Thinking Migrant Solidarity Movements within the Commons – Lülüfer Körükmez

The number of migrants[1] who lost their lives for various reasons before the year 2018 has come to an end is recorded as 2,806. This number was 6,163[2] in 2017, and those who lost their lives while trying to pass through the Mediterranean constitute about the 50% of this figure. Those who manage to survive the risk of death may be abandoned on the ships that sail in the open seas while trying to cope with hunger, thirst, and disease. All this occurs in the glare of publicity across the globe, and most of the time such incidents are seen merely as unfortunate accidents and upsetting events, or that those people are simply unlucky.

Legal, political, economic, and cultural subjectivities have been produced by the framing of human mobility as the activity of crossing the borders in near or far distances. A new political discourse also accompanies such subjectivities when political and geographical conjunctures coalesce. This discourse is woven around key words such as ‘border’, ‘migration’ and ‘crisis’. A so-called European idea also finds its place along with the other key words while pointing out the migration flow toward European countries through the relevant seaways but ignoring the fact that the Aegean Sea and particularly the Mediterranean have become graves for hundreds of people (Casas-Cortés et al., 2015; De Genova et al., 2016; Sigona 2017). Besides the political and economic causes of the constant migration flow, including both mass and non-mass flows, the fact that the border regimes that create ‘illegal’[3] migrants and visa, refuge, and asylum application practices that lead to deaths in the Mediterranean, Aegean, and elsewhere in the world is something discussed less frequently than border, migration, and crisis. The Refugee Agreement between Turkey and the European Union in 2016 is also one of the examples of the regimes and practices mentioned above.[4]

The risk taken by those who use the seaway to reach European countries does not only involve the effort of crossing the sea in large numbers without necessary safety measures. Reports have also noted that boats have been sunk by knifing them or opening fire, or their engines were smashed, and unlawful prevention of border securities were carried out.[5] It is also important to note that there have been increasing controls, pressure, criminalization acts, and attacks against humanitarian aid organizations performing search and rescue operations in the open seas,[6] which reveal the legal, bureaucratic, and military rhetoric and biopolitical mortar of the wall Europe has put up on its borders. Unfortunately, but as a matter of course, the attacks and rigid border policies and practices of European states are not only limited to the Aegean and Mediterranean. Practices similar to those along Europe’s land borders can be seen in almost every part of the world.

The system of states established on the basis of erecting borders and choosing who to exclude and include leads to these deaths. In other words, the international system organized in nations (Walters, 2002) itself is the system that establishes human mobility as crossing a border, and therefore producing migrants. Citizenship as the membership system of political geography framed by borders also constitutes a complementary element.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the place of migrants within the commons politics. It specifically focuses on the solidarity movements working with migrants and how such movements are placed within the commons politics. For this reason, it is important to take a quick glance at the political system that produces dichotomies such as migrant/non-migrant, insider/foreigner and entitled/unentitled, the fatal consequences of which have been described above.

Accordingly, the first section of the paper will discuss how we can define migration within the commons. Next, migrant solidarity movements and two of the networks working in this realm, namely Peoples’ Bridge Association and Doors Solidarity, will be addressed.

Defining migration and migrants within the commons

The debate on the commons and social movements emerging from this debate does not constrain the commons to air, water, or land. Rather, its definition includes anything that occurs because of humans (Casas-Cortés et al., 2014: 450). It would be necessary to include the definition of “the regime of practices, struggles, institutions, and research that opens to a non-capitalist future” based on Hardt and Negri (Dardot and Laval, 2018: 9) in this broad definition as well. Even within the framework of these broad definitions, it is not clear, yet it is important, how solidarity with migrants should be defined and practiced within the commons politics. In order to be able to have this discussion, it is important to examine migration, or more appropriately, the process by which human mobility is transformed into migration, rather than examining the commons.

If we remember that about 55 million people left Europe to reach destinations of the New World between the years 1820-1920 (Hatton and Williamson, 1998: 7), yet no humans lived in Europe 40,000 years ago (Sutcliffe, 2001: 67), the question of why migration is defined as an extraordinary human mobility, an extraordinary situation, and a crisis will become more clear. Although it is suggested within migration studies that there are significant differences between the migrations of our day and those of earlier periods in terms of magnitude and pattern, antitheses also exist in discussions, particularly with respect to magnitude. Yet, this argument cannot explain why migration and correspondingly migrant is imagined as an extraordinary and undesirable phenomenon. The mechanism that underlies the construction of human mobility as migration can be understood only when it is accepted that human mobility across physical geography occurs on borders drawn artificially and within defined boundaries. Put differently, when the borders of the dominant and its geography are acknowledged, human mobility that occurs between these borders, through, or above them is constructed as migration.

