Gaziantep after the Earthquake?

Johannes C. van Nieuwkerk
8 min readFeb 15, 2023

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Intro

Looking at the pictures of the catastrophic earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, first aid and emergency relief are of course the priorities at the moment. All donations are therefore welcome and urgently needed. However, this aid is in principle temporary and should not blind or prevent the international community from starting to think about developing a longer-term vision and more structural solutions.

Second forced displacement for many, the need for resettlement

In the areas hit by the disaster live, among others, millions of people who have been displaced for a long time by the conflict in Syria. Before the earthquake struck, they had already been living for a decade under very precarious conditions and in need of help. The current event now displaces many of them for a second time. After a natural disaster one would normally focus on reconstruction and the togetherness of a community in rebuilding. However, for the Syrian displaced people both in Türkiye and Syria, this is due to the lasting conflict in Syria a very unlikely scenario to be feasible. Therefore, a big part of the region will not be able to recover to a “normalized” livable situation any time soon. With climate-change-based exiled people a very similar situation can be found. This is why the global community must consider setting up a resettlement program for “permanently” displaced people. This option should, in the current case, be open to both Syrian as well as Turkish citizens in need.

Humanitarian corridor model financed by governments, replacing irregular migration

Luckily, not everyone needs resettlement assistance, but unfortunately many do. However, existing programs are far too limited in offering any larger scale structural solutions besides regularly donating basic goods, like food, to people. Basically, the current resettlement numbers are just far too low to generate any substantial relief on the ever growing worldwide forced displacement population; meanwhile the number of people it concerns has reached the 100 million mark.

We, as a global community with international responsibilities, thus urgently need to develop a new type of humanitarian approach to fundamentally solve these challenges and offer displaced people a chance to rebuild their lives elsewhere when needed, offering relocation if there is any fit available.

Additional to the current UNHCR resettlements and different from the, mostly private sponsorship based, complementary resettlement programs (such as for example Sant’Egidio’s humanitarian corridors), the involvement of worldwide governments is obligatory to policy-wise exploit all available possibilities and synergies; multiplying the resettlement options. The support to those excluded by displacement needs to be maximized when and wherever we can re-include people.

Although there is a need to scale up from thousands to millions, this has to be accomplished within the social and financial limitations the international community faces. In order to maximize the number of people to be offered a chance on a dignified life, resettlement will have to be based more on matching and (regrettably) less on vulnerability. This is where the current approaches fail and new policies are clearly necessary. The process from dependency to independency of people needs to be shortened in order to be able to serve the much greater numbers required. However, currently many facets go wrong, causing that mostly chaos and irregularity rule instead of organized matching. Zooming in on Europe in relation to absorbing displaced Syrian people, the following is happening:

First, although many Syrian people from the earthquake areas would have liked, and be entitled as refugees, to relocate already long before; they very often did not have the means to pay smugglers to enable their trip to Europe and there is currently no other, legal, alternative for them available to apply for asylum; this has to change.

The other side of this irregularity is that those people, who do possess these funds, select their imaginary dream-goal of their journey on the basis of compatriots’ experience and not on any criteria of their chances on success of cultural adaptation. This causes a severe mismatch and a clustering of too many people at a small number of favorite destinations, leading to an overload there and unused capacity elsewhere.

Second, people who resettle through humanitarian corridors are relying on the private sponsorship of people who can afford this. They thus mainly land in prosperous developed areas. However, it is often the poorer declining communities in Europe that are most in need of additional people. For example, many smaller and less wealthy rural communities can offer the social power and ability to help newcomers with their cultural adaptation, but do not possess any financial capacity to do so. They actually frequently receive revitalization funds themselves. Putting such funds together with the available national or EU funds for refugee integration, represents an opportunity; this can be synergetic and substantially strengthen both reinclusion and rural revitalization. Lastly, to give an idea of the scale of this opportunity: 35 million people have left the European countryside since 1960!

In order to fundamentally change the game, there is thus a need to gain control over the migration process. This will also cut the criminals out of the loop. If the goal is to reduce the number of displaced people, we no longer can afford to wait until they manage to irregularly cross a Frontex protected frontier and ask for asylum.

