Sultanbeyli, Istanbul, Turkey: A Case Study of Refugees in Towns

REPORT from Tufts University Published on 02 Apr 2018 —View Original

By Zeynep Balcioglu


This case study is focused on Sultanbeyli, a district located at the outskirts of Istanbul, Turkey. It explores the Syrian refugee experience and the role of social networks in the everyday lives of refugees and host communities in Sultanbeyli, which has served as a hub for migrants for several decades. As both a key transit and host country, Turkey’s cities provide critical insights to the experience of refugee urban integration. Since 2011, Turkey has experienced the largest wave of Syrian forced immigration in its history (DGMM), and where many countries of first asylum place refugees in camps on arrival, in Turkey more than 90% of all refugees live in cities. According to the latest official numbers from the Turkish government, since 2011 around 500,000 Syrians have migrated to Istanbul, the largest metropolis in Turkey with a total population of 15 million. Here, Syrian refugees struggle with exclusion and poverty among other groups of urban poor, and are integrating with the urban fabric.

All previous research on migration in Sultanbeyli has highlighted the vitality of social networks for the lives of the migrants living there because informal networking relations based on trust have been the main source of upward mobility for decades (Pinarcioglu & Isik 2008, Tugal 2006). However, unlike previous studies, this case study looks at migrants’ opportunities by depicting refugees as active agents who have the capability to shape their own futures.

This case study report begins by describing the methods behind our findings. It then provides contextualization of Syrian forced migration in Turkey; maps the Syrian refugee population in Sultanbeyli and Istanbul; examines the urban impact of integrating Syrian refugee and host communities; and describes refugees’ experiences in the town of Sultanbeyli including livelihoods, levels of integration, social networks, political orientations, and future plans.