Human mobility has become a control and governing mechanism as a result of people who belong to or are subject to a certain terrimastermastertory moving to another place out of reach of their ruler’s sovereignty. In order to be able to explain the oppressive policies imposed on people travelling since the 14th century, Lucassen (1998) argues that it is necessary to examine the relationship of migration with the labor market. He explains that other than those traveling for specific reasons such as pilgrims, seasonal workers, colonists, etc., migrants have been called idlers, people free from a master, and vagrants. They have also been seen as a threat. Thus, laws have been enacted for the purpose of binding these people to capital and also of preventing migration.[7] On the other hand, while the rights to travel for those enslaved and ‘slaves on contract’ were under the control of the master, the serfdom and enslavement system diminished as modern states started to emerge. Thus, states took away the authority of granting or restricting the right to travel from individuals, and incorporated such power within their body. As a result of this centuries-long course, an international state system emerged that regulates travel across areas of sovereignty, as it does today (Torpey, 2000: 4-10). It should be borne in mind that farmers were expelled from their land in England and subsequently were first transformed into poor, idle people, and beggars, and later into paid workers. Land, on the other hand, began to be operated so as to feed the burgeoning international agriculture market (Midnight Notes Collective, 2001: 1), which marks the first enclosure. Therefore, the Poverty Laws, “controlling the mobility of the peasants whose commons were privatized, forcing those described as idlers to work” (Anderson et al., 2009: 10) emerge as a mechanism that accompanies, complements, and reinforces enclosure concerning the control of human mobility.

Enclosure, in the classical Marxist literature, is explained as the closing of common use that precedes capitalist accumulation in favor of property and ownership. It also explains the historical process of the shift from feudalism to capitalism. Nevertheless, instead of an approach which accepts that enclosure has already happened (De Angelis and Harvie: 2017: 109), enclosure has also began to be seen as a constant characteristic of capital (An Architektur, 2010). Midnight Notes Collective argues that the new enclosures function like the old ones: prevention of communal control of means of support, confiscating the land by means of debt, rendering migrant labor as the dominant form of labor, defeat of socialism, and finally an attack on reproduction (2001: 4-6).

The objective of the first enclosure in controlling human mobility is to control the one going out not the one coming in. The objective at stake for the new enclosure focuses on the ones coming in rather than the ones going out. With this, no matter what the direction of human mobility is, the function of criminalizing and finally creating a cheap labor force is the same (Anderson et al., 2009). Therefore, people who press against the borders of Europe or other states are presented as subjects that create a crisis due to their demands for accessing resources, services, and most importantly rights. Resources, services, and rights are provided to those individuals whom the dominant power defines and acknowledges within the borders of the defined political geography.

Modern states delineated from one another by borders also mark the differentiation of the insider (domestic) and outsider (foreigner) as a container. State, society, and all the other social relations are shaped within this kind of schema. This socio-spatial distinction, namely (state) border is not only a line that defines the territory, but it is also the heart of the political domain (Anderson and Hughes, 2015: 1). While it is assumed that insiders have innate equal rights and obligations due to their being citizens,[8] the access to rights and obligations concerning outsiders, in other words, those who are non-citizens, are defined within the scope of international agreements or by a state’s own discretion. At this point, a discussion as to whether migrants/non-citizens and non-migrants/citizens would be included in the same categories of rights or not would be necessary.

Considering the migrant and non-migrant within the same category of right

State borders determine citizens and migrants. In the essence of citizenship, inclusion and exclusion work concurrently. For instance, citizens are accorded rights to work, the right to live in a country unconditionally, and most importantly the right of not being deported. However, a migrant’s right to work and live in a place is conditional and limited. The right of not being deported does not apply to migrants. Citizenship is defined as membership of a community within state borders and the benefit of rights arising as a result of this membership. Yet, it is important to make a distinction between formal and substantive forms of citizenship. While formal citizenship describes membership to a state legally, substantive citizenship is defined as the ownership of rights and obligations. Even though some rights may well be accorded to those who are not citizens, it is not possible to state that citizens are automatically equal in terms of rights and obligations (Lister, 2003: 44, Staeheli, 1999).

