The missing migration component of Turkey-Africa relations

Turkey needs to come to terms with the immigration responsibilities that come with increased trade links with Africa.
Theodore Baird
1 December 2011

Turkey, over the last few decades, has claimed the status of a regional economic and political power, with a dominant position in the economic and political affairs of the Mediterranean Basin, the Black Sea and the Middle East. With its position straddling continents, it is a port of entry and exit for a massive growth in global trade with Europe, the Middle East and, increasingly, Africa. A long history of Ottoman relations with Africa, spanning centuries, died down only after the formation of the Republic in 1923. Beginning with the adoption of the Africa Action Plan in 1998, political and economic relations between Turkey and Africa have resumed in volume after a period of stagnation. More recently, since 2003, African nations have appeared more intensely in Turkish foreign and economic policy, with 2005 appearing as ‘The Year of Africa’, the hosting of the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit in 2008, and the conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul in Spring 2011. In over a decade, from 1996-2009, exports to African nations increased from around 1.2 to 10.2 billion USD, a 750% increase, and a little over 10% of total exports. Recently, the Turkish government has targeted economic and humanitarian assistance at African nations and responded to the famine in Somalia with renewed aid in the form of education and donations.

The Turkish re-discovery of Africa, as a geographic region including primarily the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, has important implications not only for trade and foreign policy, but also for migration and asylum. The discussion of migration has been left out of discussions of Turkish-Africa relations, but should be highlighted in order to better understand the role that migration plays in the economic development both of Turkey and its African partners. Since migration from Africa to Turkey has been ignored in discussions of the deepening relations between them, correspondingly little has been said about programmes for integrating new arrivals or dealing with the large numbers of transit migrants passing through to Europe, aside from the police operations which target smugglers and irregular migrants.

Asylum and irregular migration from across Africa to Turkey have increased since 1996. Asylum applications from African nations rose steadily since 2000, reaching a peak in 2007 before declining slightly. Apprehensions of irregular migrants from Africa rose sharply between 2000-2005, and began to stabilize soon after. However, arrivals and departures from Sub-Saharan Africa are on the rise, alongside residence. The numbers on undocumented migration (irregular entries and overstays) and asylum applications shows that asylum is unattractive for the majority of migrants in Turkey. Transit and irregularity are the norm, but this does not have to be the case. Turkey’s geographic reservation to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention puts potential migrants from outside Europe at risk. The degree to which Turkey is harmonizing with European Union standards of border management and asylum procedures is a positive step, as the rights of vulnerable persons and access to protection hangs in the balance. But recent negotiations on asylum law seem to indicate that despite this, the geographic limitation will remain.

The most popular option for migrants to Turkey is to find a form of residence, either for work, study, marriage or family reunification. By increasing the opportunities for people to legally reside, trade, and engage in civil society in Turkey, the focus of irregular migrants would change. Turkey’s dynamic economy can absorb the excess labour, and transit migrants would have greater opportunities to formalize their status as well as generate livelihood opportunities for themselves in Turkey in order to be able to send remittances home. It would also allow those who have lived in limbo over many years to regularize their residence situation, and potentially dissuade them from moving further on to Europe. By releasing the pressures on irregular migration from Greece and other EU Member States, Turkey becomes a much more attractive partner to the European Union.

Trends in migration from Sub-Saharan Africa are closely related to trade and political relations opened up since 2003. The increasing numbers of African refugees and traders transiting through Turkey to Europe has implications not only for the settlement and future integration of migrants, but for the scope and content of future Turkish relations with African nations. Immigrants respond to politics and trade in diverse ways, and their responses have implications for the further development of political, humanitarian and economic relations which Turkey can harness and benefit from only with migration management policies which respect the diverse motivations of migrants and allow space for diverse livelihood strategies to flourish. The Turkish economy can realize more gains through recognizing the positive benefit immigration and trade can bring.

New Turkish Airline flight paths to Sub-Saharan countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda are encouraging new arrivals. Beyond geographic position, migrants have gained improved knowledge of Turkey as migrants become more aware of Turkey geo-graphically, geo-politically and geo-economically. This knowledge of Turkey itself becomes a pull factor in migration decisions. Increasing arrivals from Africa not only demonstrate the pull of Turkish tourism and trade, but also the pull of Turkey as a destination for transit and even potential settlement. The growing relations between African nations and Turkey will accompany increasingly attractive prospects for livelihood opportunities there, including long-term settlement.

The modernization of Turkey, co-extensive with the formation of a mono-ethnic nation-state, went hand in hand with largescale population displacements. Newer processes of non-Turkic migrants and non-Muslim migrants coming from outside of Europe are not yet institutionalized, and little is known about the acute and long-term effects. What are the consequences of these newer processes of migration to Turkey?  In particular, how are African migrants integrating with Turkish social institutions?  These questions are left open for exploration, but it is clear that as the relationship between trade, aid and asylum exists to such a degree between Turkey and Africa  -  these questions can only gain in importance.    

Ideals and promises related to humanitarian aid and development come not only with trade, but also with immigration. Turkey has no integration policy to accept and absorb these new flows, nor has the discussion shifted to questions about how to address the political, economic and social consequences. The link between foreign policies and refugee policies in Turkey must be made more explicit than they currently are by offficaldom, and the discussion on trade, humanitarian and political policies with Africa must also include a renewed discussion of asylum and residence.

The causes of migration are complex and related to poverty, including perceived lack of prospects, unemployment (especially amongst youth), persecution, war, unrest, environment, famine as well as a wide variety of other competing motivations. Trade, asylum and irregular migration are inextricably linked in the case of sub-Saharan Africa and Turkey, and Turkish officials must recognize this complexity and actively work to improve their understanding of this and their migration management skills. 



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