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Exploring the Refugee Experience: A Comparison between Houston and Istanbul Meredith George 4/25/14

Created for Global Urban Lab


Table of Contents Table of Contents .......................................................................................................................................... 1 Executive Summary....................................................................................................................................... 2 Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 3 Issue Statement ............................................................................................................................................ 3 A) International Status of Refugees…………………………………………………………………………………………….3 B) Turkey…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….4 C) The United States……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………5 D) Houston and Istanbul …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….6 Research ........................................................................................................................................................ 6 A) Research Questions………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..6 B) Methodology………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….7 Findings ......................................................................................................................................................... 8 A) Houston………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….8 B) Istanbul…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..9 Conclusions ................................................................................................................................................. 11 Works Cited ................................................................................................................................................. 13 Acknowledgments…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………15

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Executive Summary The United States and Turkey are both countries with sizeable and growing populations of refugees who are unable to return to their home countries out of fear. As conflicts around the world continue to escalate, the United States and Turkey continue to become increasingly instrumental players in international refugee aid. Houston and Istanbul, as major urban centers in their respective countries, are ideal research locations to investigate the typical refugee integration and adaptation experience in America and Turkey. By exploring the lived experiences of refugees in Houston and Istanbul via first-hand accounts, this paper will investigate each country’s policies towards refugees and refugee assistance to better understand their effect on refugees’ living situations in urban settings. This research finds that although the United States and Turkey have vastly different refugee policies and policy aims, they both face similar issues in providing a safe, supportive environment in which refugees can thrive. This research expands the narrative on refugees living in global cities by discovering that two global cities with very different policies can face many similar difficulties.

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Introduction This research will consider the federal policies on refugee aid and resettlement of both Turkey and the United States in order to explore how those differing policies then impact the experiences of refugees living in the urban, global cities of Istanbul and Houston. In order to do this, I will first define whom, specifically; refugees are, where they are primarily originating from, and how they are organized internationally. I will then discuss in particular the policies on refugee aid in both Turkey and the United States, and then more narrowly how Houston and Istanbul fit into their countries refugee resettlement plans. The specific research questions and methodology will be explained and then the findings discussed. The findings include discussions of both each country’s differing policy aims, as well as those policies’ impacts on the refugees in each city. The impacts will be evaluated based on first-hand accounts and journalistic interviews focusing on refugees’ residential and economic situations. Conclusions comparing the effectiveness of refugee policies in Houston and Istanbul are then drawn and a recommendation for increased communication between non-profit organizations and local governments is presented.

Issue Statement A) International status of refugees In order to better understand the experience of refugees in Houston and Istanbul, we must first understand the situation and definition of refuges in the modern era. These refugees, as defined by the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, are those who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, [are] outside the country of [their] nationality, and [are] unable to, or owing to such fear, [are] unwilling to avail [themselves] of the protection of that country”(“UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern”). The UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, was founded in 1951 with the aim of helping Europeans displaced by World War II. It was only meant to last 3 years, but unfortunately, the humanitarian needs of refugees have only grown since then, and the UNHCR is still active today as the leading source of global humanitarian aid with regards to refugees and displaced persons (“The Mandate of the High Commissioner for Refugees and His Office”). Today, the UNHCR is responsible for 10.4 million refugees worldwide, with an additional 4.8 million displaced by the Palestinian conflict looked after in camps in the Middle East by a separate branch of the UNHCR (“UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern”). Half of the refugees under the UNHCR’s care are from Asia, and around 28% are from Africa. All refugees are considered for 3 resettlement options: repatriation, local integration, or resettlement (“UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern”). Repatriation involves the voluntary return of the refugee to their home country, while local integration involves the refugee remaining in the host country they fled to. Resettlement, the most drastic option, is exercised when there is no chance for the refugee returning to their home country. It involves the UNHCR sending the refugee to a third country where they will usually reside long-term. While the UNHCR is the global force in charge of organizing and resettling refugees, each country has its own unique 3|Page


policy regarding refugees that the UNHCR adapts to when working with them. These policies vary greatly by nation and are of critical importance in determining how a refugee will adapt to their new setting. B) Turkey Turkey’s current asylum and refugee policies are based around three primary pieces of legislation: the 1951 Convention on Status of Refugees, the 1994 Asylum Regulation, and the 2013 Law on Foreigners and International Protection (Celia Mannaert, “2014 UNHCR Country Operations Profile-Turkey”). The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees placed a geographical limitation on refugees and declared that only European asylum seekers could be granted refugee status in Turkey (Celia Mannaert, 7). This geographical limitation has by far been the most influential piece of refugee legislation passed by Turkey in recent history. It has had very significant implications for the more than one million non-European asylum seekers presently in Turkey, who are considered refugees under the UN definition but not given legal “refugee” status under Turkish law (“UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern”). Furthermore, the 1994 Asylum Regulation gave the power of refugee status determination to the Turkish Ministry of the Interior instead of the UNHCR, allowing the Turkish government to deny refugee status and services to whom they see fit. This policy is dangerous in that it allows the Turkish government to deny the privileges and services associated with legal “refugee” status to those who deserve it. However, sources indicate that in the mean time, Turkey maintained a “well-functioning system of temporary asylum” (Celia Mannaert, 8) for those not given official refugee status, and in April 2013, the Law on Foreigners and International Protection formally allowed for the protection and assistance of all asylum-seekers and refugees, regardless of origin (“2014 UNHCR Country Operations Profile-Turkey”). This law, while not completely counteracting the 1951 Convention geographical limitation, at least guarantees protection for those unable to return to their home countries, regardless of their legal refugee or non-refugee status under Turkish law. These policies reveal a tendency in Turkey’s offer of refuge to be temporary and not intended for the long-term. Although Turkey has a long history of being a place of refuge for asylum seekers, its history also demonstrates a focus on short-term refugee assistance. Turkey became a prime location for temporary and long-term asylum after World War II, when it accepted displaced peoples primarily from Eastern Europe. It continued to accept large amounts of asylum seekers from Europe and the Middle East through the 1980s (Celia Mannaert). An estimated 1.5 million Iranians and 600,000 Iraqis sought refuge in Turkey from the period of 1980-1991. Most of these refugeseekers planned on migrating further into Europe and were encouraged by the Turkish government to do so (Celia Mannaert). Turkey was more of a stopping point in the greater refugee journey than an actual destination. More recently, Turkey has been of crucial assistance in the ongoing Syrian crisis by accepting close to 1 million Syrian asylum-seekers (“2014 UNHCR Country Operations Profile-Turkey”) and creating a Temporary Protection Regime, which promises an open border policy and no forcible repatriations. In summary, in continuing its role as a bridge between the East and the West, Turkey has been a major refuge for asylum seekers 4|Page


from all over the world, despite the government’s somewhat limited support provided by its refugee policies. These seemingly severe limitations on refugee support indicated by the extreme hesitation in awarding legal “refugee” status have transferred most responsibilities onto the UNHCR and other NGO’s such as the Turkish Red Crescent and International Catholic Migration Commission. It remains to be seen what the exact implications of these policies are, but it can be assumed that they have a very direct effect on the experiences of refugees in camps and non-camp urban settings. C) The United States American refugee and asylum policies are in stark contrast to Turkey’s. One reason for this is that they occupy different places in the refugee displacement spectrum. As previously mentioned, when processing refugees in the country to which they fled, the UNHCR considers 3 options: support until voluntary repatriation, citizenship in that country to which they fled, or resettlement in a third country for the most vulnerable populations (“UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern”). While Turkey is a country to which refugees flee directly from their home countries based on its strategic location, the United States is a country which accepts restricted numbers of refugees eligible for resettlement in a third country, which is less than 1% of all refugees worldwide (Department Of State. “Refugee Admissions”). While the US does accept more than half of all refugees who qualify for resettlement and more than all the other resettlement countries combined (Department Of State. “Refugee Admissions”), it is still in complete control of how many refugees it accepts per year, which differs vastly from Turkey’s refugee influx situation. For example, Turkey can estimate that it has around 1 million Syrian refugees within its borders right now, but because not all of them are registered with the UNHCR or Turkish government, Turkey cannot be sure (“UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern”). The United States, on the other hand, knows that it accepted exactly 58,238 refugees in fiscal year 2012 because of its strict acceptance policy (Department of State.“FY12 Refugee Admissions Statistics”). Therefore, while asylum-seekers enter Turkey before acquiring legal refugee status, every asylum-seeker who enters the United States is legally considered a refugee and receives refugee support services from day one. Each individual refugee is processed abroad by a Refugee Support Center, and once screened, that refugee is matched with one of nine domestic resettlement agencies in the United States (Department of State. “The Reception and Placement Program”). These agencies, in partnership with the Reception and Placement Program of the federal government, provide initial housing, furniture, clothing, language services, employment assistance, and psychological counseling for their designated refugees (Department Of State. “Refugee Admissions”). They are placed in locations where they have family members if applicable, or in a community that the resettlement agency believes best fits their needs (Department Of State. “Refugee Admissions”). While the United States is generous in accepting such large numbers of refugees, in providing initial support of $1,875 per individual, and in pairing each individual with a trusted agency (Department Of State. “Refugee Admissions”), its support services generally expire after a brief eight months, and its universal policies do not necessarily accommodate for different groups’ needs (Kerwin). Additionally, while the absolute 5|Page


number of refugees accepted into America is large, the ratio of refugees accepted into the country to the native country population is actually lower than many other developed countries. In contrast to Turkey, the primary goal of the United States refugee policy is economic self-sufficiency as soon as possible. Refugees are given full work authorization immediately, and they are expected to work in order to provide for themselves once the government support stops. After one year they are expected to become Permanent Residents, and after five years, they have the option of becoming an American citizen (Department Of State. “Refugee Admissions”). Thus, it is apparent from America’s deadline-intensive, holistic approach to refugee resettlement that they fundamentally differ from Turkey in refugee policy. Because they are aiming for refugee resettlement as opposed to local integration, they seek “durable long-term solutions” and selfsufficiency for their constituents. Turkey, on the other hand, attempts to deal with an immeasurable influx by finding and registering those who seek asylum, in order to provide short-term aid to them. These policies each have unique advantages and disadvantages that affect the refugee experience and influence how the urban environments they inhabit develop. D) Houston and Istanbul By 2009, over half of the world’s refugees lived in urban settings (“Media Advisory”) as opposed to UN-monitored refugee camps. Cities offer refugees the opportunity “to stay anonymous, make money, and build a better future,” but at the same time, an influx of refugees in a non-camp environment such as global cities can “place additional strains on scarce public resources such as health and education” (“Media Advisory”). As global cities, Houston and Istanbul are massive targets for refugee resettlement, largely due to their economic opportunities, amount of resources, and cultural diversity, but they also face difficulties in providing the necessary resources for refugees to successfully adapt to their new environment. As increasing numbers of displaced people seek refuge in large, global cities like Houston and Istanbul, the responses of these cities to the needs of the asylum seekers are of critical importance for those refuge-seekers and the development of the city itself. This paper will seek to analyze and unpack the consequences of both Houston and Istanbul’s policies and programs regarding refugees in order to understand how those policies influence the success of the refugee in a new, urban setting.

Research A) Research Questions This research asks the question: how do policies influence economic and residential patterns in the adaptation and integration experiences of refugees in Houston and Istanbul? Economic patterns refer to the refugees’ experiences finding and obtaining employment, what types of employment, and how well that employment allows them to provide for themselves and their families. Residential patterns refer to what types of housing refugees are able to procure (formal, informal, slums, etc.), how 6|Page


