Migration and Psychological Status of Adolescents in Turkey

Article excerpt

Bronfenbrenner (1979) defined development as lasting and continuous change in the way a person perceives and deals with the environment. For Bronfenbrenner, a stable environment is especially important to healthful development throughout childhood and adolescence.

Migration, on the other hand, defined as the geographical relocation of people, is a destabilizing condition for children who must learn to cope not only with the stresses of growing up, but of moving. Migration is a type of ecological transition that involves change in the social, cultural, and physical environment of the child. Bronfenbrenner (1979) argues that every ecological transition is both a consequence and an instigator of developmental processes. Abrupt environmental events such as migration are likely to produce high-risk situations for both children and adolescents.

Much of the research examining the relationship between migration and mental health conducted in Europe and the United States has focused on adult populations. To date, relatively little research has been done on the effects of migration on the social and emotional adjustment of children, and the results of these studies can often be contradictory (Anagnostopoulos et al., 2004; Aronowits, 1984; Sam, 1991; Sam & Berry, 1995; Slonim-Nova et al., 2006).

It is also typical of current research on migration to examine immigrants residing in a foreign country and compare them with a native sample. During the last century, however, civil wars, social upheaval, plagues, natural disasters, and urbanization have forced many people to migrate internally, especially in developing countries. Magwaza (1994), among others, has argued that very little attention has been paid to the victims of forced migration or internally displaced people.

Internal migration has been a long-standing issue in Turkey. Beginning in the 1950s, industrialization in large cities and the introduction of agricultural machinery in rural areas brought about an internal migration from rural to urban areas and from Eastern Turkey to Western Turkey. This also caused many villagers to settle in shanty towns around large western cities. In addition to this economic voluntary migration, between 1984 and 1999 a continuous low-intensity conflict between Turkish security forces and Kurdish insurgents in Southeastern Turkey led to the evacuation of approximately 3,500 villages and subjected approximately three million people to forced migration. Some of these people migrated to nearby cities in Eastern Turkey, while others moved nearly 1,000 miles to cities in Western Turkey such as Izmir and Istanbul. This massive migration resulted in unemployment and social and environmental problems in the shanty towns that developed around these cities.

These forced migrants used child labor as a survival strategy. In the early 1990s, as a result of an increasing number of street and working children, many descriptive studies were conducted to help better understand the nature of these children and the problems they faced in the streets and in their work environment (Atauz, 1999; Engin, 1994; Erturk, 1997; Kozcu, 1991; Kozcu, 1993; Kozcu-Aksel et al., 1998; Kuntay, 1999; Zeytinoglu, 1994). These studies mostly examined micro systems such as the family, the school, and work contexts of these children, while neglecting the changes in their macro systems such as the move from a small village to a big city or the broader ideological and institutional patterns and events that define culture and subculture.

The present study sought to investigate the psychological status of five groups of adolescents in relation to their migration experience. As a theoretical framework we adopted the ecological theory of Bronfenbrenner which hypothesizes that human development consists of many different levels of influences, all inter-related and embedded within one another. The four levels of environmental systems, increasing in complexity and comprehensiveness from micro, to meso, to exo, and to macro, interact with the developing individual (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. …