New beginnings – Community centres are promoting social cohesion and helping refugees to settle in their host community
Title: Strengthening social cohesion between Syrian refugees and Turkish host communities – establishing and improving community centres
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Overall term: October 2015 to January 2018
The civil war in Syria has been going on for years, causing more and more people to flee the country and seek refuge abroad. Almost 3 million Syrians are now living in Turkey, mainly in the south-eastern provinces. More than 90 per cent of them have settled in towns, cities and rural areas outside refugee camps. Over half of the refugees are children and young people; many Syrian families are extremely poor.
Segments of the Turkish population in the host communities also live below the poverty line. They are competing with Syrian refugees, for low-wage jobs, for instance. Turkish authorities are faced with the challenge of providing the new arrivals with public services, health care and educational services.
Community centres have been opened in the south-eastern provinces in recent years. These multi-purpose centres are financed by international donors, and are primarily operated by local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). They provide Syrian refugees with legal advice, medical and psychological support and educational opportunities. However, the number of centres is far from sufficient. Waiting times are often long, and employees are not always able to serve all of those seeking help on any one day. Impoverished Turkish citizens feel neglected as they receive little support from the United Nations, international donors or NGOs. This jeopardises social cohesion in the host communities.
Syrian refugees and the population in Turkish host communities make use of an improved range of community centre services that are suited to their needs.
GIZ supports local NGOs operating the community centres in expanding their range of services. The provision of vocational training courses is intended to make it easier for refugees and vulnerable Turkish citizens to find employment. For instance, men and women are learning how to repair mobile telephones or how to work as hairdressers or tailors.
Syrian refugees are taking Turkish language courses so they can communicate better with the local population. English courses give both Syrians and Turks a better chance of finding a job.
Social workers at the community centres provide psychological support, offer legal advice and refer the sick to hospitals and doctors. House visits by social workers help to reach more families outside the community centres. It is especially hard for single mothers with small or sick children to visit a community centre, yet these are the very people who need assistance.
Joint sporting and cultural events for Syrian and Turkish families ensures that the local population and the refugees come into closer contact with one another. This encourages mutual acceptance and makes it easier for refugees to integrate into the host communities.
Altogether, GIZ supports ten community centres. It works closely with the NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, which operates its own centre and is supporting three of the six other centres. The community centres are located in seven Turkish provinces, mainly in the south-east close to the Syrian border, and in Istanbul and Ankara. Regular meetings involving all community centres enable exchange of experiences, to learn from one another, adopt activities that are working well elsewhere, and develop new ideas together.
The ten community centres are fully operational. They offer a broad range of services. More than 9,400 Syrian refugees are increasing their chances of integration by taking Turkish language courses and job training programmes. They are meeting Turkish citizens at joint leisure activities such as kiting, evening meals and sporting events. More than 73,000 Syrian and Turkish men, women and children were reached with a variety of services between October 2015 and October 2016.