Emerging Transnational Practices and Capabilities of Syrian Refugees in Turkey


  • Zeynep Sahin Mencütek Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg; Swedish Research Institute, Istanbul https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6676-8579




Globalisation, GDP, international migration, remittances, sustainability, social policy


Transnational activities of refugees in the Global North have been long studied, while those of the Global South, which host the majority of displaced people, have not yet received adequate scholarly attention. Drawing from refugee studies, transnationalism and diaspora studies, the article focuses on the emerging transnational practices and capabilities of displaced Syrians in Turkey. Relying on qualitative data drawn from interviews in Şanlıurfa – a border province in south-eastern Turkey that hosts half a million Syrians - the paper demonstrates the variations in the types and intensity of Syrians’ transnational activities and capabilities. It describes the low level of individual engagement of Syrians in terms of communicating with relatives and paying short visits to the hometowns as well as the intentional disassociation of young refugees from homeland politics. At the level of Syrian grassroots organisations, there have been mixed engagement initiatives emerging out of sustained cross-border processes. Syrians with higher economic capital and secured legal status have formed some economic, political, and cultural institutional channels, focusing more on empowerment and solidarity in the receiving country than on plans for advancement in the country of origin. Institutional attempts are not mature enough and can be classified as transnational capabilities, rather than actual activities that allow for applying pressure on the host and home governments. This situation can be attributed to the lack of political and economic security in the receiving country as well as no prospects for the stability in the country of origin. The study also concerns questions about the conceptual debates on the issue of refugee diaspora. Whilst there are clear signs of diaspora formation of the Syrian refugee communities, perhaps it is still premature to term Syrians in Turkey as refugee diaspora.


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Author Biography

Zeynep Sahin Mencütek, Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg; Swedish Research Institute, Istanbul

Zeynep Şahin Mencütek holds a PhD degree in the Politics and International Relations from the University of Southern California, US. Previously, she worked as a teaching assistant, lecturer and assistant professor in the International Relations departments in Turkey and in the US.   Her main research interests are in international politics, comparative migration policies and refugee governance. Her first monograph titled Refugee Governance, State and Politics in the Middle East published in  December 2018 by the Routledge Global Cooperation Series. The book comparatively examines policy responses of main refugee receiving countries -Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon- to the mass migration of Syrians. She has published on the relevance of foreign policy and domestic politics in countries’ policy responses to mass migration flows, the management of border controls, the development of diaspora policies and refugees’ employment. The articles appear in internationally peer-reviewed journals including International Migration, Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, Migration Letters and others. She has also written book chapters discussing the regional migration regimes with an emphasis on European Union, Arab League and of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Currently, she serves as the Senior Research Fellow in the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul for the Horizon2020 project titled RESPOND: Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond.  Also, she is at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research as a Research Fellow from March 2019 to February 2020 to conduct a research on refugee returns in relation to the Research Unit 'Polycentric Governance'.


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How to Cite

Sahin Mencütek, Z. (2020). Emerging Transnational Practices and Capabilities of Syrian Refugees in Turkey. Migration Letters, 17(1), 125–138. https://doi.org/10.33182/ml.v17i1.852