UNHCR Türkiye Activities in 2021

Philippe Leclerc
UNHCR Türkiye Representative

Oppression, conflicts, violence, human rights violations and disorderly conducts for nine consecutive years have led to an increase in the number of forcibly displaced persons. According to the UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends Report1 published in November, while a great number of people fled their homes due to violence, insecure situations and the effects of climate change, this alarming trend continued in 2021 too. Now this number exceeds 84 million globally. In the first half of 2021 the number of refugees continued to increase and reached approximately 21 million, and solutions to forcibly displaced persons remain inadequate.

As the conflict in Syria still continues after 10 years, the situation in Afghanistan led to new displacements and created a worrisome environment. Considering the challenges faced in humanitarian aid, UNHCR continues to call for international solidarity and the support of neighboring countries in humanitarian aid activities and points to the need of protection of Afghan people with the highest number of protection applications to Türkiye.

Hosting over 4 million individuals in need of international protection, 3.7 million of them being Syrians with temporary protection status, Türkiye hosts the largest number of individuals in need of international protection. While a small portion of this population (51,677 people) live in the seven temporary refuge centers, a large number of them live in cities, suburbs and rural areas of the 81 cities in Türkiye. 

While the Republic of Türkiye leads the refugee response in the country, within the frame of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), the United Nations coordinates humanitarian aid and development partners and provides effective and complementary support to the refugee response. The UNHCR leads protection and basic needs sectors by coordinating the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Along with 3RP partners, UNHCR Türkiye’s activities aims to increase access to national systems such as health (including during the pandemic), education, employment and social services, and to promote social compliance through programs that benefit individuals in need of international protection, host community and national institutions. The new presidential decree which regulates the Directorate General of Migration Management’s (DGMM) institutional structure as Presidency of Migration Management (PMM) in order to increase the capacity of DGMM is received well by UNHCR, in the sense that it is a concrete step towards improving the state’s refugee response.

The biggest public health crisis that the world has faced in over a century –the COVID-19 pandemic- will only be brought under control if everyone has equal access to vaccination regardless of their status. Türkiye’s vaccination campaign which began in January 2021, encompasses all the people in the country regardless of their origin and residential status. UNHCR conducted a two-round survey in July and September 2021 in order to perform more advocacy activities with the purpose of monitoring access to vaccination for individuals in need of international protection in Türkiye. According to the survey, more than 72% of the participants were vaccinated at least once as of the end of September, which shows that vaccination trends for individuals in need of international protection, with the geographical variables in mind, are similar with the general vaccination trends in Türkiye. At the current phase of the vaccination campaign, access and information activities continue to be a priority to encourage individuals in need of international protection who have not been vaccinated.

While Türkiye is an example of good practice in terms of providing access to individuals in need of international protection with public services including health, the COVID-19 crisis led to new and unexpected difficulties. The UNHCR continues to provide public institutions and organizations with technical, personnel and supply support, and revised its programs to directly support individuals in vulnerable states and in need of international protection. UNHCR also coordinated its efforts with municipalities and local authorities in order to improve community engagement and social compliance and prioritize matters regarding communication with communities, emergency cash assistance, and the distribution of hygiene products, and other supplies needed. 

Apart from being the first destination with respect to the support provided to individuals in need of international protection and the host community; municipalities across Türkiye, which are the key actors in finding local solutions, provides support in many fields including social compliance which has become much more important after living together for 10 years. Municipalities -especially during the COVID-19 pandemic- increased their efforts to meet the most urgent needs of the individuals in need of international protection, and individuals in most vulnerable states. UNHCR Türkiye acknowledges the importance of these efforts in terms of finding local solutions, therefore it funds the activities of municipalities to support individuals in need of international protection, and members of the host community, and activities to increase the social compliance between these groups.

In 2021, UNHCR continued to provide regular and fast information in various languages about COVID-19; and diversified its communication strategies in compliance with the different needs of individuals of its concern/individuals in the scope of its authority, and remote work conditions; and adopted various digital communication tools; and strengthened its access with call centers, social media platforms, a HELP site, services advisory, sessions with communities, and phone calls. As a response to difficulties experienced by individuals who are exposed to gender-based violence to access ordinary reporting and support mechanisms, UNHCR continued to operate the call centers -which were founded in September 2020- allocated for gender-based violence calls. This channel enables callers at risk and callers exposed to gender-based violence to listen to the relevant recorded message with the help of reporting and support mechanisms, to get live consultation by connecting to an operator, and to leave their contact information to be called back at a certain time.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously and negatively affected the opportunities of individuals in need of international protection to meet their basic needs. In March 2021, UNHCR completed the first round of the one-time “COVID-19 Emergency Cash Assistance” provided to 88,779 household who were affected by the pandemic and did not get any other social assistance. In collaboration with the Presidency of Migration Management and mediation of service provider Post and Telegraph Organization (PTT), 1,000 one-time cash assistance helped individuals in need of international protection to meet their most urgent needs. In November 2021, UNHCR launched another one-time cash assistance within the scope of 1,100 assistance aiming to support approximately 85,000 households according to the state’s social assistance plan intended for Turkish citizens and in coordination with the Social Compliance Assistance Program for Foreigners (SUY)/Complementary SUY Program of the Turkish Red Crescent/IFRC.

The pandemic also affected education processes. The closing of schools, universities, technical and vocational educational institutions impacted trainers, students, and teachers; UNHCR supported the Ministry of National Education in regards to the establishment of “Education Information Network (EBA)” points which are in 16 cities across the country, in 114 schools and which hold 15-20 student capacity each. UNHCR provided over 2,000 computers distributed to the centers, along with laptop assistance for teachers, and teacher assistance. 

The closure of borders due to the pandemic and travel restrictions entailed the temporary halting of settlements to third countries. Accordingly, the number of settlements to third countries witnessed a historic decrease. Turkish authorities, settlement countries, and UNHCR continues to adapt to the new working conditions; all of the settlement actors struggles to gain their old capacity. Despite these conditions, the UNHCR continued to help 4,050 individuals in need of international protection in 2020, and 6,200 in 2021 with settling to third countries and leaving the country. The limited placement openings of third countries continue to be the essential difficulty in third country settlements.

Türkiye’s policies regarding a wide range of individuals in need of international protection continue to be a great example for other countries policies. In a period where the country hosts four million individuals in need of international protection, and in a difficult condition due to the pandemic, UNHCR continues to advocate for more division of responsibility including financial assistance, more placements for settlements to third countries, and complementary roads.

1. Mid-Year Trends 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2021, Kopenhag, accessed March 20, 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/618ae4694/mid-ye-ar-trends-2021.html

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