Artworks expressing the unique viewpoint of women refugees in Turkey went on display at the Cermodern gallery in Ankara on 28th of November following a 3-month art initiative carried out within the framework of the European Union (EU) funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) cash assistance programme for refugees.
In the Umudun Renkleri initiative, 12 Syrian women learned art techniques from Turkish instructors and then used the techniques to create works reflecting their experiences of fleeing the war in Syria and seeking safety in Turkey.
The experimental initiative, in which the women learnt serigraphy, patchwork and linocut techniques, was carried out under the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net programme, implemented by the UN World Food Programme, the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish Government.
“Producing this art helped me come to terms with the past and to move on from those experiences,” said Salha, one of the women involved in the Umudun Renkleri project.
The Umudun Renkleri initiative is a pilot project aimed at helping refugees to use art as a way of dealing with their experiences and of moving on mentally. At the same time, the project and the exhibition are intended as a tool for fostering better understanding of the refugee community in Turkey.
“The works on display here offer a window onto the emotional journey that these women have undertaken since becoming refugees,” said Nils Grede, WFP representative in Turkey. “The fact that they were even able to take part in this project shows that, with the help of all of us, they have regained a certain stability in their lives”.
All of the artists said that receiving cash assistance through ESSN had helped them significantly to adjust to their life in Turkey.
Some 1.5 million refugees currently covered by the ESSN programme receive 120 TL for each family member every month on a special debit card; in the meanwhile, within ESSN the beneficiary households are supported with top-ups periodically. The card can be used to withdraw cash or to purchase items in shops, like any other debit card. Families also receive a quarterly ‘top-up’.
Turkish Red Crescent Deputy Director General Alper Küçük said: ‘’The assistance programme that we implement with the ESSN card (Kızılaykart) preserves the dignity of people in need and has become a pilot project in the world. Refugees have the freedom to buy what they need. The happiness of a mother who has a chance to cook what her children want to eat at dinner cannot be described.”
Surveys show that families spend the ESSN money on a range of basic needs, including rent, food, medicines and school equipment for children. This approach also benefits the local economy.
“With nearly €1 billion in EU funding, the Emergency Social Safety Net is improving lives of the refugees and their host communities in Turkey” said Claudia Amaral, the Head of the EU’s Humanitarian Office in Ankara. “By covering the basic needs of the refugees, ESSN programme improves the living conditions of the refugees in Turkey and allows them to also engage in social activities.”
With almost 4 million refugees within its borders, Turkey is hosting the largest refugee population in the world. Most have been driven from their homes in Syria by conflict there and are now living in villages and towns in Turkey, rather than in camps. The most vulnerable among them depend entirely on the support of the ESSN programme.
The ESSN is the largest humanitarian project funded by the EU in terms of the number of people it supports and the scale of the EU’s contribution. The European Union has so far channeled approximately $US1.2 billion into the ESSN programme.