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Social Cohesion Roundtables: Contextualizing Social Cohesion for Different Sectors and Actors in the Refugee Response in Turkey

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Executive Summary

Turkey’s “significant efforts to host and meet the needs of the largest refugee community in the world” since 2014 has been widely acknowledged by the international community (European Commission, 2021: 6). The latest numbers for refugees in Turkey show 3.7 million Syrians under Temporary Protection and close to 320 thousand persons as applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection from other nationalities.

The said efforts to host such a large number of people from different communities, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions, as well as to ensure that individuals with special needs can access essential services have required the work of numerous public institutions in addition to international organizations, international and national civil society organizations (CSOs) and municipalities throughout Turkey. The Government of Turkey has allocated massive funds for this endeavor, and what has been called the Refugee Response has also been financed by the European Union (EU) as part of the March 2016 deal through the Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRiT) along with several bilateral contributions, the largest being established with Germany.

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) finances a number of programs dealing with different sectors of the refugee response in Turkey, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) implements many of the programs and projects to assist Turkey in responding to the refugee influx, specifically through the Support to Refugees and Host Communities (SRHC) where programs focus on employment and skills development, education, capacity development and social cohesion. In fact, fostering dialogue and social cohesion among communities is central to all activities of the SRHC Cluster. With its holistic and inclusive approach, the Cluster promotes equal access to services, while also aiming to strengthen the social solidarity and sense of community both within and between different groups, thus touching on both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of social cohesion respectively. In all of its work, the GIZ works in close cooperation with the UN led regional support mechanism for the Syrian Crisis, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), which has since 2018 included social cohesion as a main topic for cooperation and coordination among all stakeholders working as implementing partners in the refugee response.

Coordination among the very large number of actors implementing projects dedicated to or including activities for promoting social cohesion has become imperative in light of the findings from several national surveys that have shown an increase in social distance among the host community and the Syrian community, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, its negative impact on the economy and the social distancing measures taken against it. According to Turkey’s Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP), the leading public institution responsible for promoting social cohesion under the preferred umbrella concept of “harmonization” was designated as the Department of Harmonization and Communication (DHC) under the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM).2 It was under the leadership of the DHC, in collaboration with various stakeholders, that the Harmonization Strategy and National Action Plan (2018-2023) was drafted and made public in mid-2020. The publication of the HSNAP has given actors working in the refugee response an overarching policy instrument to which they can refer and with which they can align their work. Such alignment of social cohesion work with the main policy instrument of the Government of Turkey is indeed a primary goal of the 3RP mechanism.

The GIZ SRHC cluster, under the initiative of its largest program (Promotion of Economic Prospects), aimed to support this coordination process with a series of structured roundtables with representatives from relevant stakeholders working in different sectors of the refugee response at both the national and local levels.
The GIZ set out with the general objectives of creating a mutual understanding on the contours of social cohesion in different sectors of the refugee response by identifying common solutions to common problems faced by different types of implementing actors, and building a basis for future coordination and cooperation among all stakeholders. Towards this end, the topics of the roundtables were selected so as to ensure the representation of different sectors of the refugee response, the different types of actors involved as well as the different levels in which these actors operate in Turkey. Following a kick-off meeting, topics included the promotion of social cohesion:

:: in the education and youth sector,

:: in the livelihoods sector through the work of chambers of industry and commerce,

:: in the protection sector through the work of civil society organizations,

:: through the work of municipalities.

A permanent panel with representatives from the main stakeholders in the refugee response was established with the understanding that its members would attend all meetings, while national and local actors were invited to answer questions separately for different roundtable meetings, which formed the temporary panelists. A support unit comprised of social cohesion advisors from the PEP program, two academic consultants and two representatives from the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) helped with the preparation, implementation and follow up of the meetings. The rigorous preparatory phase involved the drafting of background documents laying out the context in Turkey along with the discussion of the issue at hand, as well as suggestions for three questions to be posed to the temporary panelists. Following feedback from the permanent panelists, briefing sessions were held with the temporary panelists to ensure a common understanding of the contents of the questions. During the roundtables, temporary panelists answered one question in turn in one session, with three sessions for three questions assigned for each roundtable. The answers to the questions as well as the discussions that followed during the question and answer sessions in the roundtables were collated into common themes and recommendations in the outcome reports. In addition, insights gained from all roundtables and cross-cutting recommendations were developed by the Support Unit. Below is a brief account of the highlights from the discussions:

Promotion of social cohesion in the education and youth sectors:

:: Activities conducted both within and outside schools that go beyond the formal curriculum are integral to promoting social cohesion.

