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SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT: Elif Cetin, Assistant Professor at Yaşar University in Turkey

Dr Elif Cetin is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of Yaşar University in Turkey. She is also a junior research fellow at the Von Hügel Institute in Cambridge where she specialises in migration. She will be speaking on the panel Who will look after us in our old age? on Monday 21st October, 6-7.30pm. Other members of the panel are economist Victoria Bateman, robots expert Professor Peter Robinson and Dan Holden from the International Longevity Centre. The event will be chaired by BBC Cambridgeshire's Chris Mann.


Question: What got you interested in studying immigration and its politicisation? 

Elif Cetin: While I started studying politicisation of immigration as part of my doctoral research, my academic interest in the topic dates back to a year I spent living in the Netherlands. After having secured the Jean Monnet scholarship, I went to Leiden University to pursue a masters degree in the Department of Politics. Three months after my arrival, I was shocked to hear that a political assassination had taken place in Amsterdam where a Dutch citizen of Moroccan origin killed the film maker Theo van Gogh. This event, quite understandably, shook Holland deeply as the country did not have any previous experience of political assassinations. This event perplexed the majority of Dutch citizens. Together with Dutch citizens with Moroccan origins, Dutch-Turks constitute the second largest community in the Netherlands with hyphenated identities. All of a sudden, my Dutch friends, mostly from the same MA programme, were asking me questions about migrants in the country, their integration and how the Dutch-Turkish community would position themselves after the assassination. At that point, I had a light bulb moment: even though I had a different background, these friends were posing me such questions because in Leiden I was an international student from Turkey and was supposed to have a deep understanding about a significant part of Dutch society because of the immigration background of these people.  Questions related to policies that regulate the lives of migrants, their integration to their new societies, the kind of political approaches and languages towards different categories of migrants started going round in my mind; I knew that I wanted to write a dissertation on immigration. 


Question: Is it likely that the UK will need more immigrants as its population ages? Why have politicians found it so hard to make the case for immigration? Do you know of any country that has successfully made the case? 

Elif Cetin: The short answer is; yes, it is very likely that the UK’s need for immigrants will increase as the population ages. Yet, due to the heavily politicised nature of immigration as an issue in the UK, I think it will be really difficult for politicians to openly discuss and make the case for the UK economy’s demand for an additional labour force that cannot be met through the domestic labour market due to reasons such as a lack of necessary qualifications, an unwillingness to take the job due to low salaries and/or lack of prestige etc. The British public remains highly worried about migration in the UK and tends to express a certain preference for highly restricted immigration. Therefore, the bipartisan consensus that existed during 1997-2010 between the Labour and Conservative parties where these political parties put forward a relatively liberal stance on economic migration while campaigning for strict controls over asylum seekers is not there any more. Various different types of migrants are now highly politicised and even the case of European mobility is approached within the frame of immigration controls. Surprisingly, older people are more likely to vote in favour of Brexit, which had immigration debates at its core, despite the fact that they are more likely to need care. The reasons are that prejudice and fear about immigration and immigrants have become ossified among these people and the sense of insecurity engendered means they are likely to reject further immigration rather than accept the necessity of having more immigrants. In addition to the elderly, having fewer immigrants is also likely to affect women as it could lead to more women leaving their jobs for unpaid carer roles. Yet it should also be noted that this is linked to traditional gender roles and the idea that women are supposed to perform caregiver functions. It is also usually the case that women from the industrialised Global North delegate this caregiver role to women from economically underdeveloped Global South countries. This is another problematic issue that should be investigated further. 


Question: What role does the media play in the politicisation of immigration? 

Elif Cetin: Some scholars indicate that politicisation of immigration is a top-down process and immigration gains salience as a political issue primarily due to the way domestic political elites, supported at times by a cohort of popular media, portray immigration as a threat to citizens’ security, socio-economic and cultural well-being in order to mobilise voters. Yet, the reality is often more complex than this. The media, often acting as the mouthpiece of political parties and other powerful groups, conditions the way public opinion and political messages on immigration develop. Instead of a linear path of influence, therefore, politicisation develops through a process that involves the media-public opinion and public opinion-politics interactions. For instance, in the UK, the media approaches asylum as a particularly problematic phenomenon and asylum claimants are predominantly portrayed as welfare system abusers and threats to public security. The British public is also highly worried about asylum and adopts a rather negative perspective. Negative public opinion and media discourse on asylum pushes mainstream parties to adopt tough rhetoric and dramatically constrains the extent to which the asylum system might be reformed. 


Question: What is your current research focused on? 

Elif Cetin: In addition to concentrating on the politicisation of immigration discourse and policies in Europe, with particular reference to Italy and the UK, some of my recent research involves analyses of the developments that have been occurring in Turkey’s migration management, especially the Temporary Protection regime that applies to Syrians in the country. For instance, I had the chance to contribute to an EU-funded HORIZON2020 ‘RESPOND: Management of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond’ project report on Turkey’s legal and political approach towards migration as first author. In addition, I have an upcoming blog piece that will appear on the Migration Policy Centre’s website which is on the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement and its repercussions for migrants. I plan on conducting further research on this topic. 


Question: You work partly in Turkey and partly in the UK. How do Turkish people feel about the way they were portrayed in the Brexit referendum? 

Elif Cetin: Turkey is an interesting country in a lot of different ways, also in terms of the gap between the politically informed population, who also tend to follow international developments, and those who are more focused on local affairs. In 2016, Boris Johnson claimed that Turkey’s possible EU membership would lead to increased immigration to Britain and would be a threat to the country. While part of the Turkish population with high political awareness felt bitter about the way Turkey’s EU membership bid was used by Johnson and the Vote Leave campaign, people from Kalfat village, where Boris Johnson’s great great grandfather was originally from, are still very fond of Johnson and apparently threw a celebration following the news that Johnson became the UK Prime Minister!