A growing number of young and educated looking to leave Turkey, where rights and freedoms are being eroded and inflation is surging under increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reports AP.
Turkey, a country of over 84 million people hit by a series of crises in recent years, saw the official annual inflation rate at 61% last month, though some economists believe the real figure is double that number.
For many, the way out is through education visas to study abroad or work permits. TurkStat, the government’s statistics bureau, said 139,531 Turkish citizens left the country in 2022, compared to 103,613 in 2021. Those aged 25 to 29 formed the biggest group.
The numbers are a significant increase from 77,810 Turks who left in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak.
The brain drain is separate from the hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants and those escaping wars and troubles at home, like in Syria or Iraq, who use Turkey as a route to Europe, often setting off on dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea with the help of people smugglers.
Sociologist and author Besim Dellaloglu attributes some of the exodus of the “uppermost educated layers of society” to an erosion of democratic norms. “I do not have the impression that this migration will be reversed without decreasing polarization in Turkey,” he said.
Most likely to emigrate are medical professionals and IT specialists, Dellaloglu said, but also highly trained individuals from all sectors.
“I had an area that I wanted to specialize in and there was absolutely no demand for that specialization in Turkey,” he said.
In 2022, more than 2,600 doctors applied for the necessary documents from the Turkish Medical Association to be able to practice outside the country. Physicians mostly cited small salaries, grueling working conditions and an uptick in violence by disgruntled patients as reasons for their decision.
Many other Turks prefer to stay, even with an increasingly polarized society.
“I can understand the people who are leaving, some things really need to change,” said Fatma Zehra Eksi, a 22-year-old student from Istanbul who says she is a reluctant supporter of Erdogan. “But if we … leave because we are not comfortable here, then there will be no one left here to change things.”
Lack of economic opportunity, civil liberties drive Turks abroad
Serap Ilgin, a 26-year-old copywriter in Istanbul said she grew up with the values of secular Turkey and its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“Leaving is not a solution, on the contrary, I think we need to stay here and fight,” she said.
The growing discontent comes as Turkey marks the 100th anniversary of Ataturk’s proclamation of a secular republic, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
For his part, Erdogan has heralded the next era as the “Century of Turkey,” promising to make Turkey a global power.
Some aspiring emigrants suggest that these days, even getting tourist visas — seen as a stepping-stone to emigration — has become a challenge for Turks.
Reports in Turkish media and many would-be emigrants interviewed by the AP say European countries have tightened visa restrictions for Turkish travelers. In particular, the rate of visa rejections has spiked, and the application process has become more complex, they say.
“All this treatment makes you feel like you are living in a Third World country,” said Ahmet Batuhan Turk, who recently applied to travel to Denmark. “I guess we are.”
Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, the EU envoy to Turkey, said rejections in Turkey were below the global average. “The European Union has no policy of preventing visas from being issued to Turkish citizens,” he told the Hurriyet newspaper in June.
Often, where demand is high like in Turkey, diplomatic missions outsource the visa application process to third-party companies.
Erdogan government has vowed to reverse the brain drain and sees the alleged visa rejections as a move to undermine Erdogan’s popularity by making Turks feel they can’t travel freely to Europe. Erdogan has pressed a campaign for return, offering grants and positions to academics working abroad. He said 6,000 had returned under the scheme.
63% of Turkish youth want to live abroad: Survey
Some 63% of young people in Turkey expressed a desire to live in another country if given the opportunity, according to the “Turkish Youth Study” conducted by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Türkiye.
The primary motivation behind the desire to live in another country, cited by 47.8% of respondents, is the prospect of improved living conditions. The second most significant reason, identified by 20.7% of participants, is the belief that these countries offer more freedom.
Four out of ten people in Turkey want to live abroad: Survey
According to the “Turkey’s Pulse” survey conducted by MetroPOLL Research company in October, 39.1 percent of people in Turkey indicated that they would like to reside in another country.
Among respondents who expressed a desire to live or study abroad, party affiliations based on their votes in the May 14 general elections were distributed as follows: ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – 28.4%, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) – 42.7%, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – 18.3%, İYİ – 50%, HEDEP – 62.1%, radical Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP) – 10%, ZP – 54.5%, leftist Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) – 41.7%, and other parties – 60.4%.
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