Areas of Migration Expand but not Enough Information is Produced

9 February 2018, Mehmet Ali Çalışkan Civil Society is an area in which victims express themselves, raise questions on their victimization and look for ways to lighten or eliminate it. It is possible to see a variety of victimizations from ethnical, religious, cultural or identity oriented ones to demographic ones, or from transportation problems to […]

9 February 2018, Mehmet Ali Çalışkan

Civil Society is an area in which victims express themselves, raise questions on their victimization and look for ways to lighten or eliminate it. It is possible to see a variety of victimizations from ethnical, religious, cultural or identity oriented ones to demographic ones, or from transportation problems to problems such as not reaching to public services. A new kind of victimization arose in Turkey’s existing conditions and it is to have obstacles when trying to do researches, produce information within universities. One of the subjects that face an obstacle is migration issues. Apart from refugee migrations streaming to Turkey, there are also life-style migrations from Turkey towards the West. All of these reveal the need for doing researches and producing information on this very diverse topic. Association for Migration Studies (GAR) define their objectives as “to do studies on migration, to join other studies conducted by different disciplines, to support migration researches and researchers, to contribute to the expanding of information on migration studies and to provide solidarity, communication, cooperation and interaction between colleagues working on migration subjects.”

We asked GAR’s founders about the conditions which made them found an association as such and what their aims are.

Mehmet Ali Çalışkan: Here is my first question: CSO founders do kind of a gap analysis before founding the organization. They see a gap in the area they think about working on and want to fulfil that gap. What do you think the gap in Turkey about migration studies was and what made you decide on founding an association for that?

Didem Danış: Recently, civil society has increasingly been working on migration issues, especially since Syrian refugees’ heavy migration to Turkey. Mostly, humanitarian aid associations work on it. In spite of this extension, lack of information is still a critical problem. Neither the public sector produces enough information not the civil area. In the academic field, ‘migration studies in Turkey’ is a new sub-discipline. In academy, there is not a channel for producing and sharing collective information either. That was the main point: Looking for ways to produce collective knowledge for the public and CSOs, for policymakers and academicians.

Besim Can Zırh: I can say that the idea isn’t a new one. We had an attempt to work on the subject in 2008, but we created a blog, not founded an association. It was called “Migrant Writings”. Didem was also a part of it. We said to ourselves: “We are all studying on migration, but it is very little known in Turkey”. For example, migration to Germany actually took 40 years. So, we thought a blog could be a way to connect easily; we could trace migrations’ reflections in photography, cinema or music. It was a small attempt before the Syrian refugee issue. After the incidents in Syria, as Didem already said, there was a blow-up based on urgency. Information production became a sector very quickly. It was all so quick that nobody took a second to ask “what kind of process is going on here?” I think about how this association will function, what will make it answer the purpose or how it will realize itself as a CSO. I believe it would contribute the best if it could manage to make a meta-narrative and a reflexive analysis of migration services, migration researches and migration policies in Turkey and trace an alternative history of the process.

Deniz Şenol Sert: I can add one more thing. Production process faced an obstacle first in the academy, in migration studies. After the Syrian refugees, many of us received notifications from the rector that said we needed permission to do any research about the Syrians, without saying how to get that. They set up a barrier in the academy to anyone wanting to do a research on the Syrians. Interestingly, some easily managed to go beyond those barriers but on the other hand, it was really hard for some others. Some people were able to get that permission while others were not. Or to get research grants. Obviously, you cannot apply for a grant unless you have permission. This interruption in the information production process speeded us up and made us come together.

Didem Danış: We –as migration studying academicians- decided to form a migration researchers’ platform at that point. It was totally informal, before the association. We thought a lot about the research ban, because it was not only a prohibition, it was also a hidden one. When that secret notification was in the press, we started discussing about how to surpass that. This kind of control mechanism was not present even in the times of 12 September 1980’s coup d’état. So, we can say the association has a rooted history; it is not a sudden decision.

MAÇ: What you said positions the association as an academic institute. Seemingly, the point here is to produce information, support information production, overcome barriers before the information production process or to discuss, meditate on them. One of your aims is to raise awareness among the public. So, while producing information makes you more of an expert, raising awareness makes you advocates. Is there a tension here between expertise and advocacy?

Besim Can Zırh: I don’t see much of a tension. Our occupational personalities are originated from the academy. We are academicians. This is our job. Our position in the academy is another question. However, I think that commenting on how the information production process works is an involvement about how that information could be used in the interdisciplinary field. “Do not be afraid of the Syrians, because they will contribute to our economy.” This sentence is based on information, for example. But how that sentence turns into a discourse, there is a tension in that transition I think. To be involved in that process includes a potential involvement in life itself. I don’t see that kind of tension in an academic institution like this, but we can talk more about the other dimensions.

