Turkey currently hosts the largest refugee population in the world – close to 4 million. Some 3.6 million of them are Syrians who fled the ongoing conflict that has ravaged their country for over 10 years. The vast majority of refugees in Turkey live outside camps, with growing but still limited access to basic services. The European Union, in close cooperation with the Turkish authorities, has been assisting the most vulnerable people based on humanitarian needs. Since 2015, the EU has supported more than 80 humanitarian projects contracted with 22 partner organisations.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 98% of refugees in Turkey live outside camps under challenging and often precarious circumstances.
Turkey is making commendable efforts to provide registered refugees with access to basic rights and services, including education and healthcare. However, after years of displacement, many refugee families have depleted their resources.
The cost of living and lack of access to a regular income make it difficult for vulnerable families to meet their basic needs. Some feel they have no choice but to resort to negative coping mechanisms such as child labour or street begging. Many families reduce their food consumption or live in substandard housing.
The European Union funds humanitarian projects in Turkey to help vulnerable refugees and their host communities receive the support they need, in close coordination with the Turkish authorities. Furthermore, the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey was created in 2016 to assist Turkey in its efforts to support refugees. Under the Facility, the EU has invested €2.4 billion in humanitarian assistance in Turkey.
The EU’s humanitarian flagship programme in Turkey is the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN). The ESSN is a social assistance scheme that helps the most vulnerable among the refugee population meet their daily needs through cash assistance. Since 2016, humanitarian organisations – in collaboration with the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish government institutions – have been helping refugee families to buy what they need most, via EU-funded debit cards.
The ESSN is the single largest humanitarian programme in the history of the EU and assists more than 1.8 million people. In addition, EU-funded partner organisations have distributed over 700,000 e-vouchers, food parcels or kits with other urgently needed items.
To help vulnerable refugees during the coronavirus pandemic, the EU has further adapted its humanitarian response to meet new challenging needs. For example, the EU provided an additional one-off cash payment to help refugees with the devastating economic impacts of coronavirus.
Since 2017, the EU has also been supporting vulnerable refugee families whose children attend school regularly through bi-monthly cash transfers under the Conditional Cash Transfers for Education (CCTE). This is the EU's largest-ever humanitarian programme for education in emergencies. It currently assists over 668,900 children and it is expected to help more than 700,000 children to continue their education until early 2022. Thanks to EU funding, around 20,000 Syrian refugee children and young people also enrolled in accelerated learning programmes to help them make up for lost years of schooling. They attend basic literacy, numeracy classes and Turkish language courses. The EU is also providing transport to over 1,000 children per month to facilitate their attendance to their formal and non-formal education activities.
These programmes are complemented by other humanitarian aid projects addressing protection issues, including legal counselling, psychosocial support, access to civil documentation, and specialised healthcare services. For example, EU funding has enabled partner organisations to provide over 1 million primary healthcare consultations to refugees in Turkey.
In addition to ongoing projects funded via the Facility, the EU has allocated €32.5 million between 2012 and 2014 as well as additional €531.7 million in humanitarian funding for 2020. This includes €485 million to ensure that the CCTE and ESSN continue supporting the most vulnerable refugees in Turkey until early 2022.