Nonetheless, the non-citizen category is not uniform either and it encompasses different statuses. As a result of a series of developments that occurred after World War II, particularly with the influence of migration flows, the distinction between citizen and non-citizen has eroded (Soysal, 1994). Likewise, Benhabib (2004) notes that new forms of membership to a political community have emerged and the form regulated by the nation-state system no longer proves to be adequate. Although various definitions have been made, such as post-national citizenship, multicultural citizenship, global citizenship, and transnational citizenship, Bosniak points out that citizenship is still associated with nation-state, and international law acknowledges citizenship that is based on nation (Bosniak, 2006: 24-25). Apart from the erosion of excluding national citizenship through practices like multiple citizenships, the expansion of rights based on citizenship towards non-citizens in various ways is another matter of debate. To illustrate, the rights accorded to denizens[9] – a point between citizen and non-citizen (Groenendijk, 2006: 386) – can be evaluated within this framework. Denizens who have lived in a certain place on a work permit and/or residential permit for many years with restricted rights of access to political and social rights have been bestowed the right to vote in local or general elections, which is deemed the most important privilege of national citizenship. This has come to mean that rights similar to citizenship have been accorded and acknowledged.

Even though rights accorded based merely on national citizenship have partially expanded in a way to include non-citizens, the distinction between migrant and non-migrant is still prevalent both legally and in practice. Irregular migrants have no right to access political or social rights. In accordance with international agreements, there is the principle that necessitates that fundamental human rights are applicable for everyone, regardless of the person being a citizen or not, so irregular citizens have these rights. On the other hand, by drawing attention to the fact that the stretching of the human rights framework or citizenship has been exaggerated, Gündoğdu remarks that many incidents are reported in the current regime of sovereignty, citizenship, and rights. These incidents include the violence that migrants are exposed to, being unable to fulfill basic human needs, legal insecurity (difficulty in accessing vested interests and rights), illegal detainment and poor conditions regarding detainment, and inhumane treatment (Gündoğdu, 2015:10). In addition to these, the attempts of migrants who are insecure and fragile legally and politically to access current rights or demand new rights may create risky situations for them. Such a demand requires being visible; therefore, most of the time it is not expressed because of the possibility that it may lead to being deported.

When it is examined from the perspective of the current political organization, which are nation-states demarcated by borders, formal citizenship, and official membership, we may state that it is not possible to evaluate migrants and non-migrants on the same plane in terms of rights. When it comes to fundamental human rights, it is possible to say that migrants and non-migrants enjoy the same rights, which is theoretically valid; yet, in practice we see that access to these rights becomes differentiated. Furthermore, in every part of the world there are differences among migrants with regard to having rights and accessing rights depending on their status. It is for this reason that political power and debates over rights based on its legal and spatial organization do not make it possible to refer to rights that are independent of statuses.

Apart from the restricting and excluding aspect of formal citizenship, substantive citizenship shows that, on the one hand, citizens are not equal at all with respect to rights and their access to rights. On the other hand, it could provide opportunities to unite non-migrants and migrants on the same plane with regard to rights.

Meeting in the commons or commoning: How and where?

How can we construct migrants and non-migrants as equal subjects in a system in which being vested with a right is determined on the basis of membership through the law of sovereignty, the foundation of the international system? Put differently, how can we eliminate the differentitation of the migrant in terms of having a right to have rights and accessing rights?

Urban citizenship

Being a citizen of a nation-state legally (formal citizenship) is not required or adequate for substantive citizenship (Holston and Appadurai, 1996: 190). Varsanyi (2006) clusters approaches concerning the relationship of city and citizenship under three headings: normative, rescaling, and agency-centered approaches. A normative approach is one that links global cities, world citizenship, and the international human rights regime by differentiating citizenship from the nation-state scale. City lies at the heart of the rescaling approach, which is a proposition of citizenship based on residence on a local scale and differentiates citizenship from the nation-state scale. It assumes that anyone living in a city will automatically acquire citizenship rights. The third approach, namely the agency-centered approach, explains the construction of citizenship through acts with reference to examples in which urban residents, especially those who are marginalized, impose themselves as legitimate members of urban publicity. Varsanyi posits that none of these three approaches can provide an adequate explanation with regard to ‘illegal’ migrants. These approaches link citizenship with residence and being in one place (Varsanyi, 2006).

