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"Access to services is what needs to be addressed"

Volkan Pirinccis family is originally from southeast Turkey. Volkan was born and raised in Istanbul. He has been in the NGO sector for over eight years working with various organizations focusing especially on youth. When the Syria crisis begun, he decided to take part in the humanitarian response as well: he initially worked with the Turkish Red Crescent and now since a year is working for Support to Life (STL), Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe’s local partner. Volkan is the Area Coordinator in Sanliurfa, Kayseri and Istanbul for the new project “Enhancing access to effective services and protection for people of concern in Turkey”. Funded by the European Commissions’ Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the project was launched last November and will run until October of this year. In light of the changing environment in Turkey, with the Government of Turkey taking over an increasing role in the refugee response, the goal of this project is to further support refugees in accessing their rights and services across the country and thus support them in addressing protection needs such as education, health and work by better linking them to national services. The operational area under the ‘protection program’ is being expanded geographically to focus on the Mediterranean coast and central Turkey as well. In addition to the protection related services, beneficiaries in Hatay received winterization support in December.

Volkan found time to sit down with me and answers some questions.

MM: Can you give us an overview on the new project?
Volkan Pirincci :
STL has been on the ground since the beginning of the crisis. We started of course by addressing the basic needs of Syrian refugees. For a long time we have continued with this task, until recently with the introduction of this new project. Immediately after addressing the basic needs – actually they should run in parallel – comes protection. With the crisis soon in its seventh year, protection should become more visible. Children are growing up and they need to go to school, people suffer health problems, there is still the language barrier.

Therefore, there are still many obstacles that we need to overcome. Thus, together with Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, we have decided to expand our protection program. The new project has two main components: the bigger component is protection. We proposed to open additional case management offices within Turkey. The second component is winterization which already took place a few months ago. Around 24.000 people benefited from the winterization component. For protection, we are expecting to handle direct cases, which means opening a file and accompanying the person through all the steps until reaching the right service. Additionally, we will be giving a large number of informative sessions.

MM: Why is protection important now?
Volkan Pirincci:
Nobody expected that the Syrian crisis would go this far and that Turkey would be affected this much. Neither the Government nor NGOs were expecting three million people settling in Turkey. Firstly, it created a capacity problem. In all sectors – health, education, shelter – there was an external load. Turkey is trying to adapt quickly, but because of issues like the language barrier and social acceptance, an important protection need still remains. There are many services available, but people’s access is what needs to be addressed.

Our protection approach allows to serve as the link between the people and the available services. In some cases we will be giving language support, in other cases we will be giving documentation support. In some severe cases, we will need to work with the police or the Ministry of Social Affairs. We, as an organization, position ourselves as a link between the people and the services.

MM: What lessons have we learned until now?
Volkan Pirincci:
From our past experience in case management, some of our lessons learned are: we need to have a solid relationship with authorities at a Ministry level. Secondly, concentrating on constructive advocacy during implementation is another important point for us to work on.

MM: How is the NGO landscape changing today in Turkey?
Volkan Pirincci:
As I mentioned, we are in the crisis’s sixth year. Protection is a very basic first step to cover, but then of course social cohesion and economic integration are the next steps to be taken.  STL and many other NGOs are now designing projects that address these issues.

MM: What major challenges are you facing?
Volkan Pirincci:
From an operational point of view: one of the main challenges is going into new cities and being accepted there, creating all the new relationships with the local authorities and the host community. However we are already addressing this by creating links and communicating with all stakeholders. From programmatic or let’s say people’s perspective: the language barrier is still the biggest problem. In the South East of Turkey there are already a lot of Kurdish and Arabic speaking people that share a common language with refugees. It’s very easy to find someone from the host community that can help you, for example, to do your shopping. However when it comes to Istanbul or central Anatolia, not knowing the language is one of the key obstacles for people.

MM: Which type of services are the most demanded in case management?
Volkan Pirincci:
Health and education are the most demanded, but it depends on the time of the year. When it’s the season before the school year starts, many people approach asking for help registering their children or because they don’t know in which grade their child should start after being out of school for three or more years. If we discuss health: Syrian refugees can benefit from the Turkish health system, but those who are not registered only have access to emergency treatment. Additionally, in some cases they struggle to cover the cost of certain medical devices. Finally, when we do assessments, we also encounter other severe cases such as domestic violence, early marriage and a huge number of child labour cases. When we take a step closer to the people and gain their trust, that’s when we discover there are many other protection needs.

MM: What actions should be taken to facilitate the integration of refugees in Turkey?
Volkan Pirincci:
There are already many steps taken, for example, Syrian refugees now are allowed to legally work in Turkey with work permits. I think this process should be promoted more widely. What we observe at the moment is that still many Syrians are working without permits, which means they cannot benefit from the social security services. And education is very important. Now the first graders should directly attend Turkish schools. For young children it’s quite easy to learn the language, but for a 12 or 14-year-old access to education is still a problem due to the language barrier. That is how education and language are linked. Thirdly, people cannot live forever depending on aid. We need to find sustainable solutions so people can integrate into the economy, depend on their own income and have the opportunity to earn as much as they can, not limited to the amount of aid they are given.

MM: What are you most looking forward to?
Volkan Pirincci:
I would like to start with what we have already achieved . For example, disabled Syrian children could not benefit from special education for a long time. There was nothing official published about this and the municipality did not know whether it was possible or not. However our field teams in Sanliurfa really did a great advocacy job: they went through all the regulations and they found out that actually there is nothing that prohibits the registration of disabled Syrian children in special education centres. That was a good step. I think what we do is actually not only helping people on a case-by-case basis, but also engaging in advocacy and working very close with the authorities in order to obtain durable solutions. An ideal approach is to open the channels for people to reach the available services themselves. So, to create more sustainable links would be the best possible outcome of this project and therefore what I most look forward to.

MM: What is your wish for the future?
Volkan Pirincci:
Of course disasters always occur and we always categorize them as natural or man-made. My real wish is that at least we will be more prepared for natural ones and that the NGOs will be less needed for man-made ones.

MM: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Volkan Pirincci:
I have always worked for NGOs and I think I will still be working for one, somewhere, for some good reason. I am experienced in operations, I am not such a programmatic type of person, but rather the one on the ground, in the field. So I guess I will be in the field somewhere, maybe married and with some children, but still in the field working for operations.

Interview by Maria del Mar Marais


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