Over the last 20 years, Turkey has witnessed the arrival of people of different ethnicities, including a growing number of sub-Saharan African immigrants. However, the presence of sub-Saharan African immigrants in Turkey has been largely ignored academically. Based on only very limited empirical evidence, sub-Saharan African migrants in Turkey are generally presented as a homogeneous group and all assumed to be transit migrants trying to reach Europe. These assumptions formed the basis of the policy of ignorance towards sub-Saharan African immigrants in Turkey. Based on ethnographic data collected among Senegalese immigrants in Istanbul in 2010 and 2011, this article sheds light on this ignored fact of migration in Turkey. The main aim of this study, which adopts a case study approach, is to try to understand the existence of a certain group among sub-Saharan African immigrants in Turkey through the analysis of migration ambitions. The main research findings among Senegalese immigrants reflect current assumptions about sub-Saharan African immigrants in Turkey in two important ways testing level.
In the past decades, old immigration patterns in Turkey have been replaced by new immigration patterns. Whereas initially immigration to Turkey mainly of the arrival of ethnically Turkish/Muslim migrants, from the 1980s onwards, people with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds started to immigrate increasingly to Turkey. These altered patterns led to the development of a new field of study of immigration to Turkey (Tolay, 2012: 1). Until now research in this area, however, has focused on the arrival of immigrants from Turkey's surrounding areas like Iraqi, Iranians and migrants from the former Soviet Union. The presence of immigrants from more remote regions like sub-Saharan Africa has largely passed unnoticed. Consequently, Turkish immigration research is currently lacking insight into the process of migration and the experiences, motivations, aspirations and concrete livelihoods of sub-Saharan African migrants in Turkey. Instead, a number of preconceptions have been formed about these migrants such as the assumption that their presence in Turkey is merely determined by their aspiration to migrate further to Europe. All sub-Saharan African migrants are therefore commonly dubbed transit migrants and Turkey is not considered a country of destination for these migrants.
This article aims to contribute empirically to Turkish immigration research. Drawing on ethnographic data collected between autumn 2010 and winter 2011 among Senegalese migrants in Istanbul, the article offers insight into the migratory aspirations of this specific group of sub-Saharan African migrants in Turkey. Within the framework of this research, the author challenges on two fronts the prevailing assumption that all sub-Saharan African migrants in Turkey are transit migrants based on their assumed onward migration aspirations. The paper introduces two sections on the development of the immigration patterns of Turkey and argues that the presence of sub-Saharan African migrants has been a disregarded aspect of the changed immigration reality of Turkey. In the next section of the paper the prevailing academic and political assumptions on sub-Saharan African migrants in Turkey as transit migrants is problematized. The following section presents the case study of Senegalese migrants in Istanbul and the study’s objectives and methodology. The last section is dedicated to the main research findings illustrated by the stories of five Senegalese migrants in Istanbul. Finally, some conclusions are drawn.
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