Polat Alpman: I don’t think there is a huge difference between expertise and advocacy. Especially in Turkey, as long as you struggle, defend and raise awareness about the subject you study, you continue being an expert of it. That is one of our biggest problems here in Turkey. People in the academy cannot protect their positions. They atomize, act like they have never been a part of it. GAR may act as a common ground here.

Didem Danış: Also, you cannot be an advocate of something you do not know clearly. That is for sure. Although civil society expanded quickly after the Syrian refugees, not enough and analytical information was produced. It is already an advocacy to produce collective and analytical information based on researches. Especially in today’s Turkey.

MAÇ: Advocacy is not necessarily a motivation for academicians’ to produce information. I mean, information does not have to turn into a policy, a suggestion, a strategy. On the other hand, the civil society needs to use that information as an instrument to affect politics, decisions and opinions. You might have seen some kind of an uninformed advocacy about the migration issue in Turkey’s civil society. That’s why I asked that question. Which issue will you give priority to? Will you fulfil the information gap or use the information you produced as a tool to negotiate with public administration?

Deniz Şenol Sert: You might be right in an ideal system, but some CSOs can reach the public while others cannot. We are a very new association right now; I am not sure about our position. Our objection might be to be more visible in public arena. For example, when we conduct an activity about education and the Syrians, teachers in that area also come and listen to it. We probably regard advocacy and raising awareness mostly as a civil matter, not a governmental one.

Didem Danış: As Deniz said, in an ideal world we want the CSOs to be included in policy making process, but in current conditions, the public is not always accessible. But we see in our activities that public officers, meaning the civil members of the public, get affected by the information we produce and want to do something. Teachers and officers who work in Directorate General of Migration Management come to our activities. They get the chance to think thoroughly about their work and ask different questions. On one hand, we are very young association. It has only been 4 months since its foundation. There is polarization in Turkey right now, the state monopolizes many areas, but I believe we will be taken seriously in a few years, due to the importance of the information we produce.

Gülay Uğur Göksel: One of the things we want to achieve is to provide information for CSOs and prepare a meeting to help standardizing their work on refugee issues. We plan to hold that event in the first weeks of June and it focuses on integration. This meeting is designed to analyse the impacts of existing social adaptation projects on the Syrian refugees and hosting society, to share information and experiences. CSOs working in migration field lay emphasis on the concept of social adaptation recently. It is not only popular, it is also funded. But when we give a closer look at the content and design of those programmes, we generally see some rote practices without a certain standard. People working in CSOs are informed about social adaptation, but because the concept is very abstract, there is also a feeling of being lost. We plan to publish a manual on the standards of integration services, along with integration panel discussions and workshops in June. We will write those standards with CSO representatives, experts and officers working in migration field. CSOs’ studies aim only at integrating the Syrian refugees who are under temporary protection. Other refugees are totally out of their agenda. There are many programmes designed for social adaptation of the Syrian refugees to the Turkish society that are funded by international organizations. But when you question how social adaptation is defined, how the refugee number is determined, the answers are usually not based on rooted ethical standards. We hope that the manual on the standards of integration services will serve as an infrastructure for this kind of programmes. We also plan to build a website to promote these programmes.

MAÇ: When we give a look at studies of the civil society, we see that the ones which are in accordance with their social profile interact with each other more. CSOs have difficulty in gathering differences. For example, a secular environmental association finds it hard to get together with an Islamic environmental association. Migration, however, seems more like a common issue. Do you think about taking measures against it?

Didem Danış: There are two kinds of meeting here. One is the meeting of academic knowledge and civil society and the other is the meeting of two disconnected CSOs through an academic, outsider association like ours. I think the most negative side of recent times is polarization and disintegration and the best thing to do against would be to become together. Migration is a field upon which you can think collectively, independent from political position. Social adaptation/integration conference in June will provide a chance to get together.

Gülay Uğur Göksel: The aim is to gather everyone through versatility not through controversy.  I know that it’s possible. I had conducted field studies in Canada. It can be an important opportunity for CSOs to come together and revaluate their programmes. The manual on the standards of integration services is designed accordingly to that dream. The main objective here is to raise awareness.

MAÇ: What do you mean exactly by awareness? Which part of the society do you aim to reach?

