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The Refugees’ Right To Housing: State Policies and Housing Commons in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RE-HOUSING (The Refugees’ Right To Housing: State Policies and Housing Commons in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

RE-HOUSING examined forms and modes of refugee led solidarity housing commons, and compared and contrasted these with State-run refugee camps in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade.
These cities are at the epicenter of the current refugee crisis. Since, March 2016, when the borders of Balkan countries were closed for all third-country migrants and the EU-Turkey common statement was signed, thousands of refugees were trapped in Turkey, Greece and Serbia.
The states of Serbia, Greece and Turkey accommodated the majority of refugees in State-run camps. However, the refugee camps are overcrowded dilapidated factories or old military bases, where lack of amenities prevails. They are located at the city’s outskirts in extremely polluted and dangerous environments, close to, or inside industrial zones. Refugees have no or limited access to social infrastructures and schools, while most of the camps have low levels of public transport access. Consequently, the refugees have to survive in appalling and precarious housing conditions.
Parallel to the state efforts to provide housing for refugees, novel connections between the newly arrived refugees and local social movements in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade led to an unprecedented production of alternative self-organized housing schemes. These new and alternative refugee shelters are managed as commons through participatory processes; locals and refugees take decisions together and recognize each other’s culture and customs towards overcoming preconceptions and stereotypes. These solidarity initiatives attempt to create a common language and produce common spaces for locals and refugees, against the enforced segregation corresponding to the state-run camps. Thus it can be argued that a network of “common spaces” emerges, in which the refugees with the support of solidarity people not solely organize access to food, health care, education and employment, but also shape a sense of belonging, security and wellbeing.
The research addressed the pressing academic and social need to 1) enhance qualitative and quantitative data availability in order to compare and contrast refugee housing conditions and rights in different geographical locations, 2) assess the impact and importance of alternative housing, 3) compare and contrast existing strengths and weaknesses in institutional frameworks at national and EU levels.
Responding to this need, the project studied the refugees’ right to housing as it is expressed by the Turkish, Greek and Serbian States’ housing policies and the way these policies relate to the solidarity housing practices examined in each country.
In conclusion, RE-HOUSING considers the following two key aspects: i) State policies in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade tend to criminalize and stigmatize refugees’ alternative housing spaces and legitimatize eviction operations and the enclosure of refugees in isolated state-run camps outside of the city. Such policies interlinked with processes of gentrification, city branding, entrepreneurial projects, politics of fear and xenophobic rhetoric. ii) Refugees’ common spaces demonstrate a remarkable inventiveness for new transnational modalities of being-in-common. The inventiveness emerges as locals and refugees from different countries participate in the evolving communities-in-the-making that establish the experiments of housing common spaces. Subsequently, the commoning experiences of solidarity, togetherness and cohabitation between different nationalities nurture a fertile ground for transnational struggles for the right to the city.
RE-HOUSING was organized into five work packages (WP), which run concurrently. WP1 concerned the desk-based literature analysis and archival research on the refugees’ housing condition in Turkey, Greece and Serbia. WP2 involved the qualitative phase of the research; extensive ethnographic field research in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade and semi-structured individual and focus groups interviews with (75) refugees, (25) local stakeholders and (20) representatives of refugees’ humanitarian organizations. WP3 concerned a comparative and critical analysis of the collected material. WP4 focused on the dissemination, exploitation and the public engagement of research findings. The Fellow submitted 6 papers in peer-reviewed academic journals and collective volumes, presented his work at 9 international conferences, seminars, workshops, organized the RE-HOUSING conference, prepared the publication of a newcomers’ handbook on the refugee housing commons, contributed to online discussions and Wikipedia pages relevant to the project topic and acted as an invited guest speaker in 6 undergraduate and master classes in various universities. Finally, WP5 comprised the training of the Fellow in refugee housing theories, counter-mapping, fundraising, policy-oriented research, dissemination and outreach activities and administrative project management.
RE-HOUSING project research results contributed to open new perspectives for critical geographies in three ways: (i) Document, map, monitor and assess the institutional and infrastructural framework of refugees’ access to housing in Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade, considering it an essential step and a precondition for spatial justice and full enjoyment of social and civil rights. (ii) Document and critically assess the refugees’ commoning practices both in official camps and in the alternative housing structures of Istanbul, Athens and Belgrade. (iii) Create a counter-narrative tool, a newcomers’ handbook on the practices and possibilities of the production of housing commons based on qualitative and quantitative criteria, in order to circulate the aforementioned refugees’ knowledge and experiences.
The impact and wider societal implication of the RE-HOUSING project can be summarized as follows: With regards to civil society actors, policy makers, planning professionals and social movements in Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, Serbia and the EU, the RE-HOUSING findings help to bring together previously unconnected groups and actors, to enhance transnational exchange on refugee housing, to increase social awareness and to contribute in making processes around refugee housing more equal, democratic and sustainable in terms of security of tenure, availability of services, affordability, habitability, accessibility, gender equality and cultural adequacy.
Beyond the state of the art, the RE-HOUSING project examined the housing condition of refugees in times of covid-19 and addressed the following two results: (i) The pandemic provided state authorities the means to normalize and intensify refugees’ campization. The refugee camps emerge as the epitome of socio-spatial distancing in terms of spatial boundaries (inside/outside of the camp), legal rights (citizen/non citizen) and nationality (ethnic/stranger). However, the pandemic also makes clear that the spatialities of the camps can never be sealed as non-predictable practices of mutuality challenge the regime of campization. (ii) The refugees’ emergent commoning and caring collectives might not be able put an end to the characteristic cruelty of the state policies of camps, nonetheless they open up the potentiality of self-organized carescapes and creating spaces of being-in-common even within regimes of marginality and isolation.