How do local actors interpret, enact and contest policy? an analysis of local government responses to meeting the needs of Syrian refugees in Turkey

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Although 98% of Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees live outside camps in urban areas, municipalities lack formal authority to initiate policies and receive no government funding for refugees. Syrians are treated as ‘guests’ by national government, framing policy in terms of hospitality and religious solidarity. Drawing on interpretive policy analysis (IPA), the article unpicks the empirical puzzle of how formally weak local governments are responding to refugee needs. IPA expects policy to be constituted through diverse sets of meanings, reflecting processes of local reasoning. Case studies in three local government districts in Istanbul revealed distinctive local policy narratives, some of which consolidated the national agenda while others were in sharp contrast, focusing on equal rights and integration. A narrative of pragmatism was common to all districts. Municipal narratives reflected locally specific social, political and economic contexts and were linked to the selective mobilisation of deeper governing traditions. Local interpretations were enacted in specific approaches to providing services and facilities, with material impact for refugees. Municipalities were working with local NGOs to access funds from international donors, despite national government’s critique of EU refugee policy. The article shows how refugee policy is being constituted through multiple and contingent processes of local government interpretation, even within an increasingly authoritarian setting. The article contributes to understanding how local governments respond to acute needs in complex policy environments, without formal legislative powers and budgets. It also demonstrates the theoretical traction that IPA can offer in research outside Europe and North America.

Bibliographic note

Not yet published as of 06/10/2020.


Original languageEnglish
JournalLocal Government Studies
Early online date21 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2020


  • Local government, Turkey, Syrian refugees, Intepretivism, Interpretivist Policy Analysis