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Jane Howard works for the Division of Communications at WFP’s Rome headquarters.
WFP is providing Syrian refugees in Turkey with electronic vouchers they can use to buy some of their favourite foods from home at local shops. One of few comforts to families living in camps like the ones in Hatay, the programme has also given a boost to the local economy.
HATAY—A young Syrian mother rocks the cradle of her one-month old baby boy Yusuf, born in exile in Turkey. Aziza now lives in a tent in a refugee camp near the Syrian border after fleeing the civil war, but her thoughts are never far away from home.
“The most important thing to me is that although he was born here, I want him to go back to see his homeland, to go back and to be there at home,” she said.
Aziza is one of more than 20,000 Syrians living in Turkey who receive electronic vouchers to buy food to feed their families.
WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent provide them with an “e-card” which is credited with 80 Turkish Lira (US$45) per person per month which she can spend in 15 different shops in the nearby town of Yayladagi.
It means that even shopping can bring back the taste of home.
“I like it because now I can cook exactly the same things we used to cook in Syria,” she said. “Coming from a village, we used to grow our own vegetables, and now we have the opportunity to buy things that I used to grow and make the same type of food that we used to cook back home.”
Aziza has not seen her husband in 8 months as he stayed behind in Syria. She told us she was worried, as she had not heard from him in 21 days. The sound of shelling across the border was faintly audible in the background. Then, her phone rang. It was her husband, saying that he was fine.
The Turkish government estimates that around 200,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey, and has set up 14 camps. Some, like Yayladagi Yibo, are tented campsites. Others are in disused buildings such as tobacco warehouses and others are made up of rows of prefabricated containers.
In the nearby town of Altinozu, former chef and restaurant owner Hossein Mohammad struggled on a crutch to shop with his wife. “We were in a firefight and while we were fighting, all of a sudden I got six bullets in my stomach."
We came here to seek medical treatment – not because we wanted to leave Hama,” he said. He too said he appreciates the fact that the e-card system means he can cook what he wants, when he wants to, for his family of 12.
And the electronic voucher system is good for the local economy, as refugees spend the money in nearby shops. Baker Yusuf Coban, who like many Hatay residents speaks both Turkish and Arabic, started to produce the Arab flatbread that Syrians prefer -- and has tripled his business.
“I’m selling 700-800 flatbreads a day. I started out by selling them at the camp but now that there’s an agreement with the Red Crescent and WFP, citizens started shopