Refugee Response Program of Gaziantep

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.

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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.

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