The Limits of Acceptance: Turkish Lessons for Dealing with Ukrainian Refugees – Politics

Friedrich Putmann is a visiting scholar at the Istanbul Center for Intellectual Policy and a PhD at the London School of Economics on the integration of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

According to figures from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, more than 600,000 refugees from Ukraine have now arrived in Germany. Throughout Europe, there is a great willingness among the population to accept them. Whether in Poland, Belgium or Germany: many people participate and even show their own homes. In the meantime, it became clear that the war could go on for a while.

Therefore, political advisor and mastermind of the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, Gerald Knaus, issued a warning: “Good intentions thrive because the situation does not spiral out of control.” Scientific studies based on the 2015 refugee crisis in Greece support this. A look at Turkey shows what is still important so that goodwill does not dry out over time.

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The currently open arms of Europeans towards refugees from Ukraine has sparked a debate under the slogan “Good refugees, bad refugees”. It comes in comparison with refugees from Syria, among others, who have been received less friendly in Europe. For many Arab refugees and people outside the European Union, the current culture of welcome is also evidence of underlying racism. That’s not far from the truth: while Germans were deeply committed to helping Syrian refugees in 2015, it was also the year of the far-right AfD’s rapid rise.

Immigration figures in relation to “cultural distance”?

And in 2016, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban strongly prohibited the distribution of Syrian refugees across the European Union at the initiative of Berlin and Brussels on the grounds that such quotas would “redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map of Hungary and Europe”.

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In fact, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has argued on the basis of his studies in the USA that racial diversity reduces trust within a society in the short run and thus harms it in the long run if new forms of solidarity are not created. For Oxford economist Paul Collier, this is why migration should not only be restricted in general, but in particular depending on the “cultural distance” of migrants from the host society.

Syrian refugees ‘brothers in faith’

These theses are highly controversial in science, and the reverse conclusion that religious and ethnic commonalities are a sustainable drive for solidarity is now revealed by the example of Turkey: With over 3.6 million registered refugees from Syria, Turkey has been hosting over ten years of refugees. From the world. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likes to say that Syrian refugees are “brothers in faith” and, given the common Ottoman history, they mainly belong to Turkey.

Mood changes in culture significantly

In fact, many Syrian refugees in Turkey have expressed a sense of cultural connection with Turks and feel at home in Muslim-majority Turkey. But Turkish society sees things completely differently: over time, the initial readiness for acceptance gave way to a sense of cultural threat, and in the meantime the political mood in the economically troubled country changed dramatically.

Syrian refugees in Turkey in April 2016.Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas/file photo

The majority of Turks are demanding that refugees return to Syria as soon as possible – despite the ongoing war there. Even among those who, like Syrians, speak Arabic or Kurdish as their mother tongue or consider themselves observant Muslims.

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The reason for this is that the similarities between people can be identified from the outside, but not the subjective sense of similarity. A good example is the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, about 50 kilometers from Syria. Mostly loyal Turks of Kurdish and Arab origin live here. If you talk to them about their relationship with Syrian refugees, many of them mention that Syrians are Muslims, Kurds, or Arabs like themselves, but they are “other Muslims” or “other Kurds.”

At worst, an insult

The resemblance narrative is therefore for many, meaningless at best, offensive at worst. However, many people continue to help refugees, because that is how you do it as a Muslim or a Kurd. Not the similarities, but the principles motivating them.

The insight that emerges from this is that anyone who justifies accepting refugees with the supposed similarity ultimately loses – not only morally, but also politically. Because once refugees become a burden, they will also be seen as ‘different’. So, if you want to create a lasting desire for admission, you must justify it with a reference to your country and its values. He should say: We can do it, because what matters in goodwill is not identification with those who seek protection, but identification with the shooter.

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