The civil war in Syria led to a massive influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey. In response to this influx, the Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality (GMM) established Turkey's first Migration Management Directorate to lead the refugee response programme of the city. The GMM's migration policy has a humanitarian approach based on social justice and human rights. The GMM focuses on a conflict-sensitive approach to mitigate tension. The GMM's policies are based on ensuring the common welfare of refugees and host communities.
Turkey has a long history of migration because of its strategic geographical location. While it used to be used as a transit country, especially since the beginning of 2000 with the unrest and conflict in the Middle East, Turkey has become a destination country. It is clear that Turkey has to deal with migration management for the next few decades, so it is crucial that a comprehensive migration policy is in place.
With the Syrian crisis now in its eighth year and over 3.6 million Syrians registered under temporary protection (SuTP) in Turkey, the provision of basic needs and services, as well as the integration of migrants and refugees, has become a key priority for the Turkish government. The city of Gaziantep, on the border of Syria, is one of the cities most affected by the influx of migration to Turkey. The official number of refugees in Gaziantep is 446,564 individuals, and a large portion of that number is located in the city centre.
Local administrative bodies and in particular municipalities play a key role in providing assistance to migrants and refugees. The role of local authorities in implementing sustainable and efficient delivery enhancing local integration is now acknowledged in humanitarian strategy planning documents. Municipalities are the forefront actors on refugee response so the GMM established a local refugee response model that involves cooperating with local authorities, UN Agencies, NGOs and INGOs to provide direct assistance to refugees and ease the integration process with host communities. By doing so, the GMM expanded its traditional responsibilities and established innovative units and programmes for refugees. The GMM takes a comprehensive approach to migrant integration in order to ensure that refugees can fully engage with their host society from a socio-economic, political, and cultural perspective. GMM migration policy has a humanitarian approach based on social justice and human rights and focuses on a conflict-sensitive approach to mitigate tension. GMM’s policies are based on ensuring the common welfare of refugees and host communities under a strong belief that raising the welfare of the disadvantaged will raise the welfare of society as a whole.
The main challenge is considering community issues that go beyond providing social services, such as water, sewage, sanitation, infrastructure, waste management, environmental health, parks and green space, transportation, education, health services, and pollution. The GMM plans for the short-term and long-term, seeking to eliminate the socio-economic effects of this global crisis. By responding quickly, supporting refugees’ adaptation to the new environment, and putting infrastructure in place to serve the needs of a large number of new residents, Gaziantep fosters sustainable benefits that continue to unfold. A proactive and responsive approach in addressing the challenges has helped preserve social cohesion in the early stages. The integration and social inclusion of Syrians has helped maintain a sense of social harmony for the longer-term.
In order to cope with those challenges as local government, GMM expanded its traditional responsibilities to provide education, employment, health services, social services and humanitarian aid. Municipalities have an important role to play, not only in providing social services to host communities and refugees, but also in building resilience. To be able to tackle the difficulties related to rapid migration influx in the region, the GMM established these innovative and need-based institutions all free of charge:
• Directorate of Migration Management Department
• Social Research Center (Sarmer)
• Refugee Information and Education Center
• Health Care Services
• Community Centers
• Art And Vocational Training Centers
• Women Shelter
• Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Persons
• Humanitarian Aids
The approach of Turkey diverges from the way in which hosting countries commonly respond to refugee situations—by directing refugees into camps supported by humanitarian agencies. Experience shows that when refugees are supported in becoming socially and economically self-reliant, and given freedom of movement and protection, they are more likely to contribute economically to their host country. The key ingredient to success for this project is that supporting refugees to become socially and economically self-reliant while giving them freedom of movement and protection will make them more likely to contribute economically to the host country.
What the GMM does is not a favour for refugees, but rather an international and humanitarian responsibility in the light of the International Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions. It is high time to understand that the migration issue is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be managed.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Refugee Response Program of Gaziantep represents a process innovation in that the Municipality found a way to respond to the changing needs of refugees in a timely way and to creatively adapt to conditions and limited resources as the needs of those most in difficulty changed. The municipality has been proactive in a crisis that put stress on the quality of municipal services and put at risk social cohesion, stability and public order. Its process of adaptation was characterized by attentiveness to the needs of all residents, finding creative solutions that maximized integration, and shifting priorities as the situation changed. Although the municipal law of Turkey does not put any responsibility to local authorities on migration management, Municipality of Gaziantep took the initiative to work with refugees and established programs for refugee and host communities. The first time a separate directorate within the municipal body was established in Gaziantep.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The programme is utilising the specific expertise and experience at the local and international level by bringing different parties together and working towards the same goal and vision. By coming together with the experience of the municipality, UN agencies, central government entities, NGOs and INGOs joined forces in enhancing social cohesion, social development and resilience.
