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Reflections of refugee integration in Turkey

Our CEO recently spent a week in Ankara, Turkey attending a conference on refugee best practices and meeting with local stakeholders to find out more about refugee protection in Turkey.

Turkey hosts four million refugees of which 3.6 million are from Syria. They are the country with the largest hosting responsibility for refugees and yet most are residing within the Turkish community. Turkey has been generous in facilitating access to material assistance, work rights and temporary residency status while they wait for resettlement or for the war in Syria to end.

Despite this generosity, Syrians still live primarily in poor communities and struggle with life and integration in Turkey. As I walked around the city I saw a number selling basic goods on the curb just to survive. Even though they do have some of the best opportunities to take advantage of the local freedoms, I heard that many seem to struggle to accept life in Turkey and that this is starting to cause conflict with some locals.

Unfortunately I found that a similar thing is occurring in Turkey that has happened elsewhere – that humanitarian responses struggle to mainstream or to move from rescue to integration. Treating refugees separately in host communities ends up creating division, conflict and misunderstandings.

CEO, David Keegan speaking at the conference
CEO, David Keegan speaking at the conference

There are many NGOs in Turkey and all are trying to do the right thing. The conference I presented at was called, Meet, Share and Inspire. It aimed to bring examples of best practice in refugee protection from around the world together to inspire Turkish NGOs and government stakeholders to respond with innovation to their situation. It was positive to see that a common theme of the conference was a call to include host communities and refugees directly in the solution building and to focus on inclusion rather than seclusion.

The experience in Turkey is one I find in many countries who are host to people on the move. This is perhaps because integration can be resisted by both the refugees and the host community when compassion is delivered as a temporary strategy. I propose that integration and temporary compassion do not need to be in competition. We need to be realistic about all displacement being medium to long term. This does not mean that host countries need to provide permanent settlement (although this would help immensely), they need to come to terms with the possibility of short AND long term hosting. Perhaps one solution is to reframe language of integration or rescue to a focus on compassion and social inclusion.

At HOST we believe that inclusion requires economic, social, cultural, physical and psychological integration strategies for both migrants and existing community. For refugees to contribute fully and most valuably to a host community they must be able to exercise self determination and find wellbeing and belonging in their host community at the same level as those who are already there.

As Turkey strives for this balance, it is important for NGOs to lead in demonstrating programmes that bring together Turkish people and refugees in addressing common needs and interests rather than persisting in one set of standards for refugees and another for locals.

I appreciated the opportunity for such insights and welcome the opportunity to visit again in the future. At HOST we hope to assist governments, NGOs and other stakeholders to work through such issues to find the right balance and to create thriving and inclusive communities. Find out more at

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