they found that housing (independently, through government, through nonprofit agency), and the quality of life that shelter provides. B) Methodology Through the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, this research aims to discover how federal policies affect refugees’ lives in Houston and Istanbul. It will use factual information and first-hand accounts to analyze the essence of the economic and residential experiences of refugees in Houston and Istanbul. In Houston, I will primarily seek this information through data from non-profit resettlement agencies, their mission statements, and their websites. Other quantitative data will be found on the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement website. I will also utilize journalistic interviews with refugees and first-hand accounts found in news articles to gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of refugees in Houston. While there are not a large amount of relevant interviews available, there was consistency in responses across interviews, which indicates the internal validity of the qualitative data. Information on the experiences of refugees in Istanbul is slightly more difficult to come by due to numerous language barriers and different circumstances. As previously stated, Turkey does not get to select how many refugees enter its country due to their geographic location and difficulties manning their expansive border, and thus have much rougher estimates of the number of refugees in their country. There are also difficulties investigating patterns of experiences in Istanbul because many of its refugees are not registered as refugees with the Turkish government. If they are registered, they are considered asylum seekers, and although they are technically given protection under the 2013 law, their support services are provided solely by third party providers. Thus, in order to gather information on the economic and residential experiences of refugees in Istanbul, I will rely heavily on academic papers and journalistic, first-hand accounts provided by newspapers and non-profit agencies. This primarily qualitative and comparative approach is ideal for this research because exact numerical data is hard to come by in many regions of the world like Turkey, and numerical data does not always accurately reflect the experience itself. While the subjectivity of interviews and first-hand accounts has been questioned in the past, I do not perceive it as a limitation of this study but rather as a robust and descriptive supplement to the numerical data that provides insight into the everyday experiences of refugees. Scholars should exercise caution when generalizing this data to other global cities because each city’s experience is unique to their location in the refugee resettlement process. Istanbul is unique because of its geographical location, and Houston is unique because it is so far removed from the refugees’ countries of origin and because the government has such an in-depth registration process. However, Houston and Istanbul are both dynamic, booming global cities that attract refugees for those very reasons, and the challenges and successes they face likely relate to those of other, similar global cities.

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Findings A) Houston When assessing the situation of refugees in Houston, there are both positives and negatives. One significant positive is the rate of employment among refugees in Houston. Refugees are typically sent to Houston because of its robust economy and vast cultural diversity, but what they experience upon arrival is not always necessarily what they expected. The most important uniting factor across all four primary nonprofit resettlement agencies in Houston- Alliance Center for Multicultural Services, YMCA International Services, Catholic Charities, and Interfaith Ministries- is their desire for and strong emphasis on employment and self-sufficiency (Giglio). Interfaith Ministries indicates as one of its top priorities that “refugees become self-sufficient and productive Houstonians” by “help[ing] refugees find employment and take part in the American Dream” (Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston), and all of the big four agencies offer some kind of employment training and services. This focus demonstrates the emphasis of American refugee policy on long-term solutions like self-sufficiency and economic and social integration. Additionally, the Alliance Center for Multicultural Services provides “core” services like food, clothing, and furnishings for the first 30 days after a refugee’s arrival, but the social and employment services continue for several months (Alliance Center for Multicultural Services). These policies can be beneficial to refugees by allowing them to move off of government and non-profit support quickly. For example, several non-profit agencies reported close to 80% employment rates of their constituents within their first year in the United States (Giglio), and Kerwin (2011) found that at least 70% of those employed within the first year were retained over a 90-day period. These kinds of success rates show that albeit not perfect, the long-term-oriented assistance programs of resettlement non-profits help many families get on their feet again quickly in a new environment. However, these policies can also be detrimental in that they impose a very rigid timeline on vulnerable populations by giving them only eight months to apply for Social Security, learn basic English, enroll their children in school, receive employee training, and secure basic needs before having to pay their own rent and support their families. While non-profits have impressive success rates in obtaining employment for their refugee constituents, these populations work overwhelmingly in minimum wage jobs based on their level of English. Indeed, Kerwin (2011) found an average hourly wage of $8.50 for refugees from 2004 to 2009. Additionally, a 2009 Houston Chronicle article on the increasing number of Iraqi refugees in Houston provided first hand accounts of Iraqi refugee families whose government support had expired, but whose wages were not enough to support their families and who thus were on the verge of homelessness (Carroll). Burmese refugees indicated similar experiences and explained that eight months of government support could be sufficient in good economic times, but when the economy tanked around 2007, the job pool shrank and refugees had an exceedingly hard time finding employment (Giglio). The Burmese refugees interviewed agreed with Iraqi refugee Hassan Al Jaber that a substantial portion of their community was on the verge of homelessness (Giglio). Additionally, around 400 Burmese refugees were taken advantage of in 2008 and recruited for a meatpacking factory outside of Amarillo that ended up paying them around $6.50 per hour and keeping them in “third-world” conditions (Giglio). Refugees generally benefit from the policy that fully authorizes them to work in that they do not have to 8|Page