:: Parental engagement is critical to ensure that the education sector effectively contributes to the promotion of social cohesion.

:: Support to teachers, who may feel overwhelmed and despondent is imperative.

:: Placement of foreign students at correct levels in schools and support for greater interaction between Turkish and Syrian students is necessary.

:: Coordination with CSOs, through protocols signed with the appropriate authorities, will increase the effectiveness of the initiatives recommended.

:: Syrian volunteers have been seen to be very beneficial in creating connections between families and schools, and their continued contributions should be secured.

:: The CCTE stands as one of the most important instruments in preventing drop-outs.

:: The involvement of not only teachers but also principals (headmasters), counsellors and other staff members of schools in order to create an inclusive learning environment is emphasized as integral to promoting social cohesion in learning environments.

:: Innovative instruments exist to identify red flags for drop-out risks. Their use should be expanded.

:: Peer-to-peer support mechanisms have been known to prevent drop-outs by ensuring emotional and academic support and guidance to students, especially through role models.

:: Availability of scholarships for higher education and vocational trainings are critical to draw in NEETs to ensure skills development in line with market demands.

Promotion of social cohesion in the livelihoods sector through the work of chambers of industry and commerce:

:: The availability and effective analysis of trustworthy data is critical for service providers such as chambers of industry and commerce to be able to effectively match skills of potential employees with the right jobs, offering the right pay.

:: The ESSN system needs to be reformed so that it does not obstruct formal employment.

:: Chambers of industry and commerce need to increase their efforts to lobby for the lifting of travel restrictions for Syrian businesspersons.

:: Employers should be made aware of the rights and responsibilities of refugee workers in general and the labor law in particular to prevent the exploitation of Syrians as cheap labor, while developing incentives for respect for diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace.

:: More investment in soft-skills trainings (work culture in Turkey, rights and responsibilities in the workplace, etc.) for SuTPs is necessary.

:: The failure to teach/learn Turkish continues to be one of the most significant obstacles for the economic integration of SuTPs. Innovative methods for teaching Turkish, as well as more emphasis on vocational language and conversation skills is necessary.

:: There is a lack of knowledge on the part of Syrians on how to access credit, which is made more difficult since the institutions offering financial support do not operate through a standard plan.

:: Tailored services for women and youth should be developed, with further diversification for women and youth entrepreneurs and those who can be placed in more traditional skills building programs.

:: A positive message backed up by data as regards the contribution of Syrians to Turkey’s economy should be communicated to the larger public in cooperation with leading public institutions (especially the DGMM and corresponding PDMMs) and NGOs in the province.

:: Collaboration and partnerships between Turkish and Syrian owned businesses would be mutually advantageous.

:: The establishment of consultation and referral desks in chambers of industry and commerce are necessary to ensure that Syrian owned businesses know about the support services available to them, and that they can work without overdependence on accountants.

Promotion of social cohesion in the protection sector through the work of civil society organizations:

:: Knowledge about and ownership of the HSNAP should be increased among CSOs.

:: Awareness raising needs to also include the district police force and the district directorates of public institutions, and the process should aim towards establishing a common understanding of social cohesion and agreement on terminology.

:: Reaching certain disadvantaged groups still remains a challenge for many CSOs, especially individuals with disabilities, the elderly, women and children facing domestic violence (a situation exacerbated due to the pandemic quarantine measures), victims of human trafficking, sex workers, seasonal workers, irregular migrants, single mothers, children who have been pushed into crime and youth who are “neither in education nor in employment”.

:: A community-based program design approach is necessary to ensure the active participation of individuals and groups receiving the support provided by CSOs, especially in identifying problems, as well as finding and implementing common solutions.

