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“Refugee Friendly Municipalities” Conference

Turkish and German municipalities in an intensive exchange process in Ankara

On 24 May, the “Refugee Friendly Municipalities” conference took place in Ankara. The conference was organised by the Qudra Programme – a regional action financed by the European Union Madad Fund and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) - along with Engagement Global/Service Agency Communities in One World and the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD-ASAM) through the technical support of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) MEWA. The goal of the conference was to start an intensive exchange process of good practices for integrating refugees and then to provide an online portal for all interested municipalities.


Approximately 45 municipalities from Turkey and Germany took part in the conference. The Turkish government was represented by Osman Hacıbektaşoğlu, the Deputy Director of the Directorate General for Migration Management from the Ministry of Interior.  In his opening speech, he referred to the large number of Syrian refugees that Turkey has accepted so far. More than 2,900,000 Syrian refugees were registered there in April 2017, the large majority of which live in large cities or in municipalities in south-eastern Turkey. Only roughly ten per cent of the refugees were housed in camps. With the passing of the “Temporary Protection Regulation” in October 2014, Syrian refugees received protection status as guests and thus have the right to health services and to send their children to school. With an additional law in January 2016, Turkey made it easier to obtain working permits. Osman Hacıbektaşoğlu criticised that there was still no fair distribution of the loads between the other European states and Turkey. According to Hacıbektaşoğlu, the large number of refugees also jeopardises the provision of social and municipal services for the local population.

 

In comes the municipal know-how for the Middle East initiative

The representatives of the UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM, the Delegation of the European Union to Turkey and the Carl Taestensen, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH Country Director for Turkey, Syria and Iraq, thanked Turkey for its efforts made so far to accept and integrate refugees. Kurt Baudach, Head of the Department for Municipal Partnerships in countries and regions of the Service Agency Communities in One World (SKEW), presented the “Municipal know-how for the Middle East” initiative and invited the Turkish municipalities to get involved in the initiative and to enter into project partnerships with German municipalities.


Three podiums in the morning and afternoon focused on good practices in establishing acceptance and participation structures as well as the development of planning competency. On the first podium in the morning, the representatives from the refugee administration and the department for social services from Gaziantep and Ankara, presented their situation and explained what had been done so far to integrate refugees. Dr Harald Rau, Head of Department V – Social Affairs, Integration and Environment from the City of Cologne, appeared impressed with the actions taken by the Turkish municipalities given the existing problems. At the end of the round, Dr Günther Taube, GIZ Programme Director at Qudra, pointed out the different dimensions of the challenges in Germany and Turkey. Among other good practices, he included the fact that the large majority of refugees in Turkey live in municipalities and not in camps. For the City of Cologne, he emphasised the appointment of an ombudsman for refugees with direct contact with the municipal government and who would be able to pass on grievances among refugees directly to the responsible department. The fast involvement of civil society in the integration work is another positive aspect in many German and Turkish municipalities.

Intensive exchange among all actors involved in the integration process

The second podium had two areas of focus: the required municipal structures for acceptance and integration, and measures to improve participation by refugees. Imke Juretzka, speaker for the commissioners for integration of the Berlin Senate, discussed this with two colleagues from Turkey. She reported on the interdisciplinary cooperation of the Berlin Senate and the intensive exchange between all of the actors involved in the integration process. This also includes the involvement of migrants in the integration process. She also stressed that Berlin puts great importance on starting integration-supporting measures from day one. It is important to make sure that existing control systems are adapted to the needs of refugees and to only provide additional measures where refugee-specific needs are not able to be temporarily met by the regular system.


On the third podium, the Mayor of Kilis, Hasan Kara, presented the situation in his city, in which there are now more refugees than local inhabitants. The pressure to address the problem is tremendous but many citizens are committed to maintaining services for refugees and for the local population. Multiple projects have already begun towards this. But there is still much to be done. Such a large increase in population in such a short time leads to many bottlenecks, both in the health services and in the school sector. Along with Marc Nogueira, Deputy Head of Department for Migration and Integration, and Bilal Dönmez, Chairman of the local DITIP society, two representatives from the City of Mannheim, which has already entered into a project partnership with Kilis, were also on the podium. A social centre with the primary goal of integrating and qualifying Syrian women and supporting their children is being planned. Supporting refugees and migrants in a city to campaign actively for their former and current fellow countrymen is also an important step towards encouraging integration in Germany.


There were lively enquiries from the audience about the contributions of the podiums – opportunities to network with one another and with the representatives of the three German cities and the “Municipal know-how for the Middle East” initiative were discussed. The exchange and cooperative approaches will be intensified in a peer-to-peer workshop on the topic of “instruments of participation” at the start of September. Other German cities are also invited to participate.