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Stuck on the Way to Europe? Iranian Transit Migration to Turkey

This article discusses Turkey’s increasing role as a country of immigration by using the case study of Iranian migration to Turkey. While Turkey predominantly functions as a transit country for Iranians on their way to the West, this article will focus on a small group of Iranian migrants who went to Turkey with the purpose of transit but eventually settled down in the country. At the same time, the article investigates the concepts of “transit” and “settlement” among a growing group of Iranian students who entered Turkish universities in recent years. In which ways can these students be compared to other Iranian migrants in Turkey? And to what extent are Turkey’s institutions for higher education becoming an easy channel for migrants looking for ways to leave their home country?

Stuck on the Way to Europe Iranian Transit Migration to
Iranian refugee Behzat looks out of his kitchen window during an interview at his home in Nevsehir, on May 3, 2010. AFP / Bülent Kılıç
 

Introduction 

“I don’t know what will happen in Iran after four years. So, I will make a plan for myself to go to America or somewhere else, like all Iranians want to. But I know I will not be able to do that, because you need to have money (….) So I said to myself: ‘Ok I will not be able to go to other countries, so I have two options: to stay in Turkey, or to go back to Iran.” (Farzad, 25, Iranian student at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey)

The phenomenon of transit migration has become a central element in both scholarly and policy discussions since in the 1990s, when the European Union introduced stricter border controls and imposed serious obstacles for legal migration into its territory.1 As a consequence, more migrants from the East and the South seemed to use overland and maritime routes in order to reach Europe and had to use several “stop-overs” on the way, such as Turkey, Ukraine, Libya, Egypt and Morocco. At the same time, large inflows of migrants and asylum seekers from the South and East have transformed these so-called ‘transit countries’ into immigration countries in their own right.2 However, few studies have investigated the settlement of migrants in locales that they only intended to transit. This article will try to fill part of that gap by presenting the stories of several Iranian migrants for whom the perception of Turkey transformed from a transit location into a place of immigration. What factors were important in their decision to settle down in Turkey, and how can we relate that to Turkey’s changing modes of reception for foreigners from the Middle East? 


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