If we are able to shift the rights and membership to a community outside a citizenship perspective governed by the determinism of state sovereignty, then we will be able to conceive of rights and put them into practice as independent of status. What is at stake in such a perspective is to be able to consider citizenship as the new site of struggle and in a way that transcends territorial borders. This perspective also views citizenship beyond obligations such as voting, social security, and military service (Mhurchú 2014: 124). The attempt of moving the access to resources and rights out of the dominant law and even out of the ideology of thenation-state also refers to the emergence of non-citizen political subjects through political acts. The Sans-Papiers[10] movement in France can be regarded as the starting point of such an understanding of citizenship that is based on residence (Dikeç and Gilbert 2002: 62, Gündoğdu 2015).

Contrary to the approach that accords rights only to those who reside in a city, looking at citizenship on a basis that includes the daily and political acts of urban residents, such as going to school and working as well as protests and related demands, refers to the decentralization of citizenship. Casas-Cortés et al. propose viewing migrants independent of their status and acknowledging that they become citizens through their social interactions and by living there as well (Casas-Cortés, et al., 2014: 464). This proposition is not a legal legitimacy that would be ‘granted’ by the state or the state’s bestowing of legality; it is rather a call for acknowledging the practices and acts that have already been going on. Based on these debates, residents having rights and stretching these rights to everyone residing in that place, independent of status, identity, and origin, makes the concept of urban citizenship (CITYzenship) possible (Vrasti and Dayal, 2016: 995).

Urban citizenship is also a means for the commoning of the city. Contrary to the nation-state centered racial and ethnic enclosure of the city, it refers to making the space common. Moreover, the struggles of migrants independent of their status bring a dimension for commoning practices that is non-racist (Casas-Cortés et al., 2014: 463-464). Urban streets, squares, parks, and all the other public spaces are assumed to be open for everyone. However, the city has invisible walls and barriers that function depending on race, gender, citizenship, class, and ethnicity. Harvey’s warning is significant at this point; public[11] places being open does not necessarily mean that access is possible for everyone at any time. Streets are open in principle; however, they are regulated and controlled (Harvey, 2012: 71). They may even be allocated for companies and therefore privatization practices may be applied. Harvey insists on the requirement of political action that will realize commoning so that the city will be made common (Harvey, 2012: 73). Therefore, commons practices are required for urban commoning, urban resources, and rights that come automatically with formal citizenship as well as for practicing existence with rights as differentiated from the nation-state scale and its sovereignty.

Despite all this, existence with rights and urban commoning cannot obviate the construction of human mobility as migration in the context of today; therefore, it cannot preclude the creation of migrant subjects either. Rather, it paves the way for the construction of accessing rights from the ‘bottom’, independent of the legal status of individuals who have migrated. Exclusion is performed on the borders in a world where borders continue to exist and border policies have become more sophisticated through surveillance and tracking technologies and a new kind of apartheid regimes are created (De Genova, 2013: 1192 as cited in Balibar 1993/2002). Following the principle that Nobody is Illegal after crossing a border and generating an action and politics in line with this direction is as important as establishing a No Borders politics. Thus, freedom of movement is as crucial as existing in a place with rights. No Borders politics is eventually an integral part of common rights and struggle of commons (Anderson et al., 2009).

Considering the solidarity movements working with migrants along with rights

Solidarity movements working with migrants may be different in terms of demands and patterns of action. Yet we can observe that these movements have been on the rise in countries such as Turkey, Greece, Sweden, and the US as well as in many other places across the world. While some of these movements can take a form that transcends the borders of a nation, some of them are local and of a smaller scale, just like the migration phenomenon itself. Solidarity actions/practices are performed in various forms such as protests, press releases, marches, ‘assistance’ campaigns, and creative artistic works. They also aim to declare that people are together with the migrants and in solidarity with them while defending migrants’ fundamental rights, so that they have access to national and local rights, and that these rights are expanded. They also stand against racism and discrimination, national and international detainment and practices of deportation, or any other negative incidentpeculiar to migrants. The purpose and particular emergence may differ; yet it can be argued that it was the migrants’ right to move and travel and have access to rights where they choose to reside that led to the formation of solidarity movements globally. Solidarity movements are particularly important today since they have emerged during a period when racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant tendencies have increased and rightist politics have gained ground (Ataç et al., 2016: 528).

This paper does not focus on the solidarity movements with migrants organized by migrants themselves or articulated by them; in short, it does not address the movements whose actual actors are migrants. It rather focuses on the movements in which citizens and migrants work together.

