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Waiting for Disaster? Housing Choices and Disaster Knowledge Among Migrants and Refugees in Istanbul’s Southwestern Districts  

Estella Carpi, Saman Ghaffarian, Ouaees Hommous, and Cassidy Johnson

This study documents how disaster knowledge among Arabic- and Persian-speaking, Türkiye-based migrants and refugees residing in Istanbul’s southwestern districts (namely Avcılar, Zeytinburnu, Küçükçekmece, Bakırköy, Bağcılar, Fatih, Esenyurt, Bahçelievler, Başakşehir and Beylikdüzü) cannot fully reflect their housing choices. More specifically, by approaching the issue from an interdisciplinary perspective encompassing urban sociology, urban studies, architecture, environmental sciences, and geoscience, housing choices are considered to explore what possibilities and hindrances are available to migrants and refugees when it comes to disaster preparedness and safer living conditions. By this token, a holistic approach to studying disaster-affected societies (e.g., looking at both local displaced people and migrants) should be combined with an approach informed by group specificities. Indeed, while disaster knowledge may be in place, the conditions to aspire to safer housing—and a safer life overall—are proved to be rarely attainable for migrant and refugee groups. The study shows how increasing levels of disaster knowledge cannot be translated into an active search for safe and verified earthquake-proof housing for many migrants and refugees from Arabic and Persian backgrounds. The main obstacles for accessing safe housing are: legal status, which, instead, is not seen as an important variable for particular groups of refugees who access better legal protection; the impossibility of reaching their workplace—often located in the southwestern districts—with low commuting costs; the economic affordability of presumably safer housing; social discrimination as low-income foreign tenants or buyers; and the trade-off between choosing safer housing in areas where there is no network in place versus benefiting from the support of ingroup members, who have built longstanding networks in some of these districts. Finally, the interviewees deemed their disaster knowledge as generally broad and nonspecialistic, revealing a desire to access more information and specific documentation to evaluate housing safety. The findings point to the importance of rethinking disaster knowledge contextually within societies which have become home to large numbers of migrants and refugees.