Due to its border of nearly 900km with Syria, Turkey has been profoundly affected by the Syrian crisis. To date, over 1.9 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey. This influx is so large that the 24 refugee camps built by the Turkish Government are no longer sufficient and a vast majority of refugees are in urban and rural settings. Young refugees in this context have difficulties accessing an education often because of language barriers and young women are exposed to gender-based violence in these fragile environments. RET has become heavily involved in the South-eastern part of the country to address the needs of these vulnerable youth, women and girls. We act primarily through Turkish language trainings and work with Women Cultural Centres and CATOMs to reduce the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Key to this action is a strong collaboration with the Turkish Government as well as with United Nations agencies.

  • 1.
    The Crisis Affecting Turkey
  • 2.
    Its Impact on Young People
  • 3.
    How RET Protects Them

1. The Crisis Affecting Turkey

The Syrian internal conflict and its effects on the region as a whole have been recognised as the worst humanitarian crisis in over two decades by the UNHCR.

Due to its border of nearly 900 km with Syria, Turkey has been profoundly affected. Over 1.9 million Syrians have sought refuge in the country and are registered; the total number could actually be double. They reside mainly in Southern Turkey, where the Government’s efforts to provide for basic needs are reaching their limits. According to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), 229,000 refugees are currently living in refugee camps across southern Turkey. Moreover, there are at least half a million Syrian refugees residing in Istanbul and other main cities.

Initially, Turkey chose to handle the crisis by its own means, leaving the international community to concentrate on other regions. It greeted its Syrian guests with an open border policy and built 24 camps to host them.

Despite the investment of nearly 5 billion USD by the Government of Turkey, the magnitude of the influx of Syrian refugees exceeds their capacity to continue acting independently. The majority of Syrians do not have access to the camps and live in villages and cities near the border, with limited access to basic services.

2. Its Impact on Young People

As the crisis deepens and the numbers grow, tensions between refugee and host communities inevitably arise. A generation of young Syrians are left idle, non-integrated, with no opportunities for self-reliance and little hope. A recipe for poor life choices and desperate, misguided actions.

For young people in non-camp settings education is limited. The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey estimates that within the camps 83% of Syrian youth have access to education, whereas they are only 14% to have access in non-camp settings.

Young women are particularly vulnerable, as they are exposed to sexual violence and trafficking. Not fully aware of their rights and often not allowed to travel alone, they have little access to health services or assistance in case of sexual or gender-based violence.

3. How RET Protects Them

To address the needs of these vulnerable youth RET has been active in Turkey since 2013, starting with thorough assessments of the needs and assets in the region. In 2014, RET was recognised officially as a partner by the Government of Turkey and has started to provide protection and education to Syrian young people throughout Turkey.

RET’s first actions focus on the South-eastern region on certified language trainings for Syrian youth in order to facilitate communication between host and refugee communities and provide access to the Turkish education system. These training courses are tailored at various levels, ranging from “survival” Turkish to C1 level accredited for university access.

Advanced Turkish language skills are essential to Syrian youth who wish to gain access to Turkish schools, universities or the labour market, while basic Turkish is urgently needed by the most vulnerable Syrian women, as it enables them to seek the help of existing protection services and enforce their rights.

RET also works with Women Community Centres to reduce risks of sexual and gender-based violence among vulnerable refugee and host community women. For those already victims of violence, life-saving support for survivors is to be provided in coordination with the local authorities.

Prevention of gender based violence, language courses, access to vocational training are all the elements which will protect Syrian youth during this period of crisis, while helping host populations continue to welcome their neighbours with generosity.

RET International runs 6 Turkish language schools and collaborates with 24 local Women’s Centres and CATOMs with partners such as UNICEF, UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), UNFPA (the UN Population Fund), the Japanese Platform (representing the Government of Japan and Japanese private sector), JCCP, the Government of Luxembourg, the UK Embassy, and the various cantons of Switzerland, including Basel, and the Asfari Foundation.

Fundamentally important to RET’s success in Turkey is the enduring partnership and collaboration that we have developed with the Government of Turkey – the Ministry of National Education and AFAD in particular, The Ministry of Family and Social Policies, as well as the Governors and District Governors and the municipal government officials who are vital for the implementation of our projects.