An innovative partnership in the assistance programme for Syrian refugees in Turkey

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Turkish Red Crescent teams have been providing support in cities across the country. [Turkish Red Crescent website]

Alper Küçük and Nils Grede provide insight into the use of the EU’s Facility for Refugees in Turkey, which enables much-needed cash transfers to one and a half million vulnerable refugees living in host communities in Turkey.

Alper Küçük is the chief international officer & deputy director general of the Turkish Red Crescent, Nils Grede is the country director for the World Food Programme.

The humanitarian assistance programme for Syrian refugees in Turkey was established less than a year after the global community met in Istanbul for the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), concluding with a call for action to strengthen humanitarian assistance.

At that gathering, one of the key commitments was to empower national and local humanitarian action by reinforcing local systems and investing in local capacities; an ambitious commitment which implied changing the established way of working, shifting the balance of power from international organisations towards national actors.

It was in this context that the EU and Turkey asked the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) to design and help implement the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme with funding from the EU’s Facility for Refugees in Turkey.

This programme, worth almost €1bn over 2 years, has now provided much-needed cash transfers to one and a half million vulnerable refugees living in host communities in Turkey, helping them buy food, pay rent and utilities and cover other basic expenses.

The stakes were high: cash programming on that scale was still a novelty and the ESSN would be the largest single cash programme ever implemented anywhere in the world. To respond to this challenge, WFP and TRC have put in place a new form of partnership.

Rather than an international body commissioning a national organisation to implement its decisions, the partners, including the Government and the donor, jointly designed the programme from the onset in participatory workshops.

We agreed on how to identify the most vulnerable refugees and assess their needs, how to register them for the new programme using the existing national infrastructure and how to allow refugees to access their assistance safely.

Refugees were given a debit card to be credited with a monthly allowance that was agreed by all partners, based on an estimate of what is required to cover essential needs such as rent, utilities, food and other basic items.

At the start of the programme in late 2016, the transfer amounted to 100 Turkish Lira per person per month, though this was later increased to 120 Turkish Lira (equivalent today to approximately €18). The partners also added periodic top-ups which were larger for smaller families to compensate for economies of scale benefitting larger households.

All along, WFP and TRC jointly started monitoring the programme, informing the implementation and clearly demonstrating the improvement this assistance brought to the refugees’ situation.

One innovation that supported this decision-making mechanism was the creation of a joint office whereby the two partners sat under one roof, combining their respective ideas and ways of working on a daily basis.

Teams were divided by workstreams rather than agency, including registration and application, enrolment and verification, transfer management, protection, monitoring and evaluation, and beneficiary communication.

The joint setup and way of working helped overcome any misunderstanding between the two agencies, creating a more fluid way of communicating and cooperating. As simple as it may appear, this type of work structure had not been used before in major humanitarian programmes.

Through the joint office, each partner brought its own experience to the programme. TRC, as a national society with an auxiliary role to the government, knew the local context, had a strong footprint throughout Turkey and had some experience in providing cash assistance to refugees via bank cards jointly with WFP.

They knew the local financial services providers and understood and supported the existing national safety net system that was used to channel assistance. For its part, WFP contributed with its international work culture, expertise in assessing vulnerability and needs, safety nets disbursing cash, as well as its experience in monitoring and evaluation and accountability to beneficiaries.

So far, the programme is proving a success based on data gathered jointly from refugees by phone and through face to face surveys conducted throughout Turkey. The latest monitoring survey on spending patterns and consumption habits conducted in November 2018 showed on average people spend 40% on food, one third on rent and the rest on health, education and other basic goods.

Their overall economic situation has improved greatly over the duration of the programme. Food consumption has improved and debt levels decreased. Just as importantly, families are less likely to take children out of school, get into more debt or sell valuable assets to cover bills.

Many of the same families were further supported by a sister cash programme implemented by UNICEF and TRC to provide incentives for children to go to school.

Like in many growing ventures, both partners have faced challenges but were able to overcome them and, more importantly, achieve the hoped-for results. Now, an external consulting company will evaluate the joint office to work out the next steps in preparation for the future, building on the current strengths.

WFP and TRC have shown that integrated partnerships can work, embodying the spirit of Sustainable Development Goal 17 which promotes increased global partnership to ensure no one is left behind, also called the Agenda 2030 agreed by all UN member states.

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