What makes a house a home? The meaning of housing for Syrian refugees in their process of constructing a home in Istanbul
Sar, T.A. van der
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Four years have passed since the Syrian crisis emerged in the spring of 2011. Four million refugees have sought refuge in the Syria's neighbouring countries, of which Turkey has received 1,9 million of these refugees so far. The majority of these refugees resides in urban areas in Turkey, of which an estimated 330.000 stay in Istanbul. Refugees in camps are appointed a form of residence but urban refugees have to find their new houses with very little assistance. The aim of this study is gaining a better understanding of the housing and home situation of these Syrian urban refugees. In a fieldwork period of three months, in depth interviews were held with 42 participants about their housing situation in Istanbul and about the meaning of this housing in their process of constructing a feeling of home in Istanbul. For this research I have used the concept of a housing pathway as a basis of analysis, meaning the patterns of interaction concerning house and home, over time and space. There is a mutual influence between these housing pathways and a feeling of home. The main finding of this research is that housing functions as a means and a marker to the way in which Syrian refugees construct their homes. Housing is a means to a stronger sense of home, because it provides a space where social connections within communities can be maintained and serves as one of the relational hubs in Istanbul. Housing can be a marker of the social and economic status and of a refugee, acquired in Turkey. Factors that contribute to constructing a feeling of home can be found in the economic, relational and legal domain. Economically, job security affect this process; an important factor in the legal domain is the type of residence; and socially, creating social bonds, social bridges and the arrival of close kin in Istanbul provides social security that leads to a stronger sense of home. However, there are also obstructing, or even destructing factors in creating a feeling of home among the Syrian participants. Socially, processes of discrimination cause a feeling of non-belonging; legally, interactions and bureaucratic annoyances about residence permits result in the feeling that there are very few opportunities to ever establish a legal life in Istanbul; in the economic domain, exploitation in a job can initiate a negative loophole that is difficult to escape within Istanbul's borders. Though I have observed that for most refugees there is process of positive progress going on during the time that they stay in Istanbul, their feeling of home has developed in a fragmented way in which they relate to both their old homes in Syria and their new experience Istanbul.