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“Living Together: Possible Together”, 5 November 2019

The YADA Foundation and Civil Pages organised a “Living Together: Possible Together” Workshop on 5 November 2019 in Gaziantep, as a part of the series of activities organised in the scope of the “Enhancing Multiculturalism Approach of Civil Society Organizations in Turkey and EU” Project financed by the European Union, to discuss the theme areas of possibilities of living together, the barriers we face and areas for joint solutions. 

Representatives of civil society discussed challenges ‘living together and multiculturalism’ and sought answers and solutions in the “Possible” Workshop in the scope of “Living Together” and “Civil Dialogue” that undertakes the theme areas of women, children, environment, refugees and education in Turkey. 

The workshop started with the YADA representative Rümeysa Çamdereli asking participants about the experiences of their organisations and also their individual experiences, and in which areas and which obstacles they faced. Participants were asked “What kind of environment do we want to live together, what environment we have currently and how we can work on it?”

During the mention of problems, it was stated that the first issue is that it is perceived that Syrian refugees in Turkey “will leave anyway”, solutions are not sought  and there is no attempt to establish communication. It was also mentioned that Syrians had planned to stay for a short duration, but have sheltered in Turkey for eight years and have had children here, leading to a new generation of Turkish refugees. It was stated that language is very important in this case now and small language courses are not sufficient. In fact, it was stated that the children born here cannot properly speak either Arabic or Turkish.

Participants had a long discussion about the concept of equality; the statement was made that ‘When Syrians are seen as equal with Turks in terms of rights, then we will start to reach a solution’ reiterating that a solution can be reached when they have rights and equality in vocation, formal and informal areas and are not treated as “the other”, rising the possibility of being able to live together. 

Social cohesion/adaptation was one of the themes coming to the forefront. One participant suggested that the question we should be asking is ‘how can we better live together?’, instead of ‘why are we living together?’. The concept of cohesion was supported and it was stated that there is a ‘need for a tool that is not only rights-based but also equality-based that would bring together the actors of civil society’. 

Another perspective within this theme discussion made mention of the fact that the adaptation of the newcomers is always on the agenda, however, the adaption process of everyone in the process of social cohesion should be considered. 

‘Turkey has many examples of how NOT to live together. We have even seen examples of not allowing to live, let alone live together.’

A long and detailed discussion was held on the topic of the ‘perception of Syrian refugees’ in Turkish society and many experiences were shared. One participant said that “Hate speech in Turkey is not something that anyone does a lot of thinking on. People act with hearsay information”. Participants agreed and shared experiences and cases which involved myths, legends and hearsay. 

It was discussed that many NGOs are trying to help Syrians, but they are constantly implementing similar projects so that they can reach the quantitative indicators which have been set.

A participant defended the opinion that the concept “Syrian refugee” did not represent a single person or a particular type of person and added: 

‘We always talk as if there is a single culture or a single prototype among refugees. If you are a child, a refugee or LGBTI, your migrant experience will be very different.’

There was a focus on the concept of ‘victim’ and it was said that enabling victimhood could turn into a hierarchy and even feed hate. As a follow on, issues such as poverty and employment came to agenda. One of the issues discussed was that the 40 billion USD allocated for Syrians is only a band aid and not meeting the larger needs. After mentioning that the money was not spent to the advantage of refugees, it was also stated that NGOs remained silent on the issue.

Participants talked about inequalities regarding employment and came to an agreement that the method was unsuccessful if refugees are considered as cheap labour. 

One of the statements were:

‘Refugees are not a temporary labour force.’

It was emphasized that in today’s world, the understanding of refugee and migration is changing rapidly and that we have seen a variety of situations in the last 50 years of migration experiences. It was stated that in the past things was very different in regard to migration between the east and west blocks in the bi-polar world; however, it was agreed that the experiences are useful to know of as a resource. A participant mentioned that there is a rise in refugee hostility among the populist left and right wing; while also reminding of the citizen movements in Chile and Beirut. One participant said that there are people from all corners of the world gathering that want to live together and added:  

‘While refugees were walking from Hungary to Germany, there were some people who were kicking them but there were also people bringing them blankets and food.’

One participant focused on the concept of the successful immigrant; it was pointed out that in USA and Germany, living together is mostly achieved through the concept of successful immigrants. The importance of creating either a positive or negative perception of refugee was mentioned.

A participant focused on the questions, ‘Are living in the same society and living together the same thing? Do I have to have a dialogue, or why do we have to understand each other and have a dialogue?’ and gave their opinion that it may be possible to come to a solution without a very close contact and that we need to put empathy and emotions aside at some point, reminding that these types of situations generally come to an end when “the bigger ones swallow the little ones”.    

At the closing of the workshop, Çamdereli stated that to develop a solution is a process which needs consideration and which is challenging. 

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