Mobilizing in Exile: Syrian Associational Life in Turkey and Lebanon

Killian Clarke, Gözde Güran
MERIP Report

The experience of self-organisation by Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon

The neighborhood of Narlıca sits on the outskirts of the small city of Antakya, Turkey. A spread of low-rise, brick-and-cement buildings separated by unpaved roads, Narlıca was a lightly populated working-class suburb prior to the outbreak of civil war across the border in Syria. Today, with that war dragging into its sixth year, the neighborhood has taken on a new identity as Antakya’s “little Syria.” The population has more than doubled, with Syrian residents now outnumbering Turks; most of the storefront signs are in Arabic; and newly opened schools teach the Syrian curriculum. Initially attractive for its affordable rents and proximity to downtown, Narlıca now offers its Syrian residents something less tangible, but no less significant—a sense of community and place.

But life in Narlıca can be difficult. Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees—almost 3 million—than any other country in the world, and over 80 percent of the Syrians reside in neighborhoods of Istanbul or in border towns like Antakya. But the Turkish government devotes far more resources, and the foreign media far more attention, to the 25 refugee camps in the country than to refugees living in urban areas. The international non-governmental organizations that have set up offices in Antakya tend to direct their efforts at relief inside Syria rather than refugee aid. With little access to welfare and unable to secure jobs, many of the first arrivals to Narlıca quickly fell on hard times.

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