As has been discussed above, while citizenship defines a formal bond with the state as well as the rights and obligations defined based on such a formal bond, citizenship is also formed by acts. Within the framework of classical citizenship, the legitimate actors who are able to perform a political action are the citizens themselves. Those who are not citizens are not capable of doing politics or participating in politics either. Therefore, demands for migrants’ rights might require the existence of citizens and their interventions as the legitimate political actors with their capability of taking action. In such an instance, when the action is limited by the one who is a citizen, defense and solidarity are carried out by non-migrants on behalf of migrants. The demands of migrants are pronounced by the citizens and are converted into a political voice, which prevents the migrants and non-migrants from being together as equal political actors and voices. This does not mean that the migrants’ actions do not have any impact; however, this is an observation that citizens act as a necessary bridge between state power and non-migrant activists (Johnson 2012: 8).

Another important point in the migrant solidarity movements is related to how solidarity itself is constructed. Solidarity can be constructed as hospitality and humanitarian aid, the example of which we see frequently in Turkey. Its construction can also be made political and based on rights. The relationship between the guest and the host is always asymmetrical and includes some elements of uncertainty: while the host is the welcoming party, the guest is the one expecting to be accepted and the one who is demanding. The host chooses who is going to be accepted as a guest and it is the host who identifies the conditions and duration of the visit. What falls to the guest is to accept the conditions and limits determined by the host. As for migration, playing the host emerges as one form of showing compassion to people under difficult conditions, which mostly merges as humanitarian aid. By showing a ‘sacrificing’ attitude, the host accepts the guests for a specific period and under certain conditions. This asymmetrical relationship inevitably encompasses the domination of the host over the guest. The host has full control over access to all kinds of resources and rights (Herzfeld, 1987; Friese, 2009; Squire and Darling, 2013). Rather than seeing migrants as subjects who have rights and who exist with their rights, viewing migrants as people who are bestowed compassion along with altruism or in a position that renders them to be seen as those whose needs are to be fulfilled as a requirement of ‘humanity’ means constraining them within the boundaries of ‘moral obligation’ (Herzfeld, 1987). In an ethnographic work carried out in Lesbos and Chios of Greece, Knott observed that the volunteers working with refugees expected the refugees to treat them as good guests by “showing them respect, gratitude, and obedience” in return for their efforts in the camps (Knott, 2017: 6). On the other hand, the effects of the fact that the dominant state on the territory restricts the migrants with temporariness in terms of legal aspects and being guests on the rhetorical side cannot be underestimated. In Turkey, political figures and authorities working at top levels of the state from time to time state that migrants are guests and they may be deported if requested. This shows how an approach that is not based on rights but on guest status allows dominance.

Following the problems experienced in Lampedusa and the camps on the Greek islands in 2013, we witnessed the emergence of a humanitarianism of moral values and compassion, no matter what its source. This humanitarianism emerged in response to the living conditions of migrants in Turkey and cities in many other countries, in other words, as a result of seeing the pain. Such humanitarianism spans the globe, but Ticktin reminds us of the need to question its arbitrariness and the hierarchies it has produced: the migrants who have been “excluded from legality” are only defined by their suffering bodies and they are excluded from what is political (Ticktin, 2006: 44). In addition, humanitarian aid is temporary, specified for a period of time, and it is far from being inclusionary. 

Those on one side of the hierarchy (those who see the pain and intervene, rescuers, for example) acknowledge the pain they witness and choose to intervene for a time and under conditions that they decide upon. Although both humanitarianism and human rights rest on the rhetoric of universality, they rely on different forms of actions, they defend different ideas of humanity and institutionalize them as such (Ticktin, 2006: 35). Despite all the criticism directed at the rules and practice of human rights, Sciurba (2017) notes that we do not have any alternative to human rights since no alternative is equal in conceptual, normative, or political power. Sciurba recognises humanitarianism and human rights as two different concepts and argues they have been employed together as rhetorical strategy in political discourse, for example, the European Union migration policy since 2013. Sciurba also highlights that this serves directly to legitimize policies that violate human rights. On the other hand, discursive and representative standardizations of national and international humanitarian organizations may silence those who find themselves constrained by the label of refugee (Malkki, 1996). A description of refugees as people taken care of by an authority and subject to those relevant practices also means that refugees are excluded from the political domain. Even though compassion and humanitarianism are derived from the idea of humanity, it does not necessarily mean being entitled to rights or justice. It is linked more to generosity and altruism. Humanitarianism also carries a latent distinction between human and citizen: one person cannot be both at the same time, and if one is protected within the scope of humanitarianism, that person will lose his/her political and social rights (Ticktin, 2016: 44).

