A groundbreaking programme to support refugees in Turkey is providing monthly cash assistance to vulnerable families at an unprecedented scale. Just a year after its launch, the European Union-funded programme is reaching 1 million refugees, most of them from war-torn Syria.
This Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme provides refugee families with debit cards to cover their basic needs such as food, rent, medicine and clothes. The cards can be used to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine (ATM), or to purchase items in shops like any other debit card.
Macide, a Syrian refugee who lives in Hatay with her husband and children says that previously, they struggled to pay the rent with the family’s meagre income.
“Life was hard before we got this card,” she says. “But now we’re getting by. Now, we can pay the rent, the bills and buy food every month.”
Monitoring over the first year of ESSN shows that families spend their cash assistance primarily on food, utilities and rent. Most welcome the flexibility offered by the system, which provides 120 Turkish Lira (roughly US$34) per family member every month as well as periodic top-ups.
The ESSN programme is a partnership between the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the Turkish Red Crescent, and the Turkish Government. It is currently the biggest cash assistance operation for refugees anywhere in the world.
“Today is a milestone for the life-changing results achieved by our biggest ever aid programme; and for the EU delivering on its commitments to Turkey. We have made a difference for a staggering 1 million people already. With the commitment and work of our partners, the impact of the programme grows by the day. Turkey continues to host the largest refugee population in the world. It is our humanitarian and moral duty to help refugees that have fled war and persecution,” says Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides.
With more than three million refugees within its borders, Turkey is hosting the largest refugee population in the world. More than 90 percent of these refugees were uprooted from their homes by conflict in neighbouring Syria. Other nationalities include Iranians, Iraqis and Afghans.
Most refugees in Turkey live in cities and villages rather than in camps and often struggle to cope with challenging conditions. The ESSN programme provides a lifeline of support to families trying to provide stability for their children. For every five refugees covered by ESSN, three are children.
“This assistance is changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugee families across Turkey,” says WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “It will help ensure they have a roof over their heads, can send their children to school and have access to nutritious food. This programme is also a spark for the local economy, giving a boost to the Turkish communities which are generously hosting and helping refugees.”
Monitoring shows that refugees receiving ESSN support tend to have a more nutritious diet and less debt than those not in the programme. Participating families are also less likely to resort to begging as a way of getting income.
Turkey’s Minister of Family and Social Policies Dr. Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya says: “Out of humanitarian duty and because of our strong ties in the region, Turkey opened its doors to people fleeing from war zones, particularly Syria, and did not let national borders stand in the way of humanitarian duty. With its strong digital infrastructure, the Integrated Social Aid Information System of our Ministry has been and will be crucial for implementing the Emergency Social Safety Net in a fast, digital, transparent and objective way, from the application stage right through to the cash transfer.”
“The point the Emergency Social Safety Net Programme has reached today is something to be proud of, as it is carried out to make sure that the rights of millions of refugees coming from Africa, Asia and the Middle East who are hosted by Turkey are protected, that they are not subjected to oppression, do not become vulnerable and are not excluded from society,” says Dr. Kerem Kınık, Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) President. “This project which sets an example to the world will end some day but its positive impact will be talked about for years.”
WFP signed the partnership agreement with the EU in September 2016. ESSN is the largest humanitarian project funded by the EU due to the number of people it plans to support and the size of the EU’s contribution.