The number of refugees in Turkey receiving monthly cash assistance through an innovative relief programme has now reached more than 850,000 and continues to rise. The EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) supports the most vulnerable refugee families in Turkey with a debit card to cover 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 debit card. Refugees enrolled in the programme receive 120 Turkish Lira (roughly €30) per family member every month.
“Before we received this aid, we could only have tea and bread for breakfast. We would worry about every single expense we have,” said Nora, a Syrian refugee who lives in Gaziantep with her five children and a husband who cannot work due to injury. “Now things have become much better. We also know now that we can pay the rent.”
The ESSN programme is a partnership between the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish Government.
“Within months of its launch, hundreds of thousands of refugees are being assisted through the ESSN programme,” said Jane Lewis, head of the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid office in Ankara. “This extraordinary achievement is testament to what can be achieved when the EU and Turkey work together toward a common goal.”
With more than three million refugees, Turkey is generously hosting the largest refugee population in the world. The majority of these refugees were uprooted from their homes as a result of the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Most refugees in Turkey live outside camps, in cities and villages across the country, and often struggle to cope with challenging conditions. The most vulnerable refugee families rely on the lifeline of support provided through ESSN debit card, also known as the Kizilay card.
“We are seeing how this assistance can have a significant impact on the lives of refugee families,” said Jean-Yves Lequime, WFP Country Representative in Turkey. “Receiving this money every month allows families to pay rent or school fees or buy food and medicine – whatever the need is.”
Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) President Kerem Kinik said: “We are very pleased that the Kizilay cards, which were distributed to the very first beneficiaries by the end of 2016, are reaching more than 850,000 refugees. This is thanks to the determined efforts of TRC, WFP, the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, Halkbank and other counterparts. I hope we will reach our target in the coming months and put a smile on more people’s faces.”
Refugees living in Turkey are able to apply for the programme through the Turkish Red Crescent and the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundations of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, which have been processing thousands of applications every week. Families assessed to be among the most vulnerable receive an SMS informing that they have been accepted into the programme and will receive monthly cash assistance. Families found to be ineligible can re-apply if their needs or family composition change over time.
WFP signed the partnership agreement with the EU in September 2016. The ESSN is the largest humanitarian programme funded by the EU, due to the number of people it intends to support and the importance of the EU's contribution.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.