The innovative approach of having municipal centres with a holistic approach of social cohesion by bringing together refugee and host communities allowed them to utilise diverse services and approaches of socio-economic empowerment.
The evaluation of the programme and feedback from beneficiaries showed positive progress in the community. Challenges and best practice examples are shared with other local and regional authorities.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The municipality has made institutional innovations to streamline the processes of delivering services to Syrian refugees by establishing collaboration with UN Agencies, public institutions, central government entites, INGOs, local Turkish/Syrian NGOs and international agencies. In order to create additional resources and innovate the process of service delivery, this collaboration is inevitable.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The target group of the work as a municipality is all the people living in the city. The approach of the municipality provides services for refugees and host communities regardless of religion, ethnicity. The focus is on a conflict-sensitive approach to mitigate tension. The policies are based on ensuring the common welfare of refugees and host communities because there is a strong belief that raising the welfare of the disadvantaged will raise the welfare of society as a whole.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality response to the Syrian crisis is characterised by attention to the needs of all residents, finding creative solutions that maximise integration, and shifting priorities as circumstances change. The local government thus expanded its traditional responsibilities and established new policies. This policy shift helped the region to;
• Improve governance. The situation analysis and risk assessment enabled the Municipality to better direct its resources to the most vulnerable sectors.
• Increase social cohesion between host and refugee populations. When Syrian refugees are treated equal to Turkish citizens, social cohesion is strengthened. Moreover, providing Turkish language classes also promotes social cohesion.
• Increase refugee socio-economic inclusion and/or sustained livelihood. Opportunities to pursue vocational training for Syrian refugees strengthens their chances to find employment in the Turkish labour market.
Challenges and Failures
The influx of refugees has placed huge demands on municipal services, with insufficient human resources and budget and the language barrier posing another issue to the municipality. Lack of collaborative work of other municipal units, public institutions, NGOs, and INGOs caused an important capacity gap. In order to respond to these challenges, the municipality established a unique department focusing on migration management, starting collaboration efforts with different stakeholders. The department brought together municipal field knowledge and authority with international organizations' experience, expertise and budgetary opportunities. When responsibilities were shared and efficient cooperation took place, many of the challenges were overcome.
Conditions for Success
Local administrative bodies and in particular municipalities play a key role in providing assistance to migrants and refugees. The role of local authorities in implementing sustainable and efficient delivery enhancing local integration is now acknowledged in humanitarian strategy planning documents. Municipalities are the forefront actors of refugee response. For this reason, the GMM established a local refuge response model that involves cooperation with local authorities, UN Agencies, NGOs and INGOs to provide direct assistance to refugees and ease the integration process with host communities. By doing so, the GMM expanded its traditional responsibilities and established innovative units and programmes for refugees. The GMM migration policy has a humanitarian approach based on social justice and human rights and focuses on a conflict-sensitive approach to mitigate tension. All in all, political will, financial support and sustainable policy-making are crucial for success.
Other municipalities benefited from the replication of this project. The GMM cooperated with different refugee-hosting municipalities to draft innovative and needs-oriented response programmes. Also, the GMM helped with the legal process of establishing the migration management department. So far, different municipalities in the region established their own structure for migration management after taking part in a workshop in Gaziantep where experiences, challenges faced, legal obligations and procedures were shared. Finally, the effective work of the Gaziantep Municipality encouraged the Adana, Sanlıurfa, Kilis and Mersin Municipalities to replicate the structure.
Gaziantep's approach diverges from that of other host countries, as it is not limited to directing refugees into camps and supporting them with humanitarian aid. The key ingredient of success for this project is believing that rising the welfare of the disadvantaged will rise the welfare of society as a whole, and that supporting refugees in becoming socially and economically self-reliant, and giving them freedom of movement and protection will make them more likely to economically contribute to the host country.
Providing not only social services but also water, sewage, sanitation, infrastructure, waste management, environmental health, parks and greenfield, transportation, education, health services, pollution was a crucial challenges with the ever-rising population.
In order to cope with these challenges, the local government expanded its traditional responsibilities to provide education, employment, health services, social services and humanitarian aid. Municipalities have an important role to play, not only in providing social services to host communities and to refugees but also in building resilience.
- Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
18 March 2021