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FEATURE STORY June 24, 2020

Turkey: World Refugee Day 2020


Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees in the world, including 3.6 million Syrians and nearly 400,000 asylum-seekers and refugees of other nationalities. The passing of another World Refugee Day, on June 20, provides us an opportunity to reflect on these millions of men, women, and children who have been forced from their homes to seek new opportunities and start new lives outside of their own borders.

The refugee crisis has brought challenges of inclusion and integration for this new population,  which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and require stronger efforts to protect those most at risk, including women. To help with this transition, the Turkish government is continuing to provide access to health care, education, and labor markets.

One area where these challenges have been met with success has been social enterprises, which help Syrian women refugees tap their labor market skills - allowing them to combine an entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for social inclusion and ultimately allowing them to give back to the communities that have become their homes.

The  “Strengthening Economic Opportunities for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens in Selected Localities” exemplifies the potential of social enterprises to create economic opportunities and increase inclusion for refugee women. This pilot, financed by the European Union and implemented by the World Bank, has helped establish four, women-led social cooperatives, has created more than one hundred jobs, and has contributed to social entrepreneurship in Turkey.

“I realized that my strength was growing as the project grew,” says Al Khansaa Al Humsi, a 30-year-old refugee originally from Damascus, Syria.  “Today I am more confident than ever, thanks to the set of trainings I have received.”

Al Humsi is a founding member of the newly certified “Etkin Kadin Is Platformu” (EKIP) social cooperative in Istanbul, which focuses on the production of healthy food. The cooperative is designed to deliver sustainably produced salads, cooked meals, and vegetables to members of the surrounding communities. The cooperative has 16 dedicated Syrian refugee women who are already introducing nutritious salads to people working in the business districts of Levent, Maslak, and Gayrettepe - and they hope membership will grow to 50 by the end of the project. As part of the project, Humsi and her colleagues are given the opportunity to take various trainings - including Turkish lessons, entrepreneurship, business basics, and financial and digital literacy.

"Today I am more confident than ever, thanks to the set of trainings I have received."
Al Khansaa Al Humsi, a 30-year-old refugee originally from Damascus, Syria
Al Khansaa Al Humsi
founding member the EKIP social cooperative


Meanwhile, in Mersin, on Turkey’s southern coast, the Kadınlar icin Üretim Merkezi (KUME) is in the process of being certified as a social cooperative that will also be active in the food sector. Focusing on food services and catering, KUME is currently conducting language and technical trainings for participants and has recently concluded its second phase of outreach to potential cooperative members - reaching 290 women.

“The trainings not only taught us how to be food entrepreneurs but also gave us absolute confidence in managing the difficulties we may face in the future when running the cooperative,” says Fatma Yousef, a 47-year-old KUME beneficiary who came to Turkey from Aleppo, Syria in 2014.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, KUME trainings have now shifted to an online delivery. The cooperative’s bilingual Instagram live broadcasts have become platforms for the exchange of knowledge - enabling lively interactions among Turkish and Syrian beneficiaries and other viewers.

“KUME continued to provide us informative and educational content through live broadcasts on Instagram. Thanks to these, I learned more about the culture of this country,” says Fatma Yousef.

Two additional cooperatives will soon be created in Ankara and Izmir, providing more than 50 job opportunities to women. The ANKA (phoenix) cooperative in Ankara will focus on handicrafts, while the HALKA (circle) cooperative in Izmir will offer cleaning services.

ANKA aims to transform traditional handicraft products into innovative and marketable designs, with a physical space for producing handicrafts – allowing Turkish and Syrian refugee women to acquire hands-on experience. The HALKA cooperative is currently carrying-out out validation studies to identify the specific needs of the cleaning sector in Izmir by holding dialogues with private sector entities and municipalities. 

"Thanks to informative and educational content through live broadcasts on Instagram, I learned more about the culture of this country."
Fatma Yousef, KUME beneficiary posing in front of the camera
Fatma Yousef
KUME beneficiary

Increasing the skills and competences of refugees, supporting income-generating activities, facilitating formal employment, and incentivizing self-employment and entrepreneurship are all critical components in fostering opportunities and social cohesion among refugees and the communities in which they now live.

World Refugee Day provides us the opportunity to commemorate the strength and perseverance of the millions of refugees living in fragile conditions around the globe. It also serves as a reminder that we must remain steadfast in our support to these refugees and their host communities throughout the remaining 364 days of the year as well.