Turkey’s first ever ‘refugee council’ holds first congress

Turkey’s first ever ‘refugee council’ holds first congress

Emine Kart - ANKARA
Turkey’s first ever ‘refugee council’ holds first congress

AP photo

Efforts to build a superstructure which would bring together various civil society organizations (CSOs) working to overcome the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing Turkey, which is hosting around 3 million refugees, have yielded a result, as the Center of Refugee Aid Organizations was formed on June 20, World Refugee Day.

The first Center of Refugee Aid Organizations Congress was held at a hotel in Ankara on June 20 with the participation of 14 founding member organizations, as well as some soon-to-be-members, from all corners of the country. 

“We hope this congress, which coincides with World Refugee Day, will be a very important step for the asylum history of Turkey,” Metin Çorabatır, the head of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) and a former spokesman for the UNHCR in Turkey, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The assistant representative of the UNHCR Turkey office, Paolo Alberto Artini, officials from the EU Delegation to Turkey, the Embassy of Japan, the Embassy of Bulgaria and representatives of various CSOs such as the U.S.-based Save the Children and International Medical Corps attended the congress.

IGAM is a founding member of the initiative, while all members represent diversity, from rights-based organizations to research, aid and faith-based organizations, as well as refugee associations founded by Syrian and Afghan refugees living in Turkey. 

“We especially wanted this initiative to be a legal entity so that it would not be a platform which would fall apart for some reason in the future,” Çorabatır said. 

“We have jointly spent almost one year bringing all civil society organizations which are providing assistance and support for refugees under various sectors together under the same roof. While pursuing this goal, we studied and closely examined different national refugee councils that play very important roles in improving refugees’ lives and rights in more than 20 countries, as would-be models. We also intensively discussed modalities which might fit best for Turkish civil society contexts,” he said.

“The Center of Refugee Aid Organizations represents a very critical step in the asylum history of Turkey. As the asylum history of the world shows us, asylum policies must be developed and improved not only by states and international organizations but also all layers of societies and civil society organizations. Unfortunately, Turkish civil society was not interested enough in asylum and refugee issues in the past. So, the growing numbers of NGOs working on this important issue was not able to get the chance to work together and collaborate according to the needs [of the refugees]. And that caused inefficiency for these NGOs in terms of participating in policy-making processes. While Turkey is currently hosting almost 3 million refugees and asylum-seekers within its borders, a huge and dire need for common action and collaboration among those NGOs is still as crucial as it was in the past,” he said.

Red tape, ‘Turk,’ ‘Turkish,’ ‘council’

Çorabatır said their call to come together under the roof of the council included calls to international CSOs as well. Yet, for those international CSOs willing to become a member of this initiative, red tape has been complicating the process.

There was also a red tape issue involving the name of the center. 

“Unfortunately, we had noticed after a delay that using the words ‘Turk’ and ‘Turkish’ was subject to official approval in the framework of the current law on associations. The decision to apply for the permission to use these titles is to be left to the elected board and the first upcoming general assembly. Likewise, we saw that in Turkey associations/civil society organizations are not allowed to use the word ‘council’ as part of their titles. Briefly, as a result of the survey conducted among our founding members, ‘Center of Refugee Aid Organizations’ was adopted - for the moment - as the most clear and inclusive name for our organization in terms of our mission and vision,” Çorabatır said.