WFP – Choice: a priceless feeling when you are a refugee

WFP-Suraj_Sharma_018Being able to pay for basic items in shops leaves Mohammad Al Hammadi with a sense that he has choices — a feeling he can only describe as priceless.

“It is not possible to describe this feeling. I feel like a human being again … I just feel better when I buy something at the store and see the shop keeper treat me just like any other customer,” says Mohammad.

The 45-year-old fled to the town of Biga in northwestern Turkey from his hometown Aleppo in 2015. His family joined him a year later. Around 18 months ago they became eligible for cash assistance under the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN).

The ESSN is a cash assistance program that helps more than 1.6 million of the most vulnerable refugees in Turkey. It is funded almost entirely by the European Union. It is jointly implemented by the World Food Programme and the Turkish Red Crescent, with vital support from the Turkish government.

The programme attempts to restore a sense of normalcy and stability to the lives of the most vulnerable refugee families. The cash assistance is used to cover essential needs like rent, bills, food, and medicine.Those receiving the cash decide for themselves how to spend it.

Families need to meet certain criteria to be eligible for cash assistance.

Food from home

The strongest memories of home held by Mohammad`s children — Khawla, Ayse Nur, Selam, Ali and Khaluf — are rooted in food. Their mom, Khadijeh, started to make a family favourite: Mulukhiyah — a vegetable-based stew popular across the Middle East and North Africa — after the family started receiving ESSN assistance.

“Being able to prepare food from home is comforting. But the real comfort is the relief I see in my husband`s eyes,” says Khadijeh.

That relief, says Mohammad, comes from the security of knowing he can pay the rent and is not reliant on infrequent part-time work to cover fixed expenses.

This feeling of relief is widely shared among the more than 1.6 million ESSN multi-purpose cash assistance recipients.

Hussein, 38, from Aleppo resides in Bursa, Turkey. He lives in a small apartment along with his extended family. His family started receiving ESSN assistance in 2017.

“Life has been very difficult but the ESSN card has made it easier. We can at least pay our rent and utility bills,” says Hussein.