To analyze perceptions of conflicts and assess social cohesion, among local and refugee communities, this assessment was conducted as part of a UNHCR Project, under Community-Based Migration Programs, from 1 to 15 April 2021. The data for this assessment was collected via interviews conducted over phone, and face-to-face and online focus group discussions with refugees and local community in Turkish Red Crescent Community Centers located in 16 cities. A total of 1920 refugee and local community members were interviewed over the phone, with a total of 195 individuals participating in focus group discussions. The findings of this assessment is intended to the inform understanding of perceptions of communities of conflict and social cohesion, and, in turn, shape social cohesion activities and develop preventive and sustainable interventions.
When examined the social cohesion perceptions of survey respondents, 1198 respondents (597 refugees/601 local people) reported building intercultural dialogue, followed by peaceful co-habituation of communities and individuals (883, 458 refugees/425 local people), elimination of language barrier (786, 473 refugees/313 local people), full participation of individuals in social, public and legal environment (645, 350 refugees/295 local people), establishing mutual empathy (617, 299 refugees /318 local people), access to rights and services (576, 373 refugees/203 local people), access to employment and means of livelihood (373, 221 refugees/152 local people).
When examined the perceptions of respondents on who refugee is and where they originate from, 551 respondents identified refugees as those coming from Syrian, with 154 from Iraq, 89 from Afghanistan, 43 as those fled war, 37 as heimatlos, 34 those coming from Bulgaria, 29 from Iran, 14 from Palestine, 11 from Somalia, and 8 from Central Asia countries. It is understood that, when asked who refugees are, Syrians mostly first come to the mind of communities. The reasons why refugees are exposed to social exclusion, are preconceptions (233, %24.81), language barrier (224, 23.86%), cultural differences (203, 21.62%), economic reasons (refugees being prioritized in employment, cheap work force, etc. rumors) (163, 17.36%), rumors (66, 7.03%), media (34, 3.62%), and other reasons (16, 1.7%). Majority of the respondents believe that social preconceptions, communication barriers caused by language barriers, and the cultural differences affect the social exclusion faced by refugees.
When examined the data about the stakeholders which can play an influential role in improvement of social cohesion, 1093 (556 refugees/535 local people) of the respondents answered as Turkish Red Crescent representatives, followed by 943 (425 refugees/518 local people) respondents as local government officers, 667 (386 refugees/281 local people) as religious leaders, 667 (319 refugees/348 local people) as opinion leaders, and 57 (28 refugees/29 local people) as war veterans. It is understood that communities believe that Turkish Red Crescent representatives, public administrators, religious leaders and opinion leaders will be effective in improvement of social cohesion among communities.
With respect to the problems experienced by refugees with local community, 290 of the respondents answered as disagreements based on refugees not speaking local language, followed by persistent arguments and quarrels (278), social tension based on rumors (232), conflicts based on cultural differences (224), discrimination and different treatment in workplace (221), peer bullying in schools (199), verbal attack (191), others (187), discrimination by neighborhood residents and neighbors (163), and unrest and tension in the neighborhood (151).
When examined the opinions of refugees about local community, 441 of the respondents answered as having a quite good communication, with 268 as having difficulties while communicating, 229 saying that they have preconceptions against us, 220 saying that I feel comfortable myself among them, 216 as they are friendly and do not discriminate, 209 as making easily friendship with them, 172 as they do not empathize with us, and 90 as I do not think anything. It is understood that majority of the refugee community has a good communication with local community.
When asked about the problems experienced by local community with refugee community, 570 of the respondents answered as conflicts based on cultural differences, followed by occasional problems based on preconception (345), tensions based on rumors (272), tensions based on unequal conditions in workplaces and employment (260), unrest and tension in neighborhoods (190), problems based on the information spread by media (161), and others (96). It is observed that local community thinks that they are culturally different from refugees When examined the opinions of local community about refugee community, 350 of respondents answered “they can stay in Turkey for a long time, they do no harm”, followed by “we have quite a good communication” (253), “their families are excessively large” (229), “they negatively affect the employment as they work for lower wages” (227), “their population growth must be taken under control” (215), “they should return to their home countries” (182), “have no idea” (155), “there should be marriages between communities (105), and “they commit crimes a lot” (88). These findings point out that local community does not have a negative attitude towards refugee community, but especially have concerns about employment and population.
When asked about the role of Turkish Red Crescent in solution of the problems between local and refugee communities, 700 of the respondents answered “high” (36.46%), followed by “average” (479, 24.95%), “very high” (356, 18.54%), “don’t know” (191, 9.95%), “low” (99, 5.16%), and “very low” (99, 4.56%). Accordingly, it is understood that there is a belief among communities that Turkish Red Crescent representatives have an important place in the improvement of social cohesion.
When examined the answers provided by respondents about their level of community and individual cohesion before participating in the activities of community center, 792 of the respondents said “average” (45.15%), followed by “high” (358, 20.41%), “low” (337,19.21%), “very high” (134, 7.64%), and very low (133, 7.58%). In light of these data, Community Centers are thought to have positive effects on communities.
The majority of the respondents finds workshops (1122, 622 refugees/500 local people) as the most useful activity in Community Center, followed by “providing correct information to community” (533, 236 refugees/297 local people), information or training about social and cultural life (529, 266 refugees/263 local people), special day activities (410, 223 refugees/187 local people), cohesion via sports activities (377, 192 refugees/185 local people), consultative committees (297, 174 refugees/123 local people), conflict resolution and social mediation trainings (210, 115 refugees/95 local people), role model success stories (209, 110 refugees/99 local people), and others (154, 113 refugees/41 local people).
When examined the suggestions for improvement of social cohesion, 1267 of the respondents reported that social cohesion workshops and activities should be increased, followed by suggestions that activities addressing the language barrier should be increased (826), that local and refugee communities should be included more in social cohesion activities (801), that employment and entrepreneurship supports should be increased (703), that information activities are needed about norms of social life (654), that false facts seminaries should be organized to prevent rumors and preconceptions (604), and that it should be focused on activities that will enhance community participation (467).
These data suggests that respondents believe in that social cohesion activities can be effective in the improvement of social cohesion.
With respect to the perception of neighborhood among local and refugee communities, it is observed that there are generally good and friendly relationship, existence of perceptions that relations have become better with refugee neighbors who speak Turkish, as well as the preconceptions and non-establishment of friendship relations, according to the responses. On the other hand, the perception of respondents on the shared cultural and social practices mainly revolved around religious togetherness, similar cuisines, similarities in customs and traditions, shared history, kinships, etc.
This survey points out that perception in the local community about the conflict and tension is mainly characterized by the common preconceptions and false facts, tensions based on the employment of refugees with lower wages, language barriers, cultural differences, and excessive birth rate in refugees. When analyzed the reactions to the conflict incidents, majority of the respondents preferred to not intervene in the incident; to try first making sense of the incident, then solving the problem; to try reaching a compromise, to approach the issue with understanding.
It is observed that majority of respondents answered that activities to improve social cohesion should include, cultural and social events, organization of events which gather local community members and refugees together, language education, and emphasized that social cohesion activities of Community Center have positive effects on resolution of the conflicts.