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Between the 19th to the 21st of April, 2016 the United Cities and Local Governments, Middle East and West Asia Section (UCLG-MEWA) organized its annual congress in Gaziantep, Turkey, with the focus on the refugee crisis. The event addressed how the international community could support local governments cope with the Syrian refugee crisis as well as set up a management strategy for the possible changes in the urban migration flux.
The Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) contributed to the session on multi-actor cooperation opportunities for municipalities facing Syrian migratory influx by presenting the center’s Mediterranean refugees and host communities knowledge action program. The CMI also invited 10 municipal representatives from Jordan and Lebanon to participate in the congress and to a peer-learning visit.
Below is a summary report.
Impact on Turkey*:
Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees worldwide. Almost 3 million refugees live on Turkish soil of which 2.750 million are Syrians and 200 thousands are Iraqis. 380 thousands out of the total number of Syrian refugees are hosted in accommodation centers. Meanwhile, 160,000 Syrian children were born in Turkey since the start of the crisis. Financially, the Turkish government spends about 2.5 billion USD on managing the refugee crisis which is about 2.5% of its general budget. Turkey intensified its cooperation with the European Union by obtaining 3 more billion euros in aid.
*Facts and figures by Turkish Government (Deputy PM/AFAD/Mayor Gazaiantep)
Impact on Lebanon:
Lebanon has the highest refugee population per capita, worldwide. Out of a population of 4.4 million, 1.2 million are refugees including Syrian, Palestinian, and Iraqis. In fact 30.7% of Syrian refugees live in Lebanon making up 25% of its population. UNHCR affirms that 41% of the total number of refugees living in Lebanon are hosted in shelters. The economic impact of the Syrian crisis on host communities in Lebanon includes increased poverty, brain drain and illegal immigration of about 130 thousand disillusioned youth. 53 unions and 1108 Lebanese municipalities are affected.
From a Municipal Perspective:
Municipalities are in forefront to provide public services and are the first place to offer integration factors. They are the first responders in the refugee crisis. The most affected Turkish municipalities in terms of refugee to local population ratio are Kilis, Sanliurfa, Hatay and Gaziantep. For example, Kilis, a town of 90 thousand people hosts 127 thousand Syrian.
In Turkey, mayors respond faster to crisis. The central Government plays an empowering role providing about 10 billion USD divided between health care (500 thousand) and access to school (330 thousand). During the congress it was emphasized that education and language training in both Turkish and Arabic are essential. The government also facilitates the issuing of work permits. Turkish municipalities expressed the need for more cooperation and coordination regionally and suggested that budget allocations from the central government to affected communities correspond to the volume refugee per municipality. They also stressed the necessity of an accessible central database that interconnects all municipalities to identify the needs.
At the sidelines of the congress, UCLG-MEWA, Gaziantep municipality and CMI organized a field visit for Middle Eastern municipal representatives. It included the Gaziantep (GOAP) and the Ibrahimli school facility, both of which serve as information and education centers for Syrians. More specifically, they provide primary and secondary school education for 1,300 Syrian children, who do not have access to school education due to their financial situation or who have lost their family. All expenses including school bus service are provided by Gaziantep municipality.
The field tour also involved a visit to Ensar Society, a consultancy and vocational training center. This center offers services for Syrian women and children living outside the camps focusing on social cohesion and social inclusion.
See photos of the field visit below.
Gaziantep’s Successful Example
Gaziantep is hosting 350 thousand Syrian refugees out of which 120 thousand are children. 70 thousand Syrian children in Gaziantep are attending the Turkish school system around 1.3 thousand of them are being trained in specialized education centers for Syrians only.
Gaziantep’s early effective response to the refugee crisis has been an example in Turkey in how to address the refugee crisis early on. The success was due to the strong commitment of the mayor. Her determination to address social issues related to the refugee influx ahead of time and to allocate substantial resources to education centers, health centers and vocational training centers allowed for better management of the crisis.
The congress was held with the participation of development partners notably the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN- Habitat), International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Citiés Unies-France and the CMI. Discussions revolved around the way forward for the common welfare of refugees and host communities and the following areas of priority actions were identified:
Urban management and resilience:
Knowledge exchange: Peer learning: