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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaThe Geopolitics of Returns: Geopolitical Reasoning and Space-Making in Turkey’s Repatriation Regime

The Geopolitics of Returns: Geopolitical Reasoning and Space-Making in Turkey’s Repatriation Regime

Author: Zeynep Sahin Mencutek

Affiliation: Independent Researcher

Organization/Publisher: Geopolitics Journal

Date/Place: 6 Jun 2022 / UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 28


Keywords: Turkey, Syria, Migration, Repatriation, Asylum


Migration management and the return of migrants have long been shaped by geopolitics, a complex interplay of political, security, and regional interests. This article aims to address the knowledge gap of how geopolitics affects migrant return governance, analyzing the case of Türkiye. By analyzing the geopolitical reasoning behind Türkiye’s approach and its space-making strategies, the dynamics that drive repatriation decisions are uncovered with broader implications for migration governance.


This article argues that Türkiye’s geopolitical reasoning has led it to design an asylum regime, and also its engagement in extraterritorial strategies, such as military operations in Syria and humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, serves as a lens through which we can understand how geopolitics shapes return policies. Lastly, understanding the geopolitics of migrant returns is possible by examining the intricate mechanisms linking geopolitical considerations with policy tools. In this manner, we can gain insights into the underlying motivations and objectives behind return decisions.


To understand Türkiye’s repatriation regime, it is crucial to understand the role of geopolitics. Global positions within the migration framework wield significant influence over a nation’s internal migration policies. This reality is particularly evident in the case of Türkiye, where the core argument revolves around the guiding force of geopolitical reasoning in the formulation of its asylum framework. Türkiye’s historical role as a provider of temporary protection to migrants shapes its approach to return policies, demonstrating how geopolitical factors directly impact migration management strategies.


There are several reasons behind Türkiye’s repatriation regime. Its transformation from a transit nation to a host country accentuates its emphasis on repatriation over long-term protection. Several key factors contribute to Türkiye’s distinct role in migration dynamics:

  1. Türkiye’s pivotal role as a transit-turned-host country, assuming a significant migration bridge from the Middle East to Europe.
  2. Its historical status as a major transit point that subsequently transformed into the world’s largest host nation after the Syrian Civil War.
  3. Türkiye’s role in the drafting and signing of the 1951 Geneva Convention, the geographical expansion of which beyond Europe (for which it was originally designed) it has strategically resisted.
  4. The central role Türkiye plays in its policy landscape, particularly in promoting voluntary repatriation and navigating the politically charged realm of migrant return governance.


Geopolitical Dynamics in Practice:

Geopolitics’ influence becomes more pronounced when neighboring countries maintain a regional identity. This interconnectedness leads to intertwined political and security interests, often exacerbated by shared borders. As governments negotiate the return of migrants, factors such as geopolitical relationships and political alliances come into play, sometimes compelling host countries to insist on migrants’ return. In this context, the movement of people itself becomes a strategic diplomatic tool.


Complexities of Migration Governance:

Türkiye’s efforts to manage migration often involve making individuals irregular and treating them as criminals to facilitate repatriation and detention. These tactics were evident during the 2019 crackdown in Istanbul, where electoral defeat attributed to migrants prompted swift apprehension, detention, and deportation. The pressure to return migrants, particularly Syrians, highlights the complexities of balancing domestic and geopolitical interests.


Self-Identification as a Provider of ‘Temporary Protection’:

Türkiye identifies itself as a transit country, which provides temporary protection for displaced people. Türkiye’s geopolitical reasoning caused the design of an asylum regime centered on time-limited protection. Türkiye’s geopolitical reasoning has caused it to have a complicated relationship with the 1951 Refugee Convention, which Türkiye signed, but does not grant refugee status to non-European asylum seekers. Until around 2000, Türkiye’s asylum policy reflected its geopolitical orientation. Until then, nationalist and conservative approaches were more dominant than liberal/migrant centric ones. In 2009, a visa liberalization agreement was signed, and the government pursued a pragmatic approach to the forced migration governance during this period as well.


Future Directions and Global Implications:

The study’s outcomes underscore the intersection of politics surrounding migrant returns and the management of forced migration. The impact of geopolitical reasoning on tangible practices and policies underscores the intricate relationship between authority, migration, and geopolitics. Beyond international programs and national policies, the study emphasizes the significance of exploring the actions and mechanisms within destination countries. This approach recognizes variations in the geopolitical rationale driving migration governance and highlights the need for deeper exploration into the nuances of each case.


Geopolitics significantly shapes return policies, especially in regions where host and origin countries share proximity. The intricate dynamics between transit countries advocating repatriation and countries of origin facilitating returns highlight the complexities of migration governance. While substantial financial resources often favor return initiatives, the global emphasis on categorizing migrants, restricting admissions, and directing financial aid for detention and deportation blurs the lines between encouragement and coercion. The erosion of norms surrounding migrants’ rights and international protection becomes evident, underscoring the need for comprehensive approaches to migration management.


The outcomes of this research shed light on how the politics surrounding the return of migrants intersect with the management of forced migration as a tool of authority and geopolitical influence. This is especially evident in how geopolitical reasoning impacts tangible practices. Rather than solely concentrating on international organizations’ programs and national politics, this research underscores the significance of exploring the mechanisms and actions of destination countries. Variations exist in the geopolitical rationale behind different cases. The inclination to promote returns appears to be favored by countries with substantial financial resources. This is evident in the popularity of Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVVR) programs in European countries or recently in transit nations that claim to support developmental initiatives in countries of origin.


However, the national-level policies and practices related to returns cannot be separated from the global emphasis on categorizing migrants, restricting admissions, and directing financial aid to facilitate their detention and deportation. These actions are often justified through geopolitical reasoning and arguments related to the maintenance of domestic order. Migrants frequently find themselves in a difficult position, choosing between returning to their home countries or remaining illegally, which leads to dehumanization and exploitation. In some cases, they are detained or deported, blurring the lines between encouraging returns, inducing them, and using coercion. This erosion of norms related to international protection and migrants’ rights, as well as issues of voluntariness, dignity, sustainability, and long-term effectiveness of returns, becomes evident.


In conclusion, I agree with the central argument of this article that when the host country and the country of origin are from the same region, geopolitics becomes particularly pertinent. The timing and objectives of return policies are intertwined with geopolitics in two distinct ways: transit countries establishing legitimacy for advocating migrants’ repatriation based on self-identification, and countries of origin creating opportunities to facilitate this process. Another key outcome of the article which I deeply agree with, is the recognition that Türkiye’s situation cannot be generalized to other host countries. It holds unique characteristics. In the context of migration diplomacy, examining return dynamics within the framework of South-South relations and their interactions with the North can provide deeper insights into the subject. Türkiye’s unique circumstances underscore the broader impact of geopolitics on migration governance. Exploring return dynamics within the context of regional relations leads to a deeper understanding of migration diplomacy’s intricate web and its interactions with the North, ultimately shaping the way nations navigate the complexities of migration management.

By: Dilara Özdemir, CIGA Research Assistant



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