UNICEF: A Partnership for Refugee Children in Turkey

Photo: UNICEF
Photo: UNICEF

On 30 May 2018, Head of European Union Delegation to Turkey, Ambassador Christian Berger and UNICEF Representative to Turkey, Philippe Duamelle, accompanied by UNICEF Supporter, actress Ezgi Mola, visited the Yildirim Beyazit Temporary Education Center (TEC) in Istanbul. The visit coincided with the one year anniversary of the first beneficiary payment carried out under the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE) programme for Syrian and other refugee children in Turkey. The programme supports the education of vulnerable refugee children in Turkey by providing cash support to families and has already reached over 330,000 children.

During the visit the Head of EU Delegation Ambassador Berger emphasized Turkey’s exemplary role in safeguarding the right to education for a very large number of Syrian children who have sought refuge in Turkey. Berger said “We are supporting Ministry of National Education and UNICEF in this important task. It is in all our interest that no generation is lost and children are given the prospects of a better future.”

Thanks to the CCTE programme the children can register and stay at school receiving an education which will be so crucial for their future.

Fatima*, an 11-year-old girl, greeted us with a big smile at the TEC in one of the 3rd grade classes. “I have been in school for 1 year now; my family lives near the school and we have been in Turkey for 6 years”. Fatima is the middle child between 4 older sisters and 1 younger brother – all benefiting from the CCTE programme. “I have a lot of friends here; I draw and sing, sometimes I dance too”. When we asked Fatima about her life in Turkey, she continued, “I love my Turkish language teacher, she helped me to learn to speak very good Turkish; now I can talk to my friends in our neighborhood and at my school”. She concluded by saying, “My dream job? A children’s doctor (pediatrician) of course! Everyone in the class knows that.”

The CCTE Programme aims to encourage enrolment and improve school attendance of the most vulnerable children. The programme is a national social assistance programme which has been implemented by the Ministry Family and Social Policies since 2003. In 2017 it was extended to Syrian and other refugee families and is being implemented through a close partnership between the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, the Ministry of National Education, the Turkish Red Crescent and UNICEF.

Mr. Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF Representative to Turkey, declared during the visit, “Avoiding a lost generation of Syrian children starts with protecting them, giving them a safe environment to live and grow, but also equipping them with essential skills for their future and this can only be achieved through education. UNICEF is grateful for the strong commitment of the Government of Turkey and for the generous financial support of the European Union (EU) to this important programme which makes a difference in the lives of so many children”.

In another classroom, we met Eyad*, he is 10 years old, also in the 3rd grade. Eyad is the youngest of 5 brothers and sisters and very happy to be part of the sport activities in the TEC. “I joined the school a year ago. I enjoy playing football during recess; it helps me make a lot of Turkish and Syrian friends. My favorite class is mathematics, but I still prefer to play football. One day I want to play in Real Madrid” says Eyad.

Children were very happy to see the famous actress Ezgi Mola. Ezgi and children bonded very quickly through the games and genuine conversations on child rights. She declared, “I am very happy to see the light in the eyes of all the children that we met today. Education is the right of every child. A child is a child wherever she/he lives and only education has the power of creating equal opportunities for all. I am also thanking the partners of the CCTE as they proved that by joining forces the world can be a better place for children”.

In the afternoon, the delegation visited Turkish Red Crescent Community Center in Sultanbeyli, Istanbul, to meet with vulnerable refugee families benefiting from the child protection component of the CCTE programme. The child protection component ensures the follow up on the most vulnerable children and their families and their referral to specialized services as required. This component is being implemented in 15 provinces and has already reached 35,000 children.

During the visit to the center, we met Elham*, a mother of three boys, AbdulKadir* 14 years old, Ahmed* 9 years old and Saaid* 6 years old. “We arrived to Turkey 4 years ago, after several internal displacements in Syria. We decided to leave to protect our children from the horrors of war.” “When we arrived here, the top priority for me and for my husband was to make sure our children continue their education. Especially Abdulkadir, as he missed 2 years of school in Syria due to the war” Elham said.

“At the beginning, it was very difficult. We were not able to cover the costs of our living as neither me nor my husband were working. My husband started some manual labor work, but it didn’t provide us with a stable income. When we heard about the CCTE programme, we were relieved, because at least now we can cover the costs of educating our children.” Elham concluded by saying “I don’t know where life will take us next, but now, I feel more confident that my children will have a better chance and the opportunity to decide their future after completing their education.”

The extension of the CCTE programme has been made possible by the generous support of the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), and is also supported by the Governments of Norway and the United States of America.