International Migration, Refugee Studies, Race and Ethnicity, Sociology of Law and Social Policy, Global and Transnational Sociology, Research Methods, Urban Sociology
*Awarded with the 2019-2020 Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation Award by University at Buffalo, SUNY*
In my dissertation, I examine refugee integration through the means of an international comparison. I ask how immigration and asylum systems shape the integration experiences of recent Syrian refugees in Canada, Germany, Turkey, and the United States. Considering that it is still early to measure any outcomes, I aim to find how pathways and possibilities of integration are shaped within different policy contexts. With the help of research grants from the National Science Foundation and Mark Diamond Research Fund, I have travelled to Istanbul, Toronto, Buffalo, and Berlin to collect data. I conducted 130 in-depth interviews with Syrian refugees and key informants such as representatives of refugee resettlement agencies and the NGOs who work with refugees. The strength of my comparative research design relies on its ability to inform and provide qualitative insight on integration mechanisms and to foster theory-building. Examining this topic using an international comparative design allows for the development of a typology of different countries’ reactions to refugees, as well as theorization of similarities and differences in the mechanisms of integration. This research aims to find out what works best in different countries, and why. Comparative studies typically examine classic Western immigrant-receiving countries. Thus, one of the contributions of my dissertation is the introduction of Turkey from the Global South into the comparative picture.
Organized into one policy chapter and three empirical chapters, my dissertation discusses three main dimensions of the refugee integration experiences: (1) socio-economic status, (2) legal status/temporariness, and (3) cultural proximity/sense of welcome. I find that, when refugees think that their legal status and future in one place is uncertain, when they perceive a loss of economic and cultural status, and when they feel negative and an unwelcoming public attitude towards themselves, then their prospects of integration decline significantly.
Published and Working Papers
Illustrative of my program of research, I explored the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the asylum system in Turkey and mapped the field in terms of NGOs in 2009-2010. It was the first study conducted on organizations that work with refugees in Turkey before the Syrian refugee crisis started. I found that while NGOs provide refugees with psycho-social and legal support, they are constrained when it comes to enacting more comprehensive and systemic changes. This work has been published by Edwin Mellen Press in 2014 as a chapter in the edited book titled Migration, Asylum, and Refugees in Turkey: Studies in the Control of Population at the Southeastern Borders of the EU.
My overall research agenda also examines neighborhood change with a complementary focus on migration. My co-authored paper on Buffalo’s West Side has been published in City & Community in 2019. Using a multi-methods approach, we examine socioeconomic and demographic change in Buffalo, New York’s West Side neighborhood. We do this by performing a systematic case study of the neighborhood analyzing census tract data, crime data, key informant interview data from community leaders and organizational representatives, and data from local newspaper articles. Results suggest that although the neighborhood has changed dramatically over the last forty-five years, the shifts have not been experienced evenly across the entire West Side. Rather, two divergent areas have emerged: one neighborhood that is in an advanced stage of gentrification fueled by white gentrifiers and another in an early stage of gentrification driven by international migrants.
Another paper I wrote on the role of organizations in immigrant integration is currently under review. I studied an international market in the Northeast of U.S. that is a non-profit small business incubator employing immigrants run by a mainstream business development support organization. I asked: What is the relationship between political-economic interests and cultural dynamics of the organizational intervention in immigrant entrepreneurship? I examined an incubator in Rustville, a refugee resettlement city seeking to regain its economic vitality after deindustrialization. Drawing on in-depth interviews with vendors and managers of the incubator, I developed two arguments: (1) To support redevelopment of Rustville’s economy, the incubator organization taps upon the energy of refugee entrepreneurs and uses their cultural diversity to attract more customers and investors. (2) By encouraging entrepreneurship, the organization facilitates refugees’ economic and social integration on the condition they appear to remain culturally different.