BRIDGES Working Papers 16 (March 2023)
Information is a key element in the decision-making process for refugees and migrants considering moving on from a transit situation. This report explores how personal experiences of Afghan refugees and migrants residing in Turkey and their access to networked information sources, together form their dominant narrative of onward migration. Further, the report investigates how Afghan migrants’ narrative of migration relates to and contrasts with the main messages of EU-funded government information campaigns targeting potential migrants. The report is based on qualitative interviews with 46 Afghan refugees and migrants from all social strata. Most of these had left Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
Explored through the lens of the migrants’ local narratives, the report presents central factors that influence migrants’ decisions to stay in Turkey versus move on to Europe, including their access to resources and networks, specificity of destination, and access to smugglers. The report also discusses the alternatives to moving on.
The main narrative emanating from the informants depicts the situation in Istanbul and Turkey more generally as unpredictable, ever-changing, and deteriorating, pointing to a declining economy and labor market and unpredictable and diminishing access to residency. Living in an irregular situation meant lack of access to schools, education, regular housing, and health services. All informants pointed to an increasingly hostile discourse on refugees and migrants in Turkey, relating the following stigma and prejudice to Turkish party politics and the spread of toxic content on social media. Selected findings include:
The dominant narrative of migration for the Afghan refugees and migrants includes elements such as “we had to leave Afghanistan, and there is no future there,” “Turkey could have been a destination, but conditions are deteriorating,” and “Europe can provide stability, rights, and a future for our families.”
There were no active EU-sponsored migration information campaigns targeting migrants and refugees residing in Turkey at the time of study. However, when asked, the Afghan interviewees were not susceptible for the standard messaging of such campaigns: they should explore opportunities in their home country; the route is dangerous; and life in Europe can be tough. All informants had access to, and relied on information from smartphones, including a range of social media platforms. Other key sources of information included family and friends in Turkey and the EU. Smugglers provided details for those choosing to cross the border.
Based on the material in this study, we recommend that Turkish immigration authorities, together with EU governments work to increase the predictability of the practice of issuing residence permits to refugees and migrants in Turkey. Further, that EU countries speed up the processing of pending visa applications from Afghans residing in Turkey. We also recommend that future EU-campaigns take into consideration the precarities of the target group, are based on transparency, and adhere to the information needs of the refugees and migrants.