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What Is Driving Turkey's Secular Elite To Emigrate

Istanbul University
Istanbul University
Suat Kiniklioglu


ISTANBUL — During a recent lunch in Washington with someone who works at a think tank there, the first thing he asked was, "What's going on in Turkey, for God's sake? Every day, good people are asking us about opportunities for either employment, or simply moving here."

I tried to explain the situation to him the best I could. Unfortunately, the secularist Hegira (exodus) we sense around us today is a fact. People who are fed up with Turkey's agenda and have the means to escape abroad are busy planning their futures outside of the country. Sociologists and economists would call this process "human capital migration," but what exactly does it mean for our country?

It means that more and more of our doctors, engineers, academics and otherwise well-educated people are fed up with the increasing authoritarianism. They see migrating abroad as the only way out. So that's what's happening.

The white-collar employees of Turkish multinational companies try to get transferred to offices outside of Turkey. Those who have the financial power to invest abroad start businesses or buy real estate that may allow them to legally migrate. Others try their luck with temporary business contracts in the hope of securing their presence abroad later. There is a growing demand for U.S. green cards. The white collars are leaving Turkey in search of a better future. They don't want to raise their children here.

Turning the tide

Fo those without an organic connection to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), or for those who don't submit to them and offer "gifts," there is no future in Turkey. There is no possibility for social mobility, neither within the state apparatus nor the private sector.

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Looking back? Photo: tinou bao

Meanwhile, the education system is getting worse and worse. Even children schooled at private institutions at great sacrifice to their parents are not educated properly. Most of us worry about whether our children will be able to find employment, compete with others on an international level and build a decent life.

Turkey also experienced a steady rate of human capital migration from the 1970s to the 1990s. But the tide reversed between 2007 and 2011. Many Turks living abroad even decided that things were better at home, and started to return.

Of course, the crisis in Western economies during those years also played an important role in this phenomenon. Now we see the tide turn once more. During the last couple of years especially, growing authoritarianism, corruption and imposition of religion are scaring away that precious human capital the country needs.

While the migration once was primarily motivated by economic factors, today it is more ideology-driven, amid increasing polarization and the systematic marginalization of those who don't support the AKP.

The future horizon of Turkey looks dark, so dark that people are willing to disrupt their daily habits and leave their homeland to seek a future in foreign countries. Even worse, the prospect for any political change in Turkey looks more and more remote. This secularist hegira is almost certainly bound to continue.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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