By Özge Zihnioğlu, University of Liverpool
LIVERPOOL, June 23 – Armed conflict forces more people into sudden migration than any other event.
Victims are forced to flee their homes and homeland, often ending up in neighbouring countries as refugees.
Those countries may be voluntary or involuntary hosts, and the dynamics between them and forced migrant communities are complex.
Syria remains the world’s largest shock mobility crisis. More than 6.8 million Syrians have fled since 2011 and another 6.9 million remain internally displaced.
The vast majority – approximately 5.2 million refugees – have found safety in neighbouring countries, primarily Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
At first, Turkish citizens showed considerable support towards Syrian refugees, who number around 3.6 million. However, the relationship has changed in recent years.
This study by the International Crisis Group revealed a significant rise in tension between the two communities with violent incidents increasing threefold in the second half of 2017.
A recent survey found that 48 per cent of Turkish citizens considered the Turkish-Syrian relationship to be one of the tensest social relations in Turkey.
This has sparked a growing interest in promoting social cohesion and integration among refugees in Turkey.
Since Syrian refugees first arrived in Turkey, Turkish civil society has been actively channelling support to them and advocating their rights.
Their efforts have been important in the distribution of humanitarian aid to refugees and to ensure access to education, employment, and health care services.
However, as tensions between Turkish and Syrian communities increased, promoting social cohesion between them became more urgent.
Since 2017, NGOs have been organising various activities such as sports, children’s camps, skills workshops, trips and social activities to bring together Syrian and Turkish communities with the aim of fostering inter-communal harmony.
These activities have been important as they create spaces where Syrian and Turkish communities, which would otherwise have little interaction, can mingle. They allow both communities to question their prejudices and discover common ground.
Some of these activities allow Syrians who specifically seek to connect with the Turkish community an opportunity to establish these connections and relationships.
The positive impact of these activities has the potential to spread to a wider group, especially among young people who may share their experiences with their families.
These NGO inter-communal activities do have limitations. The language barrier can hinder long-term connections. Indeed, in many cases, the interaction stops altogether with the completion of the NGOs’ projects.
Such inter-communal activities also tend to attract individuals more open to dialogue and harmony and may not attract people with more exclusionary attitudes. The transformative impact of these projects on intercommunity harmony is more limited.
However, NGO projects assisting Syrian refugees’ relations with public authorities have been important in creating social cohesion.
This recent study shows such projects provide support for Syrian refugees to integrate into education or the workforce.
This enables Syrian refugees to establish a sustainable relationship with the Turkish community. For instance, a project for Syrian entrepreneurs showed how business connections made while working on shared interests can lead to stronger bonds. Business relations provide opportunities for information exchange and trust-building.
Peaceful coexistence in one area of life, such as work, can spread to other areas of life. Therefore, it’s important for NGOs to continue to find common interests between Syrian refugees and Turkish people and design activities that bring them together around those interests.
At the same time, it is essential for policymakers and local authorities to help refugees integrate into education and employment.
While NGOs’ work is important, it is not enough on its own to develop a trusting relationship between the two communities. Negative attitudes, in particular, from public authorities or political leaders make it harder to establish social cohesion.
To help achieve cohesion, the Turkish government could develop a clear and long-term policy regarding the future of Syrian refugees within its borders.
In the absence of clear direction and guidance from politicians, lower-level authorities may come up with different ways of doing things.
This lack of consistency and coordination can make it harder for NGOs to work towards improving social unity for forced migrants in the country.
Özge Zihnioğlu is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Liverpool.
Article courtesy of 360info.