Localising advocacy on the protection and rights of refugees and the communities that host them is meant to be a key policy priority for international humanitarian actors. Yet in practice, advocacy approaches replace rather than complement the advocacy efforts of people in crisis, and fail to empower local and national actors, leading to siloes.
Despite a renewed focus on this topic since the Grand Bargain 2.0’s newly endorsed framework, little attention has so far been paid to translating localisation commitments into practice. ‘Refugee advocacy in Turkey: from local to global’ examines these dynamics in Turkey and offers a number of recommendations to enhance future interactions between local/national and international actors in refugee advocacy.
Humanitarian action is not always as local as possible
The research highlights serious gaps in efforts to shift humanitarian response to be ‘as local as possible, as international as necessary’, where refugee advocacy is concerned. This comes despite the existence of active, diverse and highly capable civil society actors in Turkey who have played a critical role in refugee response for decades. Here’s what we found:
- The advocacy agendas of local/national organisations in Turkey and international organisations don’t always align: the former are more likely to focus their advocacy on the day-to-day rights and well-being of refugees and host communities, while also addressing longer-term issues such as social cohesion. In contrast, international actors appear to be more influenced by donor priorities and more reactive to the operational environment in Turkey. These differences are an obstacle to creating a shared advocacy agenda centred on the rights of refugees and host communities.
‘When it comes to advocacy, rather than providing support to national and local NGOs, INGOs act more like shackles’(interview with local organisation)
- Where partnerships exist, they are largely tokenistic or extractive of local and national actors, and shaped by a funding system that demands compliance, while lacking mutual accountability. This dynamic was seen as an extension of the sub-contracting model of partnership that prevails in the wider refugee response. As a result, collective advocacy initiatives based on shared priorities are yet to emerge.
- Local/national actors and international actors speak different languages when it comes to advocacy around the rights of refugees and host communities. It quickly became clear that protection advocacy was not a concept that local/national actors recognised or felt any ownership of. This highlights a fundamental difference in advocacy approaches, with international actors viewing ‘protection advocacy’ in relatively narrow terms and local/national actors seeing ‘refugee advocacy’ as a means to achieve any improvements in the lives of refugees, whether through (traditional) ‘protection’ or advancing their broader social and economic rights.
- Despite these challenges, both groups recognise that building long-term relationships with government actors and working in partnership with them towards strategic aims are a more effective approach to advocacy in Turkey than ‘noisier’ approaches. Moreover, the sheer diversity of advocacy approaches adopted by all types of actors could be an asset, if actors can work together to harness it.
So what needs to change?
- Advocacy on the rights of refugees and/or protection advocacy needs a unified strategy under local leadership. Collaboration with international actors should happen as and when needed, based on a thorough, mutual understanding of both groups’ capabilities and added value.
- Meaningful and equal advocacy partnerships between international and national/local actors, including refugee-led organisations, should be invested in, based on reciprocity, mutual accountability, trust and respect. Such partnerships must also acknowledge high levels of local capacity in Turkey and elsewhere.
- Implementation of advocacy around the rights of refugees and host communities should be defined through local discussions with a large and diverse stakeholder group, as well as through purposeful investment in locally led advocacy partnerships. It must be driven, and build on, the priorities and needs of refugees and host communities.
- International actors need to better recognise and constructively tackle the visible and invisible power dynamics in the humanitarian system, including in partnerships.
- Advocacy around the rights of refugees and host communities must centre on long-term and inclusive approaches, and move away from the short-termism of traditional humanitarian response towards long-term investment in building sustainable relationships.