International migrants in Istanbul: the invisible residents of the Turkish Metropolis

The closed doors policies and enhanced border controls for limiting unwanted immigration pursued by the EU since the ‘80s had as main side effect the growth of transit flows through the territory of countries at its fringes, Turkey in particular. EU’s main reaction to a process itself have activated has been that of exercising strong political pressures on the governments of those it labeled as ‘transit countries’ to obtain their collaboration in stemming the tide of migration flows. As a consequence, international migration in Turkey is today mainly framed as a matter of flows rather than stocks.
There is evidence that EU security concerns targeting transit migration are strongly and negatively affecting the way in which Istanbul problematizes the presence of international migrants and reacts to it. As a consequence of the ‘transit’ rhetoric it is taken for granted that there are no immigrant residents in this city, hence problems concerning their social and spatial inclusion are practically absent from the local political agenda as well as from the public debate.
Actually, international migrants from a wide range of countries are heading towards Istanbul either for working there (economic migrants), shuttle trading (circular migrants), looking for humanitarian protection (asylum seekers) and trying to reach the EU (transit migrants). The number of those settling permanently is constantly on the rise. De facto deprived of the ‘right to have rights’, first of all that of existing and being part of a community, their plight is not that they are not equal before the law, but that no law exists for them. Most of them live in highly vulnerable conditions clustered in run-down neighbourhoods in Fatih and Beyoglu, two of the most central districts of the city where other marginal groups are also confined, and thus contributing to the existing spatial and social fragmentation of the urban space.
The paper will investigate the urban impacts of the geopolitical interests underpinning the discourse on transit migration and its outcomes. In particular it will examine how the presence of international migrants in Istanbul is perceived, framed and dealt with by different urban stakeholders, namely the local governments (unprepared/unwilling to cope with the phenomenon), service providers (confronted with new demands emerging from increasingly diverse, often not entitled, users), civil society organizations (the first and only actors taking action to respond to migrants’ needs) and the local society at large. On the other side, it will explore the ways in which foreign residents, prevented from being formally included, have no other choice than adopting informal modes of socio-economic and spatial incorporation casting a question mark upon the actual meaning of citizenship and belonging.

BIO | Giovanna Marconi Architect (Università Iuav di Venezia, 2001); Master degree in “urban Planning in Developing Countries” (Iuav, 2002), PhD in “urban planning and public policies” (Iuav, 2012). Contract researcher at the Urban Planning department of Iuav (2004-2008), since 2008 Giovanna is researcher at the SSIIM Unesco Chair on the ‘Social and Spatial Inclusion of International Migrants – Urban Policies and Practices’. Her main fields of research are the urban impacts of South-to-South international migrations and transit migration. Recently she coordinated the Experimental Observatory on International Migration in Urban Areas of Latin America (MIUrb/AL, 2006-2008) and worked as Junior researcher within the EU funded Project Managing International Urban Migration in Turkey, Italy and Spain (MIUM-TIE, 2008-2009). She is author of several book chapters, papers and scientific articles on the urban dimension of international migration.





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