Why bother? Local bureaucrats’ motivations for providing social assistance for refugees

What motivates bureaucrats to integrate refugees into welfare services even when they do not have any legal obligation to do so? How do they decide which services to include refugees and which not? Based on 61 semi-structured interviews with local municipal bureaucrats in Istanbul, and representatives of humanitarian agencies that collaborate with local municipalities I find that bureaucrats choose to cater different types of services to refugees depending on their motivation for extending services. Most municipal bureaucrats initiate cash, food, and in-kind goods transfers to refugees with extrinsic motivations – with the aspiration of appeasing the voters in their locality and protecting the mayor from a possible electoral backlash. Contrastingly, bureaucrats with professional motivations conduct needs assessments and initiate service and program development efforts in response to the specific needs of refugees in their municipalities. These findings are significant as they illustrate that local bureaucrats’ motivations for service extension play a great role in explaining the variation in types of services that refugees can access and terms and conditions of access. They also demonstrate that inclusive distributive behavior toward refugees does not always emanate from bureaucrats’ motivations of helping and benefiting refugee populations but can be instigated by extrinsic motivations.