International Migrants Day Events Deepen Ties between Migrants and Local Turkish Communities, Fostering Integration

IOM, Refugee and Asylum Issues

Gaziantep – As the country hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees and migrants in the world, Turkey has been at the forefront in sharing the burden of a longstanding refugee emergency. International agencies, such as IOM, have valued the supporting role Turkey’s government has played, and note the many demands on domestic resources.

Thanks to donor support from the European Union and the US State Department, IOM Turkey has been playing a crucial role in supporting the government including Municipalities and the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC), in establishing and operating migrant service and community centres in five locations across the country: Gaziantep, Kecioren, Istanbul, Sanliurfa, and Hatay.

In places like Gaziantep, where the number of Syrian residents continues to grow, the dilemmas surrounding integrating newcomers are becoming permanent challenges. Recognizing that a harmonization strategy is important for ensuring national stability, in 2016 the Turkish government began to adopt policies for integration in education and employment.

The migrant service centres help migrants’ register their children for school, connect with employers, get legal support, and access health and social services. They also host activities for children and Turkish language classes for adults and have been hailed as successful models for enhancing integration. They are gaining donor support, with additional funding from the governments of Switzerland and Japan. IOM plans to open two new centres in 2018 in Sanliufa and Izmir and expand services at existing centres.

On 19 and 20 December, IOM hosted three events in partnership with Gaziantep and Kecioren Municipalities in celebration of International Migrants Day. In a packed auditorium at Gaziantep Municipality, about 800 migrant and Turkish families, as well as local government and IOM staff, gathered to watch films being screened as part of IOM’s Global Migration Film Festival. The audience heard the Gaziantep Youth Choir, composed of Syrian and Turkish youth.

“Today’s event shows how Gaziantep Municipality is working closely with IOM to foster harmonization of Syrians. IOM is a steadfast partner and helps strengthen our capacity to address social cohesion and deliver humanitarian aid to the 450,000 Syrians living in Gaziantep,” said Mehmet Abdullah Aksoy, the Head of the Department of Health and Social Services of Gaziantep Municipality.

Other officials in attendance included Vice Mayor Mehmet Durdu Yetkinsekerci, Vice Mayor Latif Karadag, and Vice Deputy Secretary General Gultekin Serdar Tolay.

At a film screening held at Kecioren Migrant Services Centre just outside Ankara, an Iraqi migrant named Abdulsmad came with his wife and family. They brought a bright red cake with the emblem of the Turkish flag as a gift to thank the centre’s staff for helping them enrol their children in school. “It is almost like home here (in Turkey). We found peace and respect which we cannot even find in our own country at the moment,” he said.

About 400 people attended the event at Kecioren, including Mayor Mustafa Ak and District Governor Ugur Bulut. Reza Kasrai, a representative from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department shared his own migration story in opening remarks.

IOM Turkey’s Chief of Mission Lado Gvilava commended the community spirit generated by Kecioren Migrant Services Centre. At a smaller event at the Gaziantep TRC Community Centre, Syrian women engaged in a lively discussion about perceptions of migrants in Turkey and the challenges language barriers pose when searching for work.

The prospects for refugees and migrants in Turkey to return to their homes are uncertain. That gives them a sense of unpredictability and precariousness about their future. However, events like these in Gaziantep and Kecioren highlight the progress being made toward integration at local levels, turning the integration dilemma around and giving migrant families hope and assurance that they can and do have a positive future ahead of them in Turkey.

For more information please contact: Lanna Walsh at IOM Turkey, Tel: +90 312 454 3048, Email:

  • IOM Head of Gaziantep Sub Office Rex Arnold with officials from Gaziantep Municipality listening to a performance by the Gaziantep Youth Choir. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

  • A packed auditorium of Syrian and Turkish families at Gaziantep Municipality to celebrate International Migrants Day. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

  • Iraqi migrant Abdulsmad and his family present a cake to thank Kecioren Migrant Services Centre staff for their help to register their children for school in Turkey. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017