It can be argued that the guest/host idea and humanitarianism serve certain functions such as building ‘empathy’ towards migrants and meeting their needs and, in many places, increasing ‘tolerance’. However, when we remember that these are also hegemonic, hierarchical, restrictive, and exclusive mechanisms and strategies, the requirement of placing migration itself and migrants on a political basis from the very beginning becomes evident. Acknowledging the fact that migrants have rights, just as all others do and as much as all others do, also requires the establishment of a political basis that is not statist or state-centered. In addition to Isin’s observation that acts of citizenship refer to the construction of migrants as the carriers of the right to demand rights (Isin, 2009: 371), the acts of citizenship of non-status migrants mean that they are “political beings that demand and acquire rights, they are no other than citizens” (Nyers, 2010: 141).

Within the solidarity movements working with migrants, those acts established and practiced with citizens and migrants together provide opportunities for collective political action. Only solidarity that is together with migrants not ‘for migrants’ and is carried out between equal subjects independent of their status can make this happen. When the demands of migrants are vocalized by both citizens and non-citizens, the formation pattern of traditional communities that are based on the nation-state can change. This can also change the global and local hegemonic articulation of space and render the city visible as a knot between temporariness and asymmetrical orientations that are differentiated from nation (Burman, 2006: 390).

We can state that the urban fabric is produced collectively by taking into consideration migrants’ contribution with regard to producing cities and even localities on scales other than cities. Therefore different domains of politics can be opened up by removing solidarity movements that work with migrants from the nation-state framework the domain of sovereignty, and other such references (for example, the law, borders, and legitimacy), and by establishing the city as urban commoning on a scale other than that of the nation-state and putting this into practice on the basis of existence with rights independent of status.

Solidarity movements with migrants: Examples in Turkey

This study focuses on how migrant solidarity movements can be constructed as an urban common. Naturally, no true or single method of solidarity or urban commoning exists. The claim of this paper is not to have such an evaluation either. Rather it discusses the opportunities and limitations based on a couple of examples that have emerged among the migrant solidarity movements in Turkey.

Since its establishment as a nation-state, Turkey has continually been a destination of migrants. Despite this, today we see that migration flows have increased, diversified, and become more complicated since the 1980s. Since the 2000s, the politics of the state has changed regarding the control and management of migration and such politics has become more conspicuous. Accordingly, the number of academic studies and research centers focusing on migration has also increased during that period. In a country that holds a significant place within global migration flows, we see that not only has there been an increase in the national and international non-governmental organizations working in this field but also different formalities and organization patterns have emerged as regards the solidarity movements that work with migrants.

This study focuses on two solidarity movements that were set up in Izmir, Peoples’ Bridge and Doors Solidarity. The structure and organization patterns of these organizations are different from each other, yet they both work with migrants to defend their rights by carrying their rights beyond the law and status. Besides these, the organizations that will be addressed here are at the same time ‘local’ organizations. Local does not refer to them having no bond other than the cities they inhabit, nor does it mean that they are not associated with any place or issue other than what happens in that city. In local, there is a reference which means they do not work in the form of branches that are structured from the center (‘up’), as is the case in professional institutions. A formation in any city can maintain a loose relationship with another one. And it would be more apt to handle these organizations as practices that assume “collective working that is open to participation from the outside” rather than one grounded in principles of hierarchy and direct official membership.

Peoples’ Bridge (Halkların Köprüsü)

Peoples’ Bridge was established in 2014 with the aim of “establishing public friendship and solidarity based on equality, justice, and freedom between peoples”[12] and defines itself as a solidarity group. The founding purpose of the association does not involve conducting studies in the field of migration; its aim is to work for the social establishment of peace in Turkey. However, following the war between ISIS and the PYD in Kobane/Syria and explotion in Turkey’s Suruç, their efforts began as addressing the urgent needs of people, and taking action to fulfill the emerging needs of many refugees that came to Izmir from Kobane. This course has made the association an organization that carries out various works in the field of migration as we see it today (Terzi and Şentürk, 2016). Istanbul and Diyarbakir branches of the association were opened in 2016. The association has had hundreds of volunteers since it was founded. The members and volunteers of the association define Peoples’ Bridge as an organization that is based on solidarity. Besides health screenings, identifying and fulfilling vital needs, all carried out by visiting camps and houses in Izmir and other places around the city, they have also shared their observations with the wider public by holding various workshops, attending meetings, and preparing reports. They are not only interested in the borders within Turkey; they have also made statements on flows from Turkey to Europe and also on the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration.