work for less than minimum wage for companies that take advantage of undocumented immigrants, but because of their common lack of English and vulnerable status, they can still be taken advantage of as shown in this example. While this refugee manipulation is not necessarily a common phenomenon, it demonstrates some of the economic difficulties still faced by refugees despite the United States’ and the resettlement agencies’ efforts. Housing trends in Houston mirror economic trends in that they are well-intentioned and somewhat thorough but flawed. Federal policies are generous in that they coordinate for each refugee to be assigned to a resettlement agency that guarantees affordable housing with basic furnishings, as well as clothing and food. A 2009 Houston Chronicle article about the trials of Burmese refugees living in Houston found that Houston did not have any homeless refugees at that time (Giglio), which indicates that the level of support from resettlement agencies is sufficient to provide at least some sort of shelter to all resettled refugees. However, the article also described the living conditions of these refugees in the Gulfton region of Southwest Houston, which is Houston’s densest and most diverse neighborhood (Rogers). More than 100 Burmese families lived in one, packed, low-income housing complex that became somewhat of a mini-Burma (Giglio). This was beneficial in that it created a supportive cultural community, but also slightly worrisome because the apartment complexes referenced in this article and commonly inhabited by resettled refugees are in poor condition and not intended to support such densities of people (Rogers). Additionally, even though these are affordable housing complexes, there is an apparent threat of homelessness according to one-on-one interviews with those living in the apartments (Giglio, Carroll) due to lack of rent support from the government and resettlement agencies. Therefore, refugees benefit from the US policy that ensures each family finds an apartment through an agency, but there are still gaps in the system that allow for near-homelessness and substandard living. In summary, the housing and economic situation and experiences of resettled refugees in Houston reflect the broader aims of the American policy on refugee resettlement for better or for worse. Refugees in Houston reap the benefits of the organized system which pairs each refugee family with a non-profit, resettlement agency that provides them at least initially with affordable housing and basic necessities and provides more in-depth social and psychological services for longer periods of time. From the evidence I gathered, this impacts the refugee experience by lending a sense of community in a daunting time and by helping garner longterm economic self-sustainability. However, it also creates an additional stress with the time limit of eight months to get everything worked out, which puts many families on the verge of helplessness. Luckily, journalistic accounts indicate that the placement of refugees in communities where they are surrounded by many other refugees, including those of the same nationality, leads to a community that pitches in to help out when one of its members is in distress. Thus, the American system gives refugees the basic tools and support systems they need to succeed, but the extent of their success depends on many external factors such as the economy and the community they are placed in. B) Istanbul Because Turkey is a host country for refugees who have just fled their own countries, its organizational structure and role in the refugee resettlement experience differ from those of 9|Page


the United States. One of the primary differences is that Turkey receives an unknown amount of refuge-seekers from its volatile bordering countries of Syria, Iraq, and Iran, many of whom cross the border without Turkey’s knowledge. Furthermore, because of the UNHCR’s nonrefoulment policy, Turkey is not allowed to send any refugees back to their home country unless it is voluntary (UNHCR), so Turkey is forced to create reactionary policies in order to accommodate the refugees they receive. Historically, Turkey has coped with this influx by housing the majority of refugees in camps along the border, where the UNHCR in cooperation with the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Agency has been able to provide for the basic shelter and needs of those refugees, even earning international praise for their work there (Kirisci). However, with the ever-evolving crisis in Syria, those camps have become overcrowded, and an increasing number of refugees, in particular Syrian refugees, have begun to leave the camps for urban environments (Kirisci). In fact, of the estimated 1 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, around 700,000 are believed to be in urban settings, with the number in Istanbul alone believed to be around 200,000 (Kirisci). This unprecedented number of refugees in urban contexts, particularly in Istanbul, brings up entirely new challenges. One such challenge is how these refugees will fit in the labor market. Unlike in the United States, Turkey does not automatically provide their refugees with work authorization, primarily because they have historically been in camps and not considered long-term migrants (Kirisci). Because current Turkish laws make it challenging for refugees to obtain work visas and procure legitimate work, their chances at finding employment and succeeding financially in the urban labor market are greatly diminished. Therefore they are predominantly entering the informal labor market, working for unfair wages, and risking exploitation by managers (Kirisci). According to one report, “this is pushing wages downwards and provoking resentment among locals” (Kirisci). Additionally, a Human Rights Association reported that not a single one of the Syrian refugees it interviewed had a valid working permit and that those who did manage to find work only received about one third of what Turks in the same job received (Seibert). Many of those who could not find work relied on charity from local organizations and their community (Seibert). These negative experiences navigating Turkey’s urban labor market indicate that Turkey’s policies are not intended for refugees to attain selfsufficiency or become integrated into the urban community. As previously demonstrated, the policies leave refugees susceptible to unfair wages, which in turn hurt Turks looking for jobs, and put a strain on charities and on the community. These policies have clearly not been reevaluated in light of Turkey’s recent influx of urban refugees and do not allow for long-term sustainability of the refugee population. Turkish refugee housing policies also reflect underlying short-term goals of repatriation in that there are no urban housing support programs to be found. The UNHCR provides shelter within refugee camps on the border, but in urban contexts such as Istanbul, its primary aims are to register refugees and provide basics like food and healthcare (“UNHCR Global Appeal 20142015 - Populations of Concern”). Because of this lack of services, many refugees are homeless or living in substandard, informal housing. The human rights organization Mazlumder estimates that up to 100,000 unregistered Syrian refugees are living in parks and apartments in lowincome neighborhoods in Istanbul(Seibert). A refugee named Mohammed describes huddling 10 | P a g e


