Asylum and the Right to the City: Lessons from Turkey’s Syrian Guests and Other Urban Refugees

Un intéressant billet de Asli Ikizoglu Erensu sur Jadaliyya Cities

The mass movement of Syrians fleeing civil war to neighboring countries has become called the “Syrian refugee crisis.” The sheer volume of refugees brings up questions not only regarding these countries’ financial means and organizational capabilities but also, more importantly, regarding national identity and regional belonging. For example, reports on Jordan point to national concerns about the possible changes in the country’s demographic balance, while refugee rights activists critique Turkey’s open door policy on the grounds that it represents less a humanitarian response than a foreign policy maneuver made to increase Turkey’s influence in the region. The Turkish government’s direct involvement in the conflict as well as its (mis)treatment of earlier arrivals of refugees from countries other than Syria, such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Somalia supports this latter interpretation.[1]

As Syrian refugee camps fill up in all neighboring countries, either more refugees either move out of camps to live in cities, or the camps become integrated with the towns surrounding them. The increasing presence of Syrian refugees in cities forces us to reconsider the “crisis” from an urban point of view. This, certainly, does not mean that we ought to confine ourselves to a bounded scale, since the reception of refugees in cities is a case-in-point for how the urban is assembled by forces that exceed it. I am not only referring to objective conditions that structure such reception, (e.g. national asylum policies and the roles certain cities have come to play in the global asylum regime), but also to the subjective perceptions of urban publics which are intertwined with these conditions.[2] It is such multiplicity that complicates refugees’ claim to a right to the city. While the right to the city is theoretically inclusive of migrants, refugees and other non-citizens (especially in its strictly Lefebvrian sense where it is coupled with a right to difference),[3] in practice these populations’ claim to a right to the city is not straightforward at all.[4] The reception of refugees in Turkish cities illustrates three factors that affect refugees’ ability to claim a right to the city. The first is the kind of protection provided by the national state and its interpellative[5] effects on urban publics. The second is a territorial understanding of the urban. And, the third is an understanding of time in the city that prioritizes permanent inhabitance over transience.

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