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Social cohesion in Turkey: refugees and the host community - Online survey findings rounds 1-5, July 2020

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Turkey currently hosts approximately 3.6 million refugees, the majority of whom live out-of-camp, in cities and villages, integrated with the host (Turkish) communities and they therefore share the same environment, resources, and developments in all spheres (social, economic, etc.). In the earlier years, refugees in Turkey were widely welcomed, with empathy, and considered as guests with the expectation that the unrest in Syria would be short-lived. However, as the Syrian conflict continued (now in its tenth year), the refugees started to build their lives in Turkey and the host community attitude evolved: while many are still welcoming, some have become more reserved towards the refugees.

The social cohesion index indicates that relations between the refugees and the host community in Turkey were improving in the first three rounds of the survey (July 2017– January 2018). However, this reversed in the following rounds (February and June 2019), probably influenced by; i) the economic slowdown in mid-2018 that notably resulted in competition for limited informal employment opportunities between refugees and hosts and ii) the political discourse on refugee returns during the election period in March 2019.

Triggered by the motivation to survive in a new environment, the refugees are more willing to have interaction with their counterparts in the host community. Despite their willingness, limited Turkish language ability remains the main barrier to relationship building. The refugees who can communicate in Turkish at any level feel significantly safer and think that there is a future for their children in Turkey compared to those who do not speak Turkish at all. In addition to the language problems, it was also found that the more educated the refugees are, the more likely they were to have good relations with the hosts.

Personal interaction is a significant factor for the host community in forming their attitudes towards refugees.
Turkish nationals who do not know any refugee or who merely have refugee acquaintances (e.g. from their neighbourhood or workplace) are indifferent in their attitudes towards them. Having refugee friends promotes social cohesion among Turkish people.

Approval of children’s friendship with their counterparts is more common in both communities compared to other kinds of interaction such as intermarriage, business relations or sharing neighbourhood. Even though refugees are more open to such friendship, they have concerns over possible conflict among children. Refugees are also more open to intermarriage (between their children and the hosts) but prefer marriages within their nationality for family unity as their future in Turkey is unknown and return to their home country is likely.

The percentage of host community members who think refugees are more vulnerable than the Turkish poor has decreased over time, perhaps due to the fading of the “emergency” with the longer stay of refugees and the ESSN assistance. However, even the ones who think that refugees are not very vulnerable believe that the international community should provide them with assistance. Despite the decline through time, many Turkish people are willing to share public facilities with the refugees.

In fact, almost half of the Turkish people believe that the refugees are likely to settle in Turkey even if the conflict in Syria is resolved. Around two-in-five host community members believe that the cost of living in their neighbourhood increased due to the presence of refugees across. Even so, one can say that the host community, willingly or with concerns, accepted the possibility of living together with the refugees in the long run, which is an important milestone for social cohesion. Furthermore, the proportion of refugees who state that they are charged higher rental fees than the Turkish people has decreased over time, indicating an increase in fair treatment by landlords.

However, the financial struggle people face seem to affect negatively the social cohesion between the two communities in the labour market. The support for equal payment for the refugee employees declined in 2019, when the unemployment rates and job competition in both communities increased. Some Turkish people believe that the refugees are more favoured in the welfare system, while many refugees state that they earn less than their Turkish coworkers for the same job while working in unfair conditions, and without social security.