under stone arches of an ancient Roman aqueduct in the heart of central Istanbul because his family has no where else to go (Seibert), while another reporter described informal housing inhabited by refugees in Istanbul’s historic Fatih district as a “warzone” (Van Herpen). Because of the lack of quality affordable housing and out of pure desperation, refugees are living in houses that “[have] been destroyed, while others [are] stripped of their doors [and] windows” (Van Herpen). To add to the refugees’ distress, local authorities asked the homeless population to leave in November of last year, and Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu even asked Istanbul residents to inform authorities when they saw homeless people living outside in parks (“Syrian Refugees Decline to Be Moved to Camps, Istanbul Governor Says”). This lack of institutional support has had a negative impact on the overall experience of refugees in Istanbul. By encouraging those homeless refugees to move to rural camps instead of addressing their needs within the city, Istanbul has shown that is does not wish for those refugees to remain in their city for an extended period of time.

Conclusions Both of these global cities have experienced an influx of refugee populations in the past few years and have relied on the assistance of non-profit or non-governmental agencies to cope with their specific needs. However, their approach to aiding refugees, and thus their relationships with those non-governmental agencies and the refugees themselves differ greatly. Through research on their unique situations, I found that policies in the United States and Turkey are a reflection of their geographic locations and the size of the populations they support. Houston is a city where refugees come after already having fled to a second country, been processed by the UNHCR or a US Embassy, determined they cannot safely return to their home country, and having been deemed a candidate for third country resettlement. This only applies to a relatively small number of refugees. Thus, the policies affecting Houston are more targeted at long-term goals like economic self-sustainability, employment, and cultural adaptation. The United States is able to implement those policies because it only allows in the amount of refugees that it has resources to support. Istanbul, on the other hand, is a host for refugees who have fled directly from their home country to Turkey, and thus, it is much less in control of who arrives and how they are dealt with. Therefore, Turkey’s policies are more reactive than proactive. Instead of pre-meditating who will arrive and what services they will receive, cities like Istanbul are forced to make decisions like the removal of homeless refugees as a reaction to circumstances they did not anticipate. Likewise, it is difficult for them to set aside certain resources for the refugee population if they do not know the exact size and needs of that population. The data indicated that these policies directly affected the lived experiences of refugees in Houston and Istanbul, both by impacting what type of employment they attain and what type of housing they are able to procure. Because refuges in the United States are given full work authorization and employment services, they had a higher rate of employment, albeit in predominantly minimum wage jobs. Houston refugees self-reported a zero percent homelessness rate, but did report many cases of near-homelessness. The experiences of refugees in Houston were not always ideal, but the standard of living was higher on average 11 | P a g e


