Stylianides’ plan to give refugees debit cards

EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Christos Stylianides, during a visit to Iraq. [European Commission]

EU Humanitarian Aid Commission Christos Stylianides on Thursday (8 September) announced a plan to give refugees in Turkey debit cards, funded by the EU, to pay for basic needs.

The money for the scheme, some €348 million, is not new, but part of the €3 billion package on returning migrants to Turkey agreed at the Valletta summit last October.

The humanitarian scheme, the Cypriot Commissioner said, was developed with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) as well as Turkish ministers and the Turkish Red Crescent.

Stylianides made mention of the good cooperation between EU and Turkish authorities on humanitarian aid matters, adding that work was being carried out “regardless of the political situation”.

The surprise announcement came ahead of a visit to Turkey later this week by EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini, seemingly aimed at bridge-building with the authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who accused the EU of letting him down over the failed military coup against his government.

She will be accompanied by EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

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Erdoğan’s mass arrests, and purge of not just the military and judiciary, but also academia and the media in the wake of the coup attempt created great unease in European capitals.

Nearly four years ago, the WFP and the Red Crescent launched an experimental project in which thousands of refugees began receiving cards charged with aid credits rather than boxes of basic supplies.

Working with Turkish and UN officials, the European Union said it will launch next month the programme to distribute EU-funded debit cards that will help up to one million of Turkey’s nearly three million refugees, most of them Syrian.

“The refugees in need of humanitarian assistance will receive an electronic debit card,” EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides told a press conference in Brussels to announce the plan.

“They will get monthly cash transfers to the card. And of course they will be able to buy what they need to put bread on the table for their families, to provide a roof for their families, to send their children to school instead of being forced to send them to work,” he said.

Stylianides did not give details of how much each card would be worth. When asked what terms and conditions would be imposed on what refugees could actually buy with the cards, the Commissioner could not provide specifics.

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He said the plan, worth some €348 million, is aimed at “the most vulnerable” and was more dignified than offering food hand-outs and will also boost the economy of Turkish communities where the refugees live.

The EU and Turkey have boosted cooperation since they struck a deal in March to curb the influx of migrants that has plunged Europe into its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

For its cooperation to stem the flow of migrants to Greece, Turkey won an acceleration of its long-stalled bid for EU membership, another €3 billion in aid and promises of visa-free travel for its nationals to Europe.

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Concerns that the deal could collapse have grown as both sides argue whether the other is properly implementing it and as Ankara rejects heavy criticism from Brussels over its crackdown following a failed coup in July.

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