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More than Onion and Bread: E-Food Cards for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

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The EU supports the World Food Programme (WFP) e-food card programme which allows vulnerable Syrian families to purchase nutritious food of their choosing in designated supermarkets. Photo: Jonny Hogg

The Syria conflict has forced millions to flee their country. Turkey, as host to over three million refugees, has the largest refugee population in the world. Of this total, 2.7 million are from Syria. Ninety percent of these Syrian refugees live outside the refugee camps, in urban and rural areas. They are often unaccounted for, and surviving under very challenging circumstances. Simply placing a daily meal on the family table is a major challenge for many of these refugees. The EU’s Humanitarian Aid Operations supports the World Food Programme (WFP) e-food card programme with 40 million euro which allows vulnerable Syrian families to purchase nutritious food of their choosing in designated supermarkets.

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Begum Iman, Information and Communication Assistant, Ankara, EU Humanitarian Aid Operations

Şanliurfa province in south-eastern Turkey is home to some 400 000 Syrian refugees. This makes it the region with the largest population of Syrian refugees. In the capital Şanliurfa city, 110 000 refugees live in five camps inside the city itself. The rest are surviving in and around the city.  Firas and his family are just a few of them. 

Firas left Derezor, Syria, three years ago. He first came to Şanliurfa alone to find a job and a place to stay before his family joined him in Turkey. He stayed in an abandoned cave which was used for protecting sheep, often going without food for days.  Firas managed to find odd jobs, sometimes working as a porter, or a warden for olive trees or feeding farm animals. He built a shack and finally called his wife and four children to join him in Turkey. When asked if it was difficult to build the shack, he smiles and replies, "I used to work in construction in Syria."

Given their difficulties, the family qualified for food assistance through the WFP e-food card. Firas is very grateful for the card. Having this card is a big relief for him because every month he can go to the supermarket to buy basic food items for his family. Just like any family, they can now gather around and enjoy traditional Syrian dishes prepared by Firas' wife Fatma.

Kevser, aged 13 and Firas' and Fatma's only daughter, sets her glass of water down and starts to eat. Firas is immensely proud of his daughter, explaining that she attends one of the schools for Syrian refugee children, “She is the best student in her school,” he declares with a smile.

Before she joined her father in Turkey, she told him over a phone conversation that she would do anything to go to school in Turkey. ”I am ready to only eat onions and bread as long as I can continue my education in Turkey.

The EU’s Humanitarian Aid Operations supports this e-food card scheme in order to help many others like Kevser to complete their education. By having more than just onion and bread to feed their children, parents now have sufficient nutritious food of their choosing. This allows thousands of children to attend school, returning a sense of normalcy to their uprooted lives.

Read more about the #MoreThanFoodEU campaign.