Official statistics and opinion surveys show that an increasing number of people, especially the younger generation, are leaving Turkey or planning to, contradicting a recent assertion by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Turks no longer feel the need to go abroad for work or study.
Erdoğan, who frequently brags about the achievements of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during its 19-year rule, said in a speech last week: “Our people used to travel mainly to the US or Europe for medical treatment, university education or jobs. Thank God, this picture has for the most part turned around.”
However, according to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), 330,289 people left Turkey in 2019, compared to 323,918 in 2018. Among those migrating from Turkey in 2019, 84,863 were Turkish citizens while the others were foreign nationals. TurkStat data also revealed that the number of people leaving Turkey had increased by 97 percent between 2016 and 2018, which corresponds to the post-coup era in the country.
After Turkey survived a failed military coup in July 2016, the Turkish government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, prompting thousands of people to flee, sometimes through dangerous routes in the Aegean Sea or the Evros River.
In addition, a public survey conducted jointly by the İstanbul-based Yeditepe University and MAK Counselling among people aged 18-29, 76 percent wanted to live abroad for a better future, while one out of every two said they were not happy about their lives in Turkey. The survey also showed that 77 percent thought that connections were more important for finding a job than competence or having the right qualifications.
The AKP and Erdoğan are widely criticized for filling state posts with their cronies and eschewing merit-based assignments.
When the respondents of the survey were asked, “What is the most urgent problem you would solve if you were ruling the country?” 46.7 percent replied “unemployment,” while 8.8 percent said it would be “the high cost of living” and 7.6 percent said it would be “the lack of justice.”
When asked whether they would go abroad if they were given the opportunity to live in another country to study or work, 76.2 percent said, “Yes, definitely,” while 14 percent said, “Yes” adding, however, that they would stay in Turkey if they found the same opportunities there.
Sixty-four percent of respondents would leave Turkey if granted the citizenship of another country, while 14 percent were against the idea.
To a question asking, “In which country would like to live?” 43 percent named a European country and 39.8 percent said, “the US or Canada,” while 14.8 percent said they would like to live in a Scandinavian country.
When asked about their reasons for wanting to leave Turkey, 59 percent said they want a better future abroad and 14.6 percent said “for a more peaceful life,” while 6 percent said “for justice/equality” and the remaining 20 percent cited other reasons.
Over the past several years, Turkey has been suffering from a backsliding in its economy with high inflation and unemployment as well as a poor human rights record. Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing a one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.