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'Social cohesion develops when people accept each other! When they live in peace and dignity with each other and communicate, too!' says Yasmin Holoubi, a young Syrian woman from Aleppo. After her sister was injured in a bomb attack, Yasmin fled with her from the ruined city. Their father, a doctor, wanted to stay and help. He is still there to this day. Since they left four years ago, his two daughters have lived in the eastern region Turkey which borders on Syria. Back then, Yasmin started working as an assistant for an NGO. In the meantime, she is now a member of its management board.
Önder Yalcin, the head of the Migration Office in Gaziantep's municipality has a very clear concept of what 'social cohesion' means in his field of work. 'Having sufficient financial resources on hand and being able to give the refugees the same services as the local population! Integration takes time and requires mutual acceptance. The Syrians are learning Turkish here so we can communicate. But we're learning Arabic too in order to break down language barriers. That's really helpful all round!'
Faouzi Selem from the Lebanon yearns for the kind of conditions Turkey has put in place to promote social peace. He says that in his country, things are not going so well. Faouzi heads up an association of municipal authorities in Lebanon's southeast. 'More than fifty per cent of the inhabitants in all our municipalities are Syrian refugees. But we're on the breadline ourselves! The government isn't giving us any support and we desperately need water, electricity and housing! Our refugees are housed in tents and winter is coming!'
Workshop in Sanliurfa
Those are just three out of around 30 highly individual experiences of what social cohesion actually means and what it will take to ensure social peace – the sole focus of the peer-to-peer learning workshop 'Strengthening Social Cohesion in Mediterranean Host Communities' in the eastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa. Over a two-day period, mayors, municipal representatives and delegates from non-governmental organisations in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon shared their concepts on this topic at an event co-hosted by the Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) and the GIZ Global Refugee Programme.
The workshop in Sanliurfa is part of a process that already got underway back in the spring. In early June, representatives from over 70 municipalities from refugee-hosting countries around Syria came together in Amman. Their joint topic: How can we succeed in providing equal support to refugees and the local population? The motto: learn from each other!
For CMI, the multi-partner platform headquartered in Marseille, the core topic is the enormous burden the refugee situation has created for the municipalities. Around 85 per cent of Syrian refugees have settled in municipalities, bringing their basic public services to the tipping point. At the workshop in Turkey, the pivotal question was how it is possible to have social peace if the municipalities are unable to cope. Examples of success
The participants learned how this works when they visited two 'multi-service centres', both of which – the IMPR Community Center in Sanliurfa and ASAM, the Peace and Arts Center in Gaziantep – are partnering GIZ on site. Under sheltered conditions, they provide a space where refugees and the local population can meet without fear and engage in many learning and leisure activities, including
language courses, health education and psychosocial counselling, but also handicraft and painting groups. It is mainly through art and music that the two groups are able to come together and have fun in the two centres. Full of enthusiasm, the children and young people sing and make music for the international guests visiting ASAM. The spark has lit the flame. And everyone is in agreement that the process of co-creating something that binds people together – and the enjoyment this brings – is surely a step towards social cohesion!