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Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Istanbul

Ramah Awad
Junior, History and Anthropology
Grant Year: 
Ramah Awad

Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011 and the subsequent and ongoing civil war, over 10 million Syrians have been displaced, internally and externally. Over two of the four million Syrian that left Syria to surrounding countries, have taken refuge in Turkey, which in October 2011, adopted an “open door policy” of non-refoulement extending “temporary refugee protection” to Syrian refugees. I designed my research project with the intention of bringing to forefront the stories behind these numbers, a process which has the power to assert the individuality of refugees as real people, rather than victims or objects of humanitarian assistance. I decided to base myself in Istanbul for 10 weeks and sought out connections in the field, with organizations and individuals alike.

My guiding questions, concerning the everyday lived experiences of Syrian refugees in Turkey and the external political, economic, and social factors influencing their circumstances, lent themselves to ethnographic research methods. I spent the majority of my time in the field conducting interviews with Syrians, humanitarian aid workers, Turkish scholars, and advocacy organizations. Through my initial interviews, I learned more about the cases of Palestinian-Syrian refugees, Palestinian refugees who have been settling in Syria since 1948 and are now fleeing to Turkey with the majority Muslim Syrian population. I conducted semi-structured interviews with Palestinian-Syrians, specifically, and more structured interviews with the Palestinian Embassy and other Palestine solidarity organizations. I found that the legal differences between Palestinian-Syrians and Syrians within Syria have implications for the ways by which Palestinian-Syrians are able to flee Syria, as well as, their status in the transit or destination country.

During my time in Istanbul, I managed to balance independent research and an internship with the Turkish humanitarian aid NGO, Support to Life. Support to Life was preparing to open a resource community center for Syrian refugees in one of the largest districts in Istanbul with Syrian populations. I assisted with translating assessment questionnaires from English to Arabic and joined the field officers in conducting assessment interviews with Syrian families. The data collected from these interviews contributed to efforts to identity and develop the resources, services, and programming (e.g. medical referrals, legal aid, recreational activities) to be offered at the community center. My involvement with Support to Life enriched my understanding of the internal workings of aid organizations and allowed me further access to Syrian families.

As a Junior majoring in History and minoring in Anthropology (with a concentration in the Middle East), my research project is the ideal capstone. I intend on using all the materials gathered to develop an honors thesis at the crossroads of History, given the historical dimensions of double refugeedom, and Anthropology, given the ethnographic and contemporary nature of my preliminary research. I am looking forward to potentially returning to the field and continuing my research in Europe, where many of the Syrians I interviewed in Istanbul have gone to claim asylum. I am excited to be studying abroad at Oxford in the spring and intend on pursuing a tutorial at Oxford’s Refugee Studies Center. I hope to spend my time at Oxford developing my research and learning from experts in issues relating to forced migration. As for my post-graduate plans, I am considering pursuing a Master’s degree in forced migration policy to develop the tools necessary to ensure that the real experiences of displaced communities are centered in today’s politics and developing policies. Finally, I would like to thank the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies for their generous support in helping me actualize my plans.