Field note: Civil Society Organizations in the Refugee Reception in Gaziantep and Izmir

Yasemin Kalaylıoğlu, PhD

November, 2017

 

Introduction

This report focuses on the field research conducted in two cities of Turkey, Gaziantep and Izmir, in the framework of the project of “ANR-LAJEH Reflections on the categories and genealogy of migration in the Middle East” which is financed by National Research Agency of France (Agence National de Recherche). The objective of the field study is to comprehend the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) and their basic services in order to analyze the refugee reception in Turkey. In this respect, the research focused on CSOs in two significant cities which are providing services for the asylum seekers and refugees, in the aftermath of the armed conflict in Syria.

Turkey has been one of the main refuges for millions of Syrians. Statistics indicate that as of November 2017, 3.303.113 Syrians[1] (under temporary protection status) and 66.167 non-Syrians[2] (including Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians Somalians and other groups, under international protection status) are currently registered in the system of Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), under the Ministry of Interior. However, it is estimated that the actual figures of foreigners in the country are higher when the unregistered population is also considered. Table.1 below displays the distribution of Syrian refugees under temporary protection in Turkey.

The reason for selecting Gaziantep and Izmir stems from the main characteristics of these cities regarding temporary protection. Gaziantep, to begin with, is located in the South-Eastern part of Turkey and very close to the Syrian border which turned into a migration hub both for Syrians and international NGOs in the last couple of years. Izmir, on the other hand, is located on the West coast of the country and seen as one of the exit points for irregular migrants who are willing to continue to the Greek Islands in order to reach EU borders by risking their lives on rickety boats across the Mediterranean. In this respect, these cities provide critical information for the project. In late October 2017, more than twenty interviews were conducted with the representatives of various CSOs in Gaziantep and Izmir where brief field notes are stated in this report.

Findings of the field research in Gaziantep

Gaziantep is a metropolitan city which has a population of 1.974.244 in 2017. According to the statistics of DGMM, 12.421 residence permits are issued as of November 2017[3]. However, according to the local CSOs, it is estimated that more than 400.000 Syrians and non-Syrians (mostly Afghans and Iraqis) are living under the category of international and temporary protection, in which “registered Syrians” i.e. Syrians under temporary protection status constitute the majority of this population with 344.022 people[4]. To put it differently, the number of registered Syrians forms %17.43 of the whole population of the city. Congruent with the high density of refugee population, there is a dynamic atmosphere in Gaziantep in terms of local and international CSOs. Besides, Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality has a separate Migration Office dealing solely with social services and facilities provided for refugees.

Humanitarian Aid Services of CSOs

 In Gaziantep, as well as in Turkey, humanitarian aid and protection programs are the main services provided for refugees by the CSOs. Their approach includes, but not limited to, case management (one time money assistance), outreach monitoring and other programs. Governmental bodies provide basic services with the help of other implementing partners (as stated below) and CSOs in the field.

Main local actors in the field work together with international donors such as UN Agencies and European Embassies based in Turkey and with local partnerships such as Gaziantep Municipality. ASAM provide several basic services including legal, social and medical counselling; social cohesion[5] activities; psycho-social services and protection programs. Majority of these services are given in Multi-Service Support Centers not only to non-Syrians but also to locals in the city. Following ASAM, Kamer Foundation is working with refugee women, to fulfil their basic needs of legal consultancy, health and vocational courses. Care International is another CSO which provides humanitarian aid to the refugees in the city. In addition to those, there is a small number of local organizations which conduct critical researches and social-awareness projects regarding refugees. Kırkayak Culture House is well-known in Gaziantep which conducts field studies in and around Gaziantep area and provides important reports such as their latest research on “Syrian Dom Asylum Seekers”[6]. The influence of Gaziantep municipality has been explicit all throughout the field research and their positive attempts to provide services for refugees, such as cooperation with many CSOs as well as establishing centers in the refugee neighborhoods, were expressed by many representatives during the interviews.

