This initiative aims to provide support to asylum seekers from Syria. The Istanbul Initiative works as a partner of the national ASAM (Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants), organisation, which is concerned with the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, regardless of race, religion, nationality or political conviction, and aims to defend the human rights of international migrants in Turkey (SGDD, 2014). ASAM was founded in 1995, with the ASAM Istanbul Initiative launched in 2014 to provide support specifically to Syrian people. The organisation develops public awareness projects, improves the living conditions of migrants (education, health, sheltering etc.), establishes communication networks between asylum-seekers and provides them with consultancy services (psychological, legal, educational). Among their target group of Syrian refugees, the initiative also concerns itself with the problems of Syrian LGBTT (Lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and transvestite) people and other diverse groups among the Syrian applicants.
Syrian immigrants, especially the poor, are particularly at risk of marginalisation and social exclusion. While the rich families can find shelter and job opportunities, and can more easily be integrated to the local community, this is extremely difficult for the low skilled poor families. They are less likely to get access to the public services they require and live in a very segregated way. Social cohesion can only be achieved if people have access to quality public services that respond to their needs, particularly social and health services. Thus, investing in such services and enabling them to provide accessible and affordable services is essential to ensure their participation in society. That is what ASAM Istanbul is trying to achieve. According to ASAM Istanbul project coordinator, Gizem Demirci Al Kadaah, from January 20 to February 10, approximately 3000 Syrians applied to the organisation for guidance and consultancy services and received support (SGDD, 2014).
The organisational structure of the ASAM Istanbul branch comprises a project coordinator, two project assistants, two finance associates, four consultants and several community workers. It works in collaboration with the UNHCR as an “implementing partner”, besides with governmental bodies and local authorities for the provision of logistic support. To increase visibility and raise awareness on migration issues, the organisation works in collaboration with private firms, especially from the media and press. Its main financial backers are the UNHCR and the Delegation of the European Union to Turkey, with secondary sources including funds and grants from EU projects, individual donations and membership fees.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
ASAM Istanbul contributes implicitly to the assistance of diversity by trying to empower the Syrian refugees, who do not have any channels to integrate with the local community, by initiating participatory projects and solidarity networks. With its guidance and consultancy services, the organisation supports Syrian migrants and expedites their social integration process by facilitating bureaucratic operations. The organisation also takes into account the diversity within its focus group (Syrian migrants). Socio-demographic, socio-economic, ethnic and cultural differences are identified among the focus group, and consultancy services are provided accordingly. The long-term objective of this organisation is to enhance social mobility (via solidarity networks) and social cohesion (via promoting participatory projects and the integration of disadvantaged groups into society etc.) of asylum seekers.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Having a well-defined target group is an important factor in enabling this initiative to reach people with real needs. It has served considerable numbers of refugees, although the initiative is quite new. According to Gizem Demirci Al Kadaah, the project coordinator, it is too early to talk about the successes and failures of the organisation, because ASAM Istanbul has been active only for a month, and still they face some organisational obstacles (lack of a sufficient database, structural problems in the building, etc.) in their efforts to carry out all activities.
Moreover, although there has been improvement in the legislation in regards to asylum and migration, in practice, the deficiencies of immigration and Turkish asylum system create problems in working with Syrian refugees. Although the decision in October 2011 by the government that defined a break from the initial practice of referring to the refugees as “guests,” to “temporary protection”, still the legal status for the refugees is not clear. The recent Law on Foreigners and International Protection is helpful to provide a comprehensive framework for protecting and assisting all asylum-seekers and refugees, but still the status of Syrian refugees has uncertainties. This situation is an important obstacle to find the ways to provide help the people who are asking for support, besides increasing financial needs for the provision of services.
ASAM Istanbul is one of the several initiatives that work for a specific migrant group in the provision of guidance and consultancy. It aims to enhance a tolerant and diverse society, and accepts that support for immigrants is very important in this respect, especially against the threats of racism. It addresses explicitly the problems of asylum seekers, who are almost invisible, and provides them with help. The personal socio-psychological consultancy services provided to immigrants seem quite innovative when compared to the group-based services of other organisations. ASAM Istanbul can be considered as more enthusiastic than other NGOs in its creation of new projects based on the problems and needs of Syrian migrants.
 There were only 635 asylum applications from Syrian nationals between 1995 and 2013. This picture changed dramatically after April 2011, when the first Syrian refugees crossed the border into Turkey. Three years later, the country hosts some 900,000 Syrian refugees—220,000 of them living in 22 refugee camps with an additional more than 700,000 living outside of the camps (Kirişçi, 2014)
 The total financial resources are not available. However, we know that the financial requirements for UNHCR’s operation in Turkey have increased dramatically. The overall budget for Turkey in 2014 is set at USD 195 million, with the majority of the budget (USD 164.1 million) devoted to the emergency response for Syrians (Kirişçi, 2014).