than in Istanbul, where refugees predominantly worked for less than minimum wage and lived on the streets or in dilapidated housing. This data leans towards the conclusion that American refugee policies are superior. However, as previously mentioned, the United States accepts only a set number of refugees that it is certain its budget can accommodate, and even then, refugee aid is not always distributed seamlessly. Despite Houston’s generous policies, refugees still face obstacles like bureaucracy impeding the efficiency of benefits programs, inconsistencies with who receives benefits (Giglio), and a “one size fits all” policy (Kerwin) that distributes the same amount of aid to refugees with varying needs. Several refugees reported not receiving their emergency cash assistance from the government, as well as receiving assistance for inconsistent durations of time between families (Giglio). Additionally, many of the refugee aid policies were created based on the experiences of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, and many factors of urban life and basic needs have changed since then. In general, my findings pointed towards an American policy that is well intentioned and organized but that could be updated and reevaluated with modern standards. While refugees in Istanbul face conditions such as substandard housing and low-paying jobs, Istanbul also takes on a dramatically large number of refugees without necessarily having a say in the process. Therefore, they are largely not in control of their refugee intake and living conditions. The main disadvantages of Turkey’s policies are that it does not appear to have a certain set of standards mandated for all refugees. It leaves refugee aid predominantly up to the UNHCR and other non-governmental agencies, but this leaves a dangerous amount of variability in the experiences refugees can have in Istanbul, where many refugees go unnoticed by the UNHCR. The experiences of refugees in Houston and Istanbul uncovered in this research indicate that although both countries try to create policies that best fit their circumstances, both leave gaps in support services and have inconsistencies that can create undesirable living conditions for refugees. Instead of tackling this issue on a federal level, Houston and Istanbul could work to improve cooperation and communication between their non-profit agencies and city governments. Improved public-private sector relationships could foster teamwork in order to cut down on the number of unregistered refugees in Istanbul, and find or create affordable, quality housing in Houston. Many of the dismal circumstances the interviewed refugees found themselves in can be attributed to a discrepancy in what services policies proscribed for them, and the amount of aid refugees actually need. With increased communication between the NGO’s actually interacting with refugees and providing them services and the governments creating the policies that direct the NGO’s, this discrepancy could be diminished. Global cities like Houston and Istanbul would both benefit from a reevaluation of the goals of their refugee policies in order to keep them in line with today’s international circumstances and what it costs to get by in each city.

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“Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Bracing for the Long Haul.” The Brookings Institution. N. p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. “The Mandate of the High Commissioner for Refugees and His Office.” UNHCR. N. p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. “Thousands of Syrians Shun Refugee Camps to Sleep Rough on Istanbul’s Streets | The National.” N. p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2014. “Turkey Experiences Major Refugee Influx.” UNHCR. N. p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. “UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 - Populations of Concern to.” UNHCR. N. p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Refugee Resettlement. 2012. The Refugee Act. Venturini, Alessandra, Fabio Montobbio, and Claudio Fassio. “MPC–MIGRATION POLICY CENTRE.” (2012): n. pag. Google Scholar. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.

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Acknowledgments The opportunity to go to Istanbul for a week with such a knowledgeable, engaged group of Rice students, staff, and faculty was one that I will not forget for many years to come. The trip seemingly effortlessly incorporated informational sessions, fun activities, and cultural outings into one unforgettable experience, and it would not have been possible without Dean Ipek Martinez. Ipek- thank you for your endless patience, support, and leadership throughout the whole experience. The amount of time you dedicated to make our trip worthwhile cannot be overstated. I would also like to thank Abbey Godley, who made sure every detail of our experience was taken care of while providing comedic relief and being a great companion on the trip. Additionally, Teaching Assistant Giray Ă–zseker and Program Assistant Mitch Massey gave up their own spring breaks to ensure we had a fun and safe experience in Istanbul, for which all of the participants are very grateful. Lastly, I would like to express my outpouring of gratitude for Dr. Nia Georges, who was an invaluable resource to all of the trip participants from the first day of class until the last. Nia was endlessly supportive throughout the whole process and was always willing to meet with students and provide constructive advice. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of Rice University and the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, whose commitment to providing the opportunity for individualized research and experiential, first-hand learning continues to enrich my Rice experience.

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Gul 2014 meredith george paper  
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