Toward long-term solidarity with Syrian refugees: Analysis

Toward long-term solidarity with Syrian refugees: Analysis

Laura Batalla - Juliette Tolay
Toward long-term solidarity with Syrian refugees: Analysis

For the past 7 years, and with over 3.5 million Syrian refugees on its territory, Turkey has been faced with an unprecedented migration challenge which no country could ever be prepared for enough.

Yet, over the years, Turkey put in place a number of policies, coordinated among many different actors, and provided a multifaceted response to a complex question.

Turkey deserves acknowledgment for its resilience in managing the situation with calmness and openness.

However, this unique and laudable approach should be an encouragement to do even more for Syrians by paying attention to some of the shortcomings of existing policies. To fully become a model of how to welcome refugees, Ankara can remain proud of itself, while at the same time remain open to new ways of improving and addressing remaining difficulties.

In particular, the Syrian refugee policy put in place in 2014-15 has been slowly dismantled over time (sidelining of camps, closing of the border, limitation on freedom of movement under Temporary Protection, early returns, possible push backs, demographic engineering, etc.), and a new sense of direction needs to be put in place. In light of this reality, Ankara could consider the following:

- Develop a more deliberate and operational strategy to address present and future needs of Syrians and the host community. While the principles of Turkey’s approach were always clearly affirmed at the discourse level, actors on the ground were not always given the means and clear direction on how to implement said principles. This needs also to be accompanied by an enhanced communication and coordination between the different actors involved at the national and local level in order to ensure a better response to refugees’ needs, as well as to mitigate tensions or problems arising from their coexistence with the host community. Internal and external oversight to ensure that the principles announced at the top are implemented accordingly should be encouraged, which includes systematic investigation of reports of human rights violations and irregularities.

- Reassess the value of limiting Syrians’ mobility: while there is solid ground for wanting to manage the spread of Syrians on Turkish territories, the requirement of Syrians to live in their province of registration seems to lead to more Syrians becoming unregistered and loosing access to essential services.

- Strengthen the mandate and means of municipalities: as the actor working closely with refugees in their daily struggle, municipalities have a great potential, but must be given the tools (legal and financial) to develop local solutions to local problems and act accordingly and consistently with the works of other municipalities. A good starting point would be to take into account the number of Syrian refugees in the total population numbers as regards to future budget allocations from the government.

- Craft a harmonization strategy that is proactive and inclusive. Proactively assisting Syrians’ incorporation in Turkish society should be done by consulting with a wide range of actors, from international, national and local institutions, to civil society actors, communities’ leaders, and Syrians themselves. The integration of Syrian students in Turkish schools is a good step, but needs to be complemented with more training for teachers, and additions to the curriculum that will allow for a better acceptance of Syrian students.

- Commit on a form of durable solution for Syrians in Turkey. Even if the overall strategy involves a mix batch of durable solutions (including voluntary returns and resettlement), there is a need for a longterm prospect for Syrians in Turkey. While blanket naturalization and lifting the geographical limitation seem off the table (for complex reasons), other options include opening a path to long-term residency, or granting the status of subsidiary protection. Among other things, these two options provide automatic rights to work (without applying for work permit), which would facilitate Syrians’ healthy integration in the job market.

- Further facilitate Syrians’ financial autonomy. Further incentives need to be offered to employers in order to hire more Syrians through, for example, wage subsidies or cash for work programs and to entrepreneurs in order to establish their own companies. Easing investment procedures for foreigners in Turkey would help. Becoming economically independent through a job is a first step toward participating in society.

- Focus efforts on mitigating rising tensions between Syrians and host community. Putting in place programs that promote social inclusion and peaceful coexistence (sports tournaments, handcrafts, choir, etc.), prioritizing projects that improve living conditions of both refugees and host society without discrimination, and closely monitoring existing tensions can all help foster positive relations between refugees and host communities.

- Engage in public policy diplomacy at home. There is a need to better explain what policies are in place toward Syrian refugees and why, to raise awareness both about the positive contribution of refugees to Turkey’s society and economy, and about the collective challenge it represents, so as to make solidarity with refugees a societal project as much as a governmental one.

(The above article is an abridged version of the conclusions and recommendations of a report by Atlantic Council.)