It is also important to mention the value-based associations which provide help to Syrians with a “compassion” (şefkat) approach rather than rights-based perspective. Bülbülzade Foundation provide educational facilities, language classes, vocational courses, financial supports as well as Arabic newspaper and radio broadcasts for Syrians. They underline value-based motives; expressions such as “guest brings abundance” (misafir bereket getirir) is emphasized in their approach.

Rising Xenophobia in the city

The tension between the Syrian and non-Syrian refugees as well as the locals and refugees has been rising in the city for the last few years. The tension between the Syrian and non-Syrians is mainly because of the unequal distribution of aids. Most of them are merely allocated to Syrians under the “temporary protection status”, whereas non-Syrians under “international protection status” cannot access to the same services. For instance, if Syrians are registered in Turkey and own an ID Card, they have free access to all health services, but non-Syrians are asked to pay an amount same as the local people. This may create a disadvantaged situation for the non-Syrians refugees.

More importantly, disinformation and fake news spread by the people and mass media rage local people against refugees. Rumors such as “Turkish state pays salaries to refugees” and “refugees took over the jobs of local people” can be counted as some of those well-known examples. The incidents have been rising especially in the poorer neighborhoods of Gaziantep where refugees and locals live together.

Findings of the field research in Izmir

The population of metropolitan Izmir is 4.2 million and registered Syrians are 120.623 which makes % 2.86 of the city population[7]. As of November 9, 2017, 16.667 foreign people are issued residence permits in Izmir. The city enormously drew international attention in 2015, due to the irregular boat crossings on Aegean Sea[8]. Basmane district has been the mid-point for smugglers and refugees to meet and negotiate about the crossing fees.

In late 2015, the refugee population was estimated to be between 400-500 thousand people. They were becoming more visible as the size of the group was increasing: Refugees were sleeping on the streets. Many CSOs and European embassies paid visits to the city. CSOs expressed their situation as such: “In those times, we couldn’t do our work due to the embassy and donor visits to the organization”. The refugee numbers in the city slowly decreased after the signature of the EU-Turkey Migration Deal in March 2016 and the subsequent increase in the protection of maritime boundaries by the authorities.

Actors and Initiatives in the Field

One of the significant characteristics of Izmir stems from the diversity of CSOs which provide different services for refugees in the city. For instance, apart from state institutions and national organizations working for refugees, local initiatives are remarkably effective in Izmir. These initiatives are launched either by local people or refugees themselves. Association of People’s Bridge (Halkların Köprüsü Derneği) identifies itself as a solidarity group, rather than civil society organization hence they don’t apply to international donors for financial support. They started to work for refugees in 2015 due to the urgent necessity in the city as mentioned above. This initiative provides aid-in-kind and establishes workshops for refugees to help their basic needs. IMECE is another initiative based in Çeşme near Izmir and provides aids-in-kind supports for refugees.

There are also refugee initiatives in Izmir which has strong connections with local people and organizations. For instance, Leather, Textile, Shoe Workers Solidarity Association (Deri Tekstil Kundura İşçileri Dayanışma Derneği) is an important initiative gathered in 2013 by the local and refugee workers and same year, they went on strike together. The initiative was established by an Afro-Turk activist, who also took part in the organization process of Doors (Kapılar) initiative, in Kapılar area of Basmane. Women Door (Kadın Kapısı) is the women branch of this initiative which is mostly run by local volunteers and provide support to women and children in the neighborhood. Last but not least, Solidarity with Syrian Refugees Association (Suriyeli Mültecilerle Dayanışma Derneği) is also another organization which started as a small group and institutionalized throughout the time to the extent that they called WAHA International from France in order to implement collective projects for Syrian women in Izmır.

ASAM and MUDEM, which are national associations, provides protection based services to the refugees in the city. In addition to these, Solidarity with Refugees Association (Mülteci-Der) provides legal assistance and does advocacy for refugees in Izmir. This is the first rights-based CSO for refugees in Turkey. Human Association (İnsan-Der) which provides daily food support in Basmane area and Humanitarian Relief Organization (IHH) which organizes aid-in-kind services and more, are value-based organizations such like Bülbülzade Foundation in Gaziantep. In addition to these, local organizations with different target groups also provide activities for refugees in the city. For example, Izmir Musicians Association (İzmir Müzisyenler Derneği) visited 50 refugee houses and organized a choir of refugee children while Izmir Bikers Association celebrated 8 of March Women’s Day with women refugees on the bike by cycling the coast. In this framework, the services provided by the organizations in Izmir constitute a wide range of activities but is modest in number compared to Gaziantep. Unlike Gaziantep, the representatives of CSO expressed that physical rage against refugees is not witnessed in the city and they explained this situation by the invisibility of refugees. Despite these statements, negative discourses such like the “refugees took over our jobs” are also valid in Izmir.