The identification of acts of violence and calls to oppose such violations are important, yet it is also important to look at how Peoples’ Bridge defines migrant rights. Essentially, they have declared that the status of refugee must be granted to everyone and to pave the way to citizenship for anyone who asks by eliminating the geographical reservation in Turkey that comes under the Geneva Convention. They have also made calls for the acknowledgement of health, education, and working rights for migrants coming from Syria. While such calls addressed general public opinion, their target was the state. In its 3rd Alan Kurdi Refugee Workshop report, Bridge stated that they rejected the hospitality approach towards refugees, and added that all people living in cities must be entitled to rights on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and citizenship law. The following was also included in the report:

“It is not possible for those living in the cities to be able to adopt and stake their claims for living spaces unless they can access the services, participate in urban life and have an equal right to speak concerning the city. What makes a city belong to the urban dweller is the capacity of the urban resident to have discretion regarding the city and the legal rights the person has in order to render such capacity an actual one… Although peoples are differentiated by their legal status, the problems shared by the peoples who share the same space become common; for this reason, ways to struggle together to settle the common problems are required to be sought… We demand a local administration understanding that supports everyone who shares the living spaces so that they can participate in public life with equal rights, with all the disadvantaged groups along with the refugees being safeguarded” (Peoples’ Bridge, 2018).[13]

Although the approach of Bridge is clear in that it sees the city as a common and rights as a necessity for everyone independent of their status, its declaration is intended to target local and national administration. Migrants and organizations that are made up of migrants themselves are among the organizations which Bridge works with. Yet identifying their urgent needs accounts for most of its activities. In the end, when those urgent migrant needs in and around Izmir lessened, Bridge became unable to perform activities in the field of migration and now it is reassessing its role.

Doors Solidarity (Kapılar Dayanışma)

Following protests held in Işıkkent Shoemakers’ Site in Izmir against the percieved threat of migrants to Turkish workers’ jobs and wages, the Leather, Textile, and Shoemakers’ Solidarity Association stated that migrants were not responsible for such attacks. They also stated that both migrants and non-migrants were affected by the outcomes of capitalism and the state administration, and declaried that it is required to have solidarity with migrants. In the aftermath of this process, an old derelict house was collectively repaired in Basmane, a neighborhood in Izmir housing mainly migrants from Syria, African countries, and areas of Turkey. There, Doors was formed. It defines itself as a collective.

In the solidarity house, different activities are carried out side by side with migrants, together with them, and also for them, since it is located in that neighborhood. In order to satisfy urgent needs, food and clothes are collected from institutions and individuals and are handed out. Vegan food is cooked with food collected from the markets. In addition, courses are offered to children and adults (language courses, games workshops for children, and art workshops). Presentations and meetings on different topics are organized as well. Some of the courses are carried out by the migrants. However, as is the case with most of formations that work on a voluntary basis, the activities performed in Doors remain partial activities and cannot achieve sustainability.

Some of the activities realized in Doors are performed together with some formations such as Peoples’ Bridge in Izmir, Izmir City Council, and Women’s Door. Doors has an open door policy and is open to anyone.

Doors Solidarity aims to include migrants and build a solidarity together with migrants. It is mostly a place that performs activities for migrants together with migrants themselves. One of the most important reasons for this is that whether they come from official institutions or civilian initiatives, the ‘culture of helping’ is created among migrants through the organizations. As Genç states for Mutfak (Kitchen), which is a part of the Migrant Solidarity Network, migrants may find solidarity highly abstract vis a vis the solutions that aid-providing networks deliver among the needs created by the harsh living conditions (Genç, 2017: 127). It can be said that Doors has observed a balanced approach up to now within the aid and solidarity tension. They have tried to create a setting in which migrants can directly be involved, and while doing so they have not overlooked the vital needs of the migrants living in the neighborhood.

In a city neighborhood significant due to its migrant population and symbolically important in terms of its migration history, the space that has automatically formed is important as migrants are able to exist together with the city and on an equal footing in the city. Despite this, it also contains limitations.

