Strengthening the Resilience of Syrians and Host Communities in Turkey

Strengthening the Resilience of Syrians and Host Communities in Turkey

Given the scale and protracted nature of the crisis in Syria, the Alliance2015 partners are increasingly looking to develop longer-term and more comprehensive programmes in order to help people deal with ongoing shocks and stresses and build resilience. One such partner, Welthungerhilfe, describes how resilience-building support for Syrian refugees in Turkey is possible despite the challenging complexities of the context and a future of uncertainties.

More than six years after the outbreak of the war, people inside Syria as well as those who have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq continue to suffer. Over 6 million people have been displaced in Syria and 13.5 million depend on humanitarian assistance. Of the more than 5 million Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries, more than 3 million live in Turkey. The majority of them are struggling to provide for themselves and their families. Humanitarian organisations, in cooperation with the Turkish Government and the United Nations, have been providing support since the beginning of the crisis in 2011 when people started to flee to neighbouring Turkey.

Many of the families that first arrived in Turkey had few or no belongings and were in need of urgent help. At that time, humanitarian organisations were providing emergency assistance through, for example, the distribution of aid packages, which included hygiene items such as soap, toothbrushes and diapers, as well as blankets, clothes, mattresses and heating materials, to help families withstand the winter. As the conflict continued and it became clear that many Syrians would not be able to return home in the foreseeable future, aid organisations decided to take a more comprehensive approach, aimed at strengthening the resilience of people affected by the conflict. More than six years into the crisis, there is an increased focus on longer-term interventions aimed at bolstering the resilience of vulnerable Syrians and host community members by strengthening their ability to deal with the challenges of daily life.

Many Syrians living in Turkey are seriously affected by the experience of war in their home country. Integration into a linguistically different and culturally new environment presents additional challenges. Finding a way into the job market is hard and many families struggle to support themselves. While public services such as health care and education are largely available, many Syrians are preoccupied with making ends meet and struggle to access these services, often due to language barriers or unfamiliarity with the systems.

Providing Access to Psycho-social, Legal and Information Services

One way of supporting those in need and contributing to their resilience is to provide access to information services, legal advice and psycho-social support, which helps people to cope with the challenges of daily life. Welthungerhilfe (WHH) in Turkey supports community centres in Istanbul and Mardin in the south-east of the country, which are managed by Turkish partners as well as by Welthungerhilfe (WHH) and offer a wide range of services aimed at helping women, men and children to adjust, adapt and personally advance in their lives in Turkey. The centres are open to both Syrian and Turkish people as well as non-Syrian refugees.

Psycho-social counselling is available at all centres. Through individual counselling sessions as well as group sessions, where people can share their stories and experiences, Syrians and Turks receive professional advice about how to deal with some of their fears and anxieties. “Speaking to the psychologist helped me a lot, because I was in a very bad state when I first saw her,” says 15-year-old Naya Hallak, who fled to Turkey from Syria with her family in 2014. Her 14-year-old sister Alaa also benefited from psychological support: “The psychologist gave me some activities to do, such as breathing exercises. While breathing, she told me to imagine myself on a beach and that I was throwing stones into the water, which represented casting the bad things out of my life and to focus on the good things. She also told me to imagine the people I love as flowers and then to pick and hold on to them.” Sixteen-year-old Zubeyda Demir, who is Turkish and has become a close friend of Naya and Alaa, explains some of the challenges her friends are facing: Syrians come from a war-torn country. They can’t go back. One of the main challenges is for them to integrate into the society here and to face up to not being accepted. The most difficult thing for them is to get used to the place and focus on their current way of life,” she says.

In addition to the psycho-social challenges, Syrians living in Turkey are confronted with numerous legal issues, including registration of marriages, divorces and births, as well as obstacles related to accessing health, education, the labour market and, importantly, applying for a Turkish refugee ID card. Applying for and retaining this card is one of the most important steps for Syrians when they arrive in Turkey, since it allows them to access services provided by the Turkish state, such as basic medical services and schooling.

Through qualified Turkish lawyers, the community centres supported by Welthungerhilfe (WHH) help people address legal issues by holding seminars to help them to understand their rights in Turkey. “The lawyer helped three members of my family. It’s not all about getting the kimlik (ID card). Getting treatment is essential for me. My health is important, especially as I have cancer,” says Asimah, after receiving legal support at one of the community centres. The 32-year-old cancer patient has to travel to another city 300 km away from where she lives in order to receive treatment. When she first came to Turkey she had issues registering for an official ID card. Without the card, she was unable to access much-needed health care.

Strengthening a Peaceful Way of Living Together

In addition to public services and assistance from humanitarian organisations, many Turkish families have generously supported Syrians adapt to their new lives in Turkey. Much-needed support for Syrians, as well as Turkish people affected by the crisis in neighbouring Syria. often comes from within the communities themselves. Nevertheless, social tensions between the local Turkish population and Syrians have increased over time, causing an additional strain on both populations. Welthungerhilfe (WHH)-supported community centres regularly arrange activities encouraging Syrian and Turkish people to unite in their diversity rather than divide. Picnics, coffee gatherings, theatre trips, kite-flying, sports classes, football tournaments and trips to historic places give communities a chance to come together in a positive way. Elif Boztas, from Turkey, joined one of the sports classes attended by Turkish and Syrian women at a community centre in Mardin. “I’ve been attending the course for three weeks now. Since then my social circle has become wider. I’ve a very good relationship with the women attending the course and the trainer as well.” After attending the class for the first time, the 33-year-old encouraged her friends to join in as well.

Life Skills

The centres also offer people a chance to develop their competencies and address issues that affect their daily lives. Visitors can use computer rooms where they can access the internet, for example, or use professional equipment such as sewing tools, all of which help young Syrian and Turkish people to practice their skills and make them more employable in the Turkish labour market. In seminars and workshops on practical matters people can learn about topics such as healthy eating, opening a bank account, registering children for school, renting a flat and accessing health care services.

Around 60,000 people have been reached by the Welthungerhilfe (WHH)-supported community centres in Turkey. By offering a wide range of services and activities and encouraging communities to come together, many Syrians, Turkish people and other refugees are enabled to support themselves over the long-term and integrate into the community. “The most important thing is that both communities respect each other. [..] Life is not only about basic needs. Respect is one of the most important elements,” says Zubeyda.


Founded in 2000, Alliance2015 is a strategic partnership of seven European non-governmental organisations engaged in humanitarian and development activities.


Six Alliance2015 partners, ACTED, Cesvi, Concern Worldwide, Hivos, People in Need and Welthungerhilfe have been providing support to Syrians, inside and outside the country, since 2012. Over the years, the partners have strived to grow, develop and improve their response to the Syrian crisis through collaboration, joint programming and information sharing. By working together, the Alliance2015 partners are able to share resources, local expertise and tools; minimising expenses and maximising impact. Our goal as an alliance is to ensure that we are able to provide effective assistance to the largest possible number of people. In 2017, the Alliance2015 partners supported over four million Syrians in Syria and its neighbouring countries.
Given the scale and protracted nature of the crisis in Syria, the Alliance2015 partners are increasingly looking to develop longer-term and more comprehensive programmes in order to help people deal with ongoing shocks and stresses and build resilience. One such partner, Welthungerhilfe, describes how resilience-building support for Syrian refugees in Turkey is possible despite the challenging complexities of the context and a future of uncertainties.
Author: Stephanie Binder - Communication Officer, Welthungerhilfe