There is a lack of research into the question of how refugees make migration decisions. Building upon the literature concerning migration aspirations and drivers of migration in contexts of forced displacement, this working paper examines the questions of how and why Syrian refugees in Istanbul and Izmir experience mobility and immobility. Drawing on the findings of a mixed-methods study conducted in 2018 amongst refugees in those two cities, it disentangles the many different ways of staying in Turkey. It offers insights into the perspectives of Syrians who aspire to return to Syria but stayed; those who want to remain in the country; those who aspire to move on to another country but stayed; and those who left for Europe but returned to Turkey. The findings of this study show a strong desire to return among the Syrian refugee population in Turkey, should the conflict come to an end. It also finds moderate aspirations to stay in Turkey, and a strong resistance to the idea of migrating further, into Europe. However, aspirations with regard to return and onwards migration were higher than actual migratory behaviour on the ground. The paper highlights that subjective factors such as life satisfaction, imaginings of the future, and hope, are crucial factors at the micro-level that shape refugees’ migration decision-making on a micro-level. The hope for return, one day, to Syria had initially motivated many Syrians to remain in Turkey. However, a combination of having given up hope of safely returning to Syria in the future, relatively high life satisfaction in Turkey, and negative ideas about what life in Europe might entail, have led Syrians to consider settling down in Turkey. Access to work is perceived as being easier there than in Europe, and a sense of a common cultural belonging has created strong counter-narratives to Europe as a potential destination.
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migration decision-making, urban refugees, hope, imaginations, aspirations, Syria, Turkey