers concerning migrants? How do the shopkeepers with an economic relationship with immigrants differ from those with no relationship, if any? Do positive economic relationships/profits have an impact on the perceptions toward migrants? How does his own economic condition (and yes the shopkeepers are predominantly male), his economic threat perception (precarity, vulnerability to shocks) as well as his perception of the state and state's undertakings so as to manage irregular migration shape those sentiments? Are there differences among various migrant groups in terms of perceptions? Do political and ideological perceptions, ethnicity and religion matter? This study seeks answers to such questions mapping possible determinants of perceptions about migrants in Istanbul.