Dr. Meltem Sancak

Living with indeterminacy: being an undocumented migrant in Istanbul

This research aims to look at a relatively recent development in Turkey, namely its evolution into a global destination for migration, beyond that from neighboring states or as a result of population exchange, as had been the case in the past. In particular, the project focuses on migrants who chose Turkey intentionally, have already spent several years and intend to establish their lives within Turkish society. The reasons for Turkey becoming a country of immigration from different countries are numerous and often the difference between short-term and long-term stays are not that clear. While economic motives rank prominent, violent conflicts are another important source as the most recent movements from places like Syria and Iraq, or other “forgotten conflict areas” like Afghanistan, Somalia or Pakistan. Considered to be temporary in the first place these may well turn into more permanent residences depending on the political developments in the respective countries of origin. Others use Turkey rather a stopover place where they get their refugee status from UNHCR for their further travel to other destinations. Summer 2015 showed Turkey also as a transit destination where the race of migrants passed through the Balkan corridor towards northern Europe.

This research aims to focus on those who plan to stay, become documented and eventually getting citizenship? What kind of meaningful decisions can people take in illegality concerning family unification and having children? To what degree do informal structures suffice to solve the problems, which are related to the status of being illegal and undocumented? Why and how do migrants or residents seek for solutions to their problems in informal structures, although for some cases other alternatives are also available? What shapes their decision-making process, particularly their reasons to stay or go back? And, related to the duration of time, how long do they intend to stay and what kind of life-style do they develop in Turkey? How do they keep contact with home in the absence of travel freedom?

Since migration issues in Turkey have so far been studied only rarely by anthropologists, this study aims to fill this gap and be complementary to other disciplines. It is conducted as a Co-Funding Scheme, supported by TÜBİTAK and The Marie Curie Action COFUND within the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Commission.