The central Coordination Meeting (Koordinasyon Toplantısı) brings central authorities together each month to discuss the issues about refugees in Izmir. AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency) is originally responsible for the refugees in the camps but since there is no camp in Izmir, it took over the responsibility of these coordination meetings where governorship, municipality and some civil society organizations are gathered. On the other hand, İzmir Konak Refugee Assembly (İzmir Konak Mülteci Meclisi) has a pioneering role in the metropolitan municipality for calling all the actors to the assembly meetings without excluding any small organization and/or group initiative working for the refugees. In these assembly meetings, they strengthen the network in order to evaluate the provided services and organize public events for raising awareness in the city.

Some final evaluations

Turkey has been through an intense experience with Syrian refugees for the last five years. This period has started with temporary aids (aids-in-kind) where refugees were expected to turn back to their countries after a short while. Throughout the time, it was understood that they wouldn’t due to the worse conditions in Syria. This constituted another level in reception services of Turkish State, and thereafter, protection based services were launched. Currently, social cohesion programs are being discussed both by the authorities and civil society organizations. However, there are also some operational aspects of refugee reception process which needs to be addressed. First of all, the representative CSOs in general expressed that they were looking forward to new Law on Foreigners and International Protection[9] for a very long time to have a legal procedure describing the rights for refugees in the country. Although many services have been provided since then, at present, CSOs are looking forward to full implementation of the new law which probably requires some more time to settle completely.

Moreover, the diverse discourses regarding Syrians, which are available in the national and international media, may have negative effects in the refugee reception process as well. For instance, the previous “temporary guest” discourse: It became explicit that refugees are not temporary visitors and cannot leave the country soon. On the other hand, “guest” discourse is not enough to highlight the present services provided by the Turkish government. For this reason, another status for Syrian refugees seems necessary which will recognize their permanent situation in the country. This would not only help to define sustainable services to Syrians, but also offer more occasions to the Turkish government, both in the national and international arena, to promote their migration management strategies in the refugee reception process.

Notes

[1] As of November 9, 2017, for more information please see http://www.goc.gov.tr/icerik3/temporary-protection_915_1024_4748 [accessed 10.11.2017].

[2] In the year of 2016, please see http://www.goc.gov.tr/icerik3/uluslararasi-koruma_363_378_4712 (in Turkish) [accessed 08.11.2017].

[3] For more information please see: http://www.goc.gov.tr/icerik6/ikamet-izinleri_363_378_4709_icerik (in Turkish) [accessed 18.11.2017].

[4] Recent numbers are announced in 09.11.2017 by the DGMM http://www.goc.gov.tr/icerik3/gecici-koruma_363_378_4713 [accessed 18.11.2017].

[5] Turkish authorities and related organizations use the word cohesion instead of integration based on the idea that integration is a term that has negative connotations due to the European assimilationist experience.

[6] The Dom. ‘The Other’ Asylum Seekers from Syria. Discrimination, Isolation and Social Exclusion: Syrian Dom Asylum Seekers in the Crossfire, (2017), Kırkayak Kültür, Gaziantep. Available at: http://www.kirkayak.org/genel [accessed 10.11.2018]

[7] Recent numbers are announced in 09.11.2017 by the DGMM http://www.goc.gov.tr/icerik3/gecici-koruma_363_378_4713 [accessed 15.11.2017].

[8] For more information please see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/24/refugee-crisis-people-smugglers-izmir-turkey-predict-drop-business, [accessed 10.11.2017].

[9] “Law on Foreigners and International Protection” was ratified in 2013, in Turkey.