Didem Danış: There are three groups; academicians are one of them. But I include also students in that group. We aim to support students that are interested in the subject and also postgraduates who write their thesis on migration studies, although they cannot get enough academic support because it is not a settled sub-discipline. The second is people working in CSOs. Because they are, especially the ones in humanitarian aid associations, mostly focused on the very moment. They do what they have to do but they do not know so much about it. It is also important to raise awareness among them. The third group is public. It is important that we reach to public officers, not necessarily to the administration itself. For example, we have a Facebook page and there are officers from the Directorate General of Migration Management, teachers and health care professionals following. The news, announcements and reading tips provide a different kind of awareness for them. So, this is not only under our control, not very strictly formed. We use any kind of tool to raise awareness.

MAÇ: When I ask to representatives of other CSOs, they also mention about the difficulty of reaching the public. On the other hand, we see that public administrators follow their field. Although not referenced, there are civil society’s studies in their texts. Green Peace affected every regulation on GMOs, but not a single reference was given, for example.

Deniz Şenol Sert: It is definitely the case about migration studies. Turkey’s first law on Foreigners and International Protection was enacted in 2013. Many people think the reason of this law is the Syrians, however, it was a part of EU harmonization process. Academicians and CSOs had a direct effect in the law making process. It was truly a liberal period for us. Public and academicians became acquaintances unintendedly. We know who they are and they know who we are. We definitely follow each other. The contact was closer in the beginning but in time, due to Turkey’s conjuncture, doors were shut to some institutions while opened to some. So, there is already a contact and we try to maintain it implicitly.

MAÇ: We recently see that CSOs now discovering an impact oriented approach instead of focusing only on their performance. Instead of the quantity of activities, they think more about the purpose of their work.  How do you plan to see these impacts on the three groups you mentioned-academicians, CSO workers and public officers? What parameters will show this impact and how will you analyse it?

Deniz Şenol Sert: It is an issue we have been discussing a lot about. Didem scanned theses about migration in Turkey and we published them in our bulletin. It is a start. This could serve as a bench mark to show us where we are, academically at least.

Didem Danış: For now, we particularly want to make an impact analysis of social adaptation projects implemented by CSOs. But after a year, it would be nice to make an impact analysis of our studies, too.

Gülay Uğur Göksel: We want to hold an annual event called “Champions of Social Adaptation” as an outcome of the mentioned social integration workshop. We want to form a platform in which CSOs holding social adaptation programmes come together annually, share their experiences and present posters about their services. These events would provide important opportunities to keep a track of changes in social adaptation programmes and to see how we effect the studies we want to raise awareness about.

Deniz Şenol Sert: It would be a great contribution if we could make the officers understand the importance of making impact analysis. Because, we know that the same donor funds two organizations to open a social center, but these organization has a huge distance between them. It is important to make them think about this fact. I was in Ankara and heard everyone saying the same thing. There are some Syrians who have entrepreneurship or software certificates, but nobody knows what happens to those people after the trainings. It is crucial to make trainers, trainees and policy implementers understand that the importance of measurement.

MAÇ: Do you focus mostly on the Syrians?

Didem Danış: Not only Syrians, we focus on all immigrants and refugees. We are not comfortable with the fact that studies on Syrian refugees dominate this field. Syrian refugees are not the only ones. We want to draw the attention to the forgotten groups. For example, we will do a postgraduate workshop in February called “The Other Face of Migration: Afghan Immigrants and Refugees”.

Deniz Şenol Sert: When you look at the founders of the association, you can see that nobody leans on the Syrian issue. We have been studying on migration for 10 years or more and do not define migration only over the Syrians. We may be talking mostly about the Syrians today, but due to Turkey’s geographical location, we can talk about other groups in time.

MAÇ: I have one last question. You are all academicians. Will migrants have a chance to work in the association?

Didem Danış: We hope that. The number of people who have education in social sciences is not high, particularly among Syrian and other refugee groups. But we somehow have started to get in contact with them. We want to support some young refugees’ academic formations and help them conduct the researches they want, in our association.

MAÇ: Is there anything you want to add?

Besim Can Zırh: I want to go back to the question about advocacy and expertise. We were discussing today about how to support information production about migration. I think, the most important axis of is in the language. If an accurate langue could be formed, anyone working in the field of migration such as academicians, CSOs, teachers or people interested would know that there is a certain kind of language there. I think this would make an important impact in the long run, if we manage to institutionalize that language.

Didem Danış: GAR is a multi-disciplinary association. This alone is a richness I think. Multi-disciplinary is not in the academic sense. I mean that it brings together different groups, such as public administrations, civil society, academy and beyond. So, what we are trying to achieve here is what Turkey needs the most right now. In an extremely polarized world, it is crucial to talk together, ask questions and think over collectively, even the answers are different from each other. If we can manage that the rest is not so much important. Also, as academicians we all know that it is not very possible to produce analytical information in universities right now. Founding an area like this outside of university has civil intentions. Unfortunately, university today is not a place where analytical, scientific and qualified information is produced.