Former Visiting Scholar Erdur-Baker reflects on stay with Center


Özgür Erdur-Baker

Professor of Education, Middle East Technical University
Ankara, Turkey

Dr. Erdur-Baker was in residence at the Center from January-December 2019

I arrived at Boston College in January 2019 as a Visiting Scholar of the Center after having been awarded a Fulbright Scholar award to support my research project "Developing a Need Based, Gender and Culture Sensitive Psychosocial Support Intervention Model for Displaced Syrians Through Community-Based Participatory Research."

I arrived with several data sets and questions I was seeking answers for concerning the ongoing refugee crisis that impacted my country of Turkey the most.  I am a firm believer that due to the increased interconnections among countries, disasters can no longer be considered as local events. Climate change, war, poverty, violence, terrorism, and other natural and human induced disasters appear to be major reasons for forced displacement which creates traumatic stress. However, these motivating factors of migration may also end up as consequences of that very migration. For example, exclusion/discrimination/stigmatization, recognition gaps, ethnic tension, violence, and poverty rates increase in refugee receiving countries with already stretched resources. The world is currently experiencing the highest levels of migration rate ever, with 70.8 million displaced people. As the map seen below illustrates, all of Europe, including Turkey, is being impacted by the recent Syrian refugee crisis.

The most common route for Syrian refugees to enter the EU passes through Turkey.

Common EU migration route from Syria

Turkey hosts the largest refugee population in the world (UNHCR, 2019). Almost 46% of the refugees in Turkey are younger than 18[1]. However, many of the refugees arrive in Turkey to transit to European countries with the hope that they may find better resources and living conditions. Therefore, Turkey is another departure point for refugees and immigrants after their country of origin. Considering migrant-sending, migrant-receiving, and transit country positions, Turkey seems to be a critical country for displaced people (Refugee Rights Sub-Commission, 2018).  One reason would be the convenience of its geographical location. Specifically, Turkey is considered as a natural bridge between economically less developed countries in the East and the more developed countries in the West. In addition, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are convenient for illegal crossings of coastal borders due to the geographical nature of the coasts (Refugee Rights Sub-Commission, 2018). However, even if these illegal entries from the coasts seem convenient, they are highly risky.

Following the agreements between Turkey and the EU, the formal closure of the immigration route from Turkey to Europe has been enforced since March 2016. Such regulations have not been successful in stopping the movements of irregular immigrants, however. Their numbers have increased along with the number of smuggling networks.[2] Due to the restrictions applied by the European countries, refugees and migrants have been forced to return to their departure points during which many tragedies have happened.

The large scale of international immigration also has the potential to cause domestic immigration, as is the case for Turkey. With the policy of open Eastern Doors yet closed Western Doors, refugees who flee to Turkey feel stuck and the whole country can feel like one big refugee camp. As refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria settle in the country, locals are forced to immigrate domestically and internationally. For instance, about 82% of the population in Kilis, a city in the South-east of Turkey, is now Syrians. Moreover, the majority of the refugees resettle in developing countries and the bulk of them come from low SES. Refugees with higher education and economic resources tend to choose to immigrate to developed countries and these countries are more likely to open their doors to them. For example, in Turkey, the average age of Syrian refugees is 22.7 (45.7 % are younger than 18), only 8.4% have college/university degrees, and almost 40% are either illiterate or have only an elementary education[3]. So although all of Europe is experiencing a refugee crisis, the size and the nature of the crisis varies from country to country, and this requires the development of creative, context specific, and flexible/adaptable intervention programs.

Refugees in Turkey

As of March 2019, there were 3.6 million refugees in Turkey, which constituted the largest refugee population globally and represented almost 5% of the total Turkey’s population.  

For latest figures, refer to Turkish Directorate General of Migration Management under "Temporary Protection"

Latest figures

Therefore, my Fulbright research aims to address to this challenge. With constantly changing numbers, settlement locations, needs and group specific problems, large scale humanitarian aid must be planned, implemented, and its effectiveness tested. Considering the large number of school-aged children with traumatic experiences (including traumatic parental backgrounds) education and mental health appear to be vital issues to be addressed.

Such needs and issues cannot be seen as local problems. Yet, the contextual factors appear to be vital. Refugee receiving countries, especially the ones with limited resources, are usually affected negatively by forced immigration processes. Education and health are the two sectors that are affected the most. Also, local people feel threatened of losing their jobs and culture. A primary concern is the integration of immigrants and immigrant adaptation policies in these countries. The increasing rate of immigrants has given rise to concerns about the modalities of integration and adaptation including institutional set-up for invigorating pro-democratic forms of immigrant adaptation and integration policies.

During my sabbatical year, I had a chance to think about and discuss about these issues with several wonderful people from different universities and NGO’s in Boston. At Boston College, The Center of Human Rights and International Justice provided me the most stimulating environment for my research goals. I am most grateful to my host Brinton Lykes who spent her very precious hours discussing my data and sharing her extensive knowledge and insight. I had an opportunity to listen to several wonderful talks, and attend several conferences. Even though I was quite distressed about the content of some of the talks, such as one claiming that the most moral/ethical solution for the global refugee crisis is to give money to the current hosting countries (e.g. Turkey) so that refugees would stay where they are and not to reach to her country, I am still grateful to be exposed to different opinions and assured that “yes, global refugee crisis is indeed a political issue” and we need more advocates for human rights and international justice, like Center personnel Brinton Lykes, Daniel Kanstroom, and Timothy Karcz.

Thank you, Brinton, Tim, and Bonnie Waldron (Center Staff Assistant) for making my stay memorable. You will be missed.