Eighty years ago Laswell asked the question that became a cornerstone of modern political science: “Who gets what, when and how?” Laswell both re-centered political theory around policy and initiated further discussion about the rationale behind resource allocation. Today, mainstream literature on resource allocation and service provision tends to focus on states and citizens, and the role of policy design in determining the unequal access citizens have to public and social services provided by the state. Why are some groups prioritized and what kind of policy designs and instruments reinforce or alter the inequalities among citizens? This paper contributes to this branch of the literature by expanding the discussion to migrants and refugees. Applying the theory of the Social Construction of Target Populations developed by Schneider and Ingram, we examine how and why receiving states utilize multiple policy agendas, tools and rationales to legitimize their policy choices when targeting different groups of migrants and refugees. Furthermore, we analyze the consequences of these policy choices in terms of state/migrant relationship, as well as how these dynamics feed back into the image and reputation of states vis-à-vis the international community. To unpack these questions, we look at the cases of Turkey and the EU to explore the processes of social construction of categories of deservingness, victimhood, and undeservingness in the context of access to service provision for migrants and refugees. Using the data generated from legislative texts, public speeches, and media coverage, our findings suggest that there is no consideration for individual claims, rights, and needs when deciding the allocation of benefits and burdens to the different target groups. By contrast, decisions are often taken on the basis of country of origin. In Europe, hotspots have become the latest manifestation of the border as a space of identification and rejection, and migrants and refugees are portrayed, according to where they come from, as either vulnerable victims who might access top-down services, or an undeserving and dangerous threat to be eliminated by deportation. In Turkey, while Syrians are framed as “dependent” victims and granted “temporary protection status” with access to primary welfare services, other forced migrants are relegated to invisible, undeserving “deviants”. In both cases, we will explain the dismissal of migrants’ agency and the subsequent creation of formal and informal boundaries of inclusion, exclusion, and otherness, which hinder access to rights and long-term integration.