In partnership with Turkey’s Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), UNHCR helps to alleviate the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable Syrians under temporary protection and international protection applicants and status holders.
In 2020, the world confronted a pandemic, leading to an unprecedented disruption of lives and livelihoods all around the globe. It was both a global health emergency and an unusual humanitarian challenge affecting everyone, though not equally. It brought about especially dire consequences on many of the already vulnerable groups around the globe. The pandemic’s full impacts, from restrictions on movement and access to asylum, to loss of livelihoods, worsening socio-economic conditions, and the consequences of lockdowns, are threatening the rights, safety, and lives of millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. UNHCR is working to mitigate and minimize these effects through various programmes across the world, with vital help from its partners and donors.
In Turkey, one of UNHCR programmes aimed at helping refugees and asylum-seekers is the Covid-19 emergency cash assistance. In order to respond to the outbreak, UNHCR initiated an emergency cash assistance programme in collaboration with the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), which targets some of the most vulnerable persons in need of international protection impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the people who benefitted from UNHCR’s COVID-19 emergency cash assistance was Ahmet, a Syrian living in İstanbul. Ahmet came to Turkey from Aleppo six years ago, escaping violence in his home country. As a father of four, he could provide for his family by working at a textile atelier. Ahmed explained that the pandemic had affected his family’s life in an unprecedented manner, as he was forced to stop working for three months. UNHCR’s cash programme was a vital support for Ahmet, providing his family some relief and allowing them to buy some much-needed groceries. Ahmet said he appreciates the assistance and wants to gain more livelihoods opportunities. In his words, Ahmet says “Do not give me the fish; but teach me to fish.”
The COVID-19 emergency cash assistance, which aims to mitigate the direct impact of the pandemic on the individuals’ living conditions and purchasing power, is in line with the one-off cash support provided by the government to vulnerable citizens of Turkey and avoids duplication with existing social safety schemes. In identifying beneficiaries for the programme, DGMM data, partner organizations and field observations were used as reference. Selection criteria has been expanded over time and UNHCR has shown extra care to include vulnerable persons in need of international protection who are not benefitting from other assistance programmes in Turkey. All beneficiaries were informed about the programme via SMS upon selection.
The distribution of the COVID-19 cash assistance started in May 2020, in respect of social distancing measures. Beneficiaries of the programme were informed to collect their entitlements at various Turkish Post Office (PTT) branches. The beneficiaries whose movements were restricted due to COVID-19 measures, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and people with disabilities and other specific needs received their cash cards at their residential addresses.
The cash assistance initially aimed to target 20,000 households across Turkey. However, in light of the unprecedented needs, and with the support from UNHCR’s donors such as EU Humanitarian Aid and the USA, UNHCR could scale up the initiative and reach many more families. The programme, which has now been concluded, reached more than 85,000 families across Turkey.
While refugees and asylum-seekers continue to deeply experience the vast social and economic repercussions of the ongoing pandemic, programmes such as the COVID-19 cash scheme can help mitigate and minimize some of the challenges faced by the most vulnerable and offer them some respite. Thank you, European Union Humanitarian Aid and the United States, for providing relief with vital assistance in the time of COVID-19 for people forced to flee their homes.