The gift of hospitality and the (un)welcoming of Syrian migrants in Turkey

by HILAL ALKAN

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As of 2020, Turkey was home to 3.6 million Syrian migrants who fled violence in their country after the uprisings of 2011. Although they are not recognized as refugees, Syrian migrants have been granted the right to self-settlement in Turkey. The Turkish state has promoted this reception as a form of hospitality and generosity. The state's elevation of hospitality has been criticized, however, for reinforcing inequalities. More broadly, the concept of hospitality itself has been scrutinized for its immediate affinity to hostility. But as revealed by ethnographic work with Istanbul's neighborhood aid networks, “hospitality” at ​the grassroots level is governed by principles of the gift. In everyday interactions, it can catalyze a cycle of reciprocal returns that may lead to long-term relationships. Countering the argument that hospitality is always paired with hostility, this ethnography shows that it can also turn strangers into relatable Others. [gift, hospitality, neighborhoods, reciprocity, Syrian refugees, Istanbul, Turkey]