Guarding European borders is not the issue here; the problem is a lack of doors in the fences where people can legally enter and apply for asylum. An even better solution is to become proactive and manage the migration process ourselves as a European community, properly organizing the resettlement of those in need and who we consider to be entitled, at the source. Ultimately, this is primarily a government role and not a private one.

Matching solutions

In order to increase the absorption capacity there is a necessity to improve “integration” results. This means to focus on matching the people that require our assistance with what we have to offer. It implies fundamentally optimizing and maximizing the number of people to support. In order to do so it makes sense to differentiate between education levels and, the mostly related, cultural adaptability levels.

Educated or skilled people

The first group consists of those educated or with established skills. As long as people in this category achieve or have the opportunity to accomplish a maybe poor but dignified life where they are currently located, there is, from a humanitarian point of view, little reason to help them to resettle. Their frequent wish for improvements to their quality of life is fully legitimate of course, but supply and demand based economical migration mechanisms are in place to regulate this. Although skilled people often face fewer barriers to adapt elsewhere and can generally easily contribute to any economy, they are also the ones who are actually most desperately needed to rebuild their own country after a crisis. Thus, while it can still be useful to support them to upgrade their skills, it makes much less sense to enable permanent resettlement if there is a chance for them to rebuild home. Increasing personal prosperity is no criterion for humanitarian assistance. However, if a dignified life is no longer possible at their origin, they are of course fully entitled to resettlement like anyone else. Still, they remain the group that needs the least attention because they are mostly able to culturally adapt by themselves almost anywhere.

Non-educated people facing obstacles to culturally adapt elsewhere

At the other side of the spectrum there are people with little or no education or professional skills. They naturally deserve our help, but the question is whether resettlement to a culturally very different location, where they will face severe unbridgeable long-term difficulties to adapt, makes sense in this situation. It starts with learning a new language, which is very hard if one lacks basic education or is illiterate. Without attaining such proper communication skills, it is impossible to adapt and to become part of a new society. The international community is simply often incapable to offer proper reinclusion in this case. If people are thus in need of permanent support regardless of where they are located, it is preferable to focus on resettling people to those safe areas with an as small as possible cultural gap and provide financial support there. This includes a focus on the education of their children in order to escape these limitations. For now, it is better for this group to stay, if viable, in their region of origin. Local or regional solutions are the right answer here.

People with educations gaps, reinclusion

For the last group, with education- or skills-gaps, resettlement can make a big difference. Whereas they are currently fully dependent on permanent support at their origin, people can become self-sustainable after bridging their education- or skills-gap elsewhere. It means that they can achieve reinclusion and rebuild their lives. This implies investing in people’s cultural and professional adaptation which should then lead to a situation beneficial for both migrant and host. Through individualized education people can be prepared for “on demand” labor participation. However, in the light of robotization and the future use of AI/VR/AR, the goal should not primarily be to achieve such employment as quick as possible since this mostly results in obtaining low level jobs and social inequality. Therefore the target should be instead to explore the full potential of people in order to be able to maximize their future contribution to a society. Exactly this is what the Refival initiative wants to achieve with its reinclusion approach. Sometimes resettlement is not even necessary and investment in people’s current local economy and their education would be sufficient. However, more often, there are structural deficits and insufficient opportunities to be found in the areas where people are originating from. Last but not least, since there are clear benefits for the host side as well, it will be easier to allocate the necessary funds for investing in people if one opts for resettlement.

Conclusion

Although emergency aid for Türkiye and Syria has currently the highest priority, the international community at the same time needs to think about longer-term structural solutions for the people struck by the earthquake who are forced to relocate. The current European approach of fencing and increasing border protection may reduce the number of people arriving, but this for sure does not contribute nor has any positive impact on assisting those permanently displaced. By changing our focus towards organized resettlement we can have such effect though. Of course there are limitations to this approach and we will have to optimize matching. This means that the international community should direct its attention to those who need our assistance and who we are able to structurally help by offering opportunities. Looking at the great number of declining communities in Europe and their need for additional inhabitants, substantial synergy can be found though. Therefore, a substantial amount of permanently displaced people could be resettled and offered a new European start in life this way.

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