:: Trainings provided by CSOs, especially on legal rights and access to services, need to be accessible for the entire SuTP population, including the visually impaired, hearing impaired and illiterate individuals.

:: To ensure sustainability of services, CSOs gradually need to transfer resources developed for the most disadvantaged groups over to public institutions.

:: Establishing cooperation between Turkish and Syrian CSOs still faces challenges. Issues related to trust can be overcome through increased transparency in the types of work done by CSOs, which is an issue that ties in with CSOs’ capacity to communicate their work, as well as increased interaction in coordination networks.

:: Smaller CSOs have made significant use of capacity development and mentorship support provided by large and experienced CSOs. Big-small CSO partnerships should be encouraged.

Promotion of social cohesion through the work of municipalities:

:: The decision not to count Syrian refugees and asylum seekers from other nationalities as well as migrants within the population of residents within the jurisdiction of municipalities places a great burden on the budget of municipalities, a situation that is exacerbated by the legal ambiguity in the Municipality Law as regards who can benefit from the services of municipalities.
These should be addressed at the policy level with concentrated lobbying efforts.

:: The number of mobile units to provide services to difficult to reach groups (e.g. refugees in rural areas) should be increased. Direct communication with community leaders is an effective way of ensuring outreach.

:: Easily accessible Community Centers operated by municipalities or CSOs tied to municipalities have been an important tool in reaching the most vulnerable persons who readily see these centers as safe spaces.

:: Migrant assemblies under City Councils of municipalities have been important platforms in a number of municipalities to ensure the participation of migrants and refugees in being consulted on their needs as well as their positions on issues that may have potential effects on them.

:: Institutionalization through establishment of specialized units within the municipality structure is an important step to increase capacity to access funds.

:: Municipalities need to be closely involved in the agenda setting and design stage of project development with donors. Such close cooperation in the planning and design phases pays dividends down the line in the form of more ownership from the upper administrative cadres of public institutions.

:: An oft-cited issue is the significance of collecting information on the projects implemented by municipalities throughout Turkey to show areas of complementarity, to identify the underserved areas and populations, and to report against the Harmonization Strategy and National Action Plan.

:: Migrants and refugees tend to concentrate in certain neighborhoods according to nationality, religion, religious sect, ethnicity, etc. Most spatial separation is also combined with socio-economic divides within society, and class divide is combined with or contributes to national, ethnic or cultural divides. Cooperating with public institutions and chambers of industry and commerce is key for promoting local development, which may induce social mobility and break up the needs-based concentration in neighborhoods.

Cross cutting recommendations:

:: Data sharing and use needs to be improved: In order to support evidence-based policy making in general, and targeted service provision in particular, a system of data sharing should be designed among public and nonpublic institutions. Targeted service provision would not only include the distribution of basic needs, health care and education services, but would also include the design of vocational trainings that respond to market needs and matching the right jobs with the right employees. Machine learning systems can be employed for forecasting of specific services that may be requested in the future by specific communities and help with risk analysis and risk mitigation.

:: A practicable system of multi-level, multi-stakeholder coordination should be established based on the regeneration of the Provincial and District Migration Coordination Boards (PDMCBs): The need for greater coordination among stakeholders to identify needs and develop policy to more effectively promote social cohesion has been a common theme in all roundtable meetings. Justifications for such coordination tailored for each sector can be seen in the outcome reports of the sessions. The coordination of work among public institutions, municipalities, chambers of industry and commerce, bar associations, international and national organizations and CSOs, universities and community leaders at the provincial and district levels is imperative to ensure the inclusion of local knowledge into policy decisions concerning social cohesionrelated activities as well as to generate ownership of the decisions taken and to develop context-specific and targeted services/activities serving an overarching strategy of social cohesion. The recent upgrade of the status of the DGMM to the Presidency of Migration Management and of the Department of Harmonization and Communication to the Directorate General of Harmonization and Communication, together with the regulation allowing the establishment of Provincial and District Migration Coordination Boards under Presidential Decree number 85, presents a valuable opportunity to develop local migration governance.