A migration research center located in Turkey's southeast Gaziantep province, which hosts a very large number of Syrian refugees, has been addressing the migration issue by conducting academic research with an aim of raising awareness and contributing to social cohesion. The rector of Hasan Kalyoncu University, Edibe Sözen, told Daily Sabah that the KaLMIREC Migration research center is one of the university's eight research centers. Pointing to the high number of Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, Sözen said that "the center was particularly established in the city center aiming to address all issues related to migration." Sözen underlined that the university attaches great significance to the research centers to provide the necessary academic perspective on important issues.
When the civil war broke out in the neighboring Syria, Turkey's first reaction was to pursue an open-door policy for people fleeing the war and meet their basic needs. Currently the focus is more on the social and cultural aspects of the migration. In order to conduct research on the developments regarding migration, Hasan Kalyoncu University KaLMIREC Migration Research Center, located in the central part of Gaziantep, was launched in 2017.
The director of the research center, Emel Topçu, highlighted that Gaziantep sits at the heart of research for migration as the province has become home for many Syrians.
Topçu underlined that their activities have been pawing way for building bridges between the people living together in Gaziantep and eliminating the prejudices that people have about each other.
"We aim to strengthen the empathy between people. For instance, during women's day we organized a series of events. We have visited the pastry shop opened by a Syrian woman who was previously working as a lawyer," Topçu said and added that in the meeting titled "Let's eat sweet and talk sweet," Syrian and Turkish women came together on women's day to discuss their common experiences.
Topçu underscored that with such events people have the opportunity to get to know each other which directly changes their perceptions.
The conflict in Syria that started in 2011 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced more than 5 million people to flee, while more than 7 million have been internally displaced. Refugees mainly took shelter in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, with Turkey hosting the largest number of refugees.
Fatma Özcan, the coordinator at the migration research center, said that the center focuses on migration and conducts research, produces analyses and collects them into a book in cooperation with many Turkish and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
As the ongoing civil war in the neighboring Syria prompted large numbers of people to flee to Turkey and Gaziantep is a transit province, Özcan said that Syria top their agenda in the research center.
With an aim of raising awareness on the issue of migration, the center conducts a project with young entrepreneurs. Accordingly, the center provides training to 20 undergraduate students aimed at raising them with skills of empathy and examining the issues related to the migration. The students who complete the training with a certificate will be able to give training to others in public schools and collect data for the center.
"With this training program students have been informed about the false facts that they previously thought were true. They also develop empathy acknowledging the underlying reasons for migration," Özcan said.
Considering that the women are the most affected group by wars, the center also conducts a project named, "Being a woman in Mesopotamia." The representatives of Turkish and Syrian NGOs convene once a month with a different topic regarding the issues related to the women such as the women's situation during war or peace. The center has held two meetings so far and will hold six meetings in total. In these meetings, women share their stories to find out their differences and common points as women of Mesopotamia. This way they build a bridge to understand each other and reflect on their similarities. Following the last meeting, the center aims to hold a summit in order to evaluate the results of these meetings and prepare it for academic publishing.
In relation to the Syrian people's adaptation to life in Gaziantep, Özcan said, "It can be said that Syrians have adapted more particularly in the last year. They hold onto life finding jobs for themselves."
Özcan underlined that "the people of Gaziantep have given a warm welcome to the Syrians fleeing a horrible war. When we talk to them, they say that the architecture and cuisine in Gaziantep are similar to theirs."
Focusing on the topic of education and migration from the Syrian students' perspective, the center also conducted a research project on Syrian students who attend public schools, the school administration and teachers.
The aim of the project is to understand the Syrian students' perception of their school and social lives, determine the problems they face and provide suggestions for resolution. Some 526 Syrian students who go to public schools participated in surveys for the project while comprehensive interviews were made with 11 school administrations. The center plans to turn the research into a book in one month.
Following that, surveys will be conducted with Turkish students in order to shed light into the process of social cohesion, examining both groups of students.
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