These two formations, one with the status of association and the other a collective, define migrants as subjects with rights independent of their status. However, they are stuck in activities to provide for urgent needs and those putting demands on official authorities in terms of migrants’ rights. Established on the basis of solidarity and demanding equality in terms of rights, these two movements have, up to the present day, taken action for migrants and partially with migrants. Naturally, political action can be more troublesome for migrants since the cost is high for them and their urgent needs of daily life are pressing. For this reason, it is important and essential that citizens make demands with migrants and for migrants. Unfortunately, a position that gives a voice to migrants and conveys a message for migrants, even if they are not on behalf of migrants, is not sufficient for migrants to produce an equally strong voice. Strenghtening of migrants’ voices can be realized through moments that could create a breakup and novelty within ordinary life, rather than one realized through large protests and popularised rights movements (Johnson, 2012). Seeing the city as a common space, it is possible to envisage how commoning can be conducted together and through solidarity by weaving together migrants and non-migrants side by side within the daily acts of ordinary life. What is in question here is not a proposition of a pastoral style of sharing daily life practices; it should rather be seen as part of small and limited struggles, opening up space and ongoing political struggle (Johnson, 2012). Non-migrant workers speaking out together with migrant workers at Işıkkent Shoemakers Site in Izmir is important since it is a movement that raises a political voice and it is a moment that draws attention to class and exploitation issues, which is more than mere solidarity with migrants.

Concluding remarks

Peoples’ Bridge and Doors Solidarity have made exemplary efforts in building vibrant solidarity through the work they have done. The analyses and interpretations in this study can be read as an evaluation of the situation and investigation of opportunities as well as limitations. Branches of Bridge have opened in other cities and Doors has become a place frequented by activists and researchers from Turkey and other countries and a place where these activists and researchers can make a contribution. These are the results of the positive contributions that these two formations have made up to today in solidarity with migrants. On the other hand, although this study has focused on these two formations in Izmir, it is important to note that solidarity is maintained by Kırkayak in Gaziantep and Maya in Mersin.

Seeing the city as a common for solidarity movements working with migrants and performing commoning practices together is an important way of defining migrant rights from the ‘bottom’ and removing them from the nation-state scale. The principle that everyone exists together with their rights rather than nation-state citizenship as a way of accessing rights brings about a solidaristic and equalizing perspective.

The existence of everyone living in the city with their rights and the right to demand rights is essential but it is not adequate. Bosniak’s criticism of the ethical territoriality approach should be taken into consideration while considering solidarity with migrants within the commons. Bosniak (2007) envisages that all rights and recognition of them should be broadened out to include everyone living in a national geographical space just because they are there, and everyone who is there has fundamental citizenship rights. Yet he adds that in approaches that are based on space, there are some conflicts at stake as to what the border of the space is, and there are some complications caused by different states of ‘being’ that are applicable for tourists and those in transit. There are also other problems such as what kind of legal basis will be in question regarding citizenship law and the nation-state (Bosniak, 2007; Varsanyi, 2006). Above all these issues, approaches that are based on residence and being there that envisage the equal and complete participation of everyone expands the scope of accessing rights in a system where rights are dispersed from ‘above’, as is the case in formal citizenship. Therefore, it is necessary to see the city as a space that does not have borders and is produced collectively, not as a structure in which the borders and those living within them are definite, but rights are distributed equally, like the small-scale structure of the states.

Finally, all kinds of demands for rights and solidarity with regard to migrants should reject any kind of borders. They should also say that nobody is illegal. Only through this will it be possible to preclude the naming of human mobility as migration and those who are moving as migrants.


[1] The word ‘migrant’ in this text is used as an umbrella term to encompasses anyone who is not the citizen of a (nation-) state but happens to be within the borders of that state, regardless of his/her legal status . Nevertheless, it is important to note that the term migrant does not include ‘expats’, migrants of an upper economic class or retired migrants, etc. The reason for such an exclusion is that the immigrants with whom collectivities within the solidarity movements work constitute the ones who are to a large extent in a fragile situation in legal, economic, and social terms.


[3] The only reason why the adjective ‘illegal’ is used here for irregular migrants is to draw attention to the illegalization of immigrants as a subject.

[4] See Heck and Hess, 2017 for a comprehensive evaluation regarding the agreement.

[5] See,


[7] The rights to travel for those who were slaved and ‘slaves on contract’ were under the control of their masters. As modern states started to emerge, the serfdom and slavery system diminished and states took the authority of granting or restricting the right to travel away from individuals, thus they incorporated such power and authority within their body (Torpey, 2000: 8).

[8] For a critique of the argument supporting the idea that citizenship provides equal rights and status, see Cohen, 2009 and Kadıoğlu, 2012.

[9] This is a term used for people who live in a country but are not the citizens of that country.

[10] The collective movement that was performed by irregular migrants in France . This movement is also known as the Paperless Movement. Their basic demands were to stay in France where they had been living for a long time and to make their status regular.

[11] For the distinction of common, public and private see Dardot and Laval, 2018: 19.


[13] This excerpt is taken from the 3rd Alan Kurdi Refugee Workshop Result Declaration which has not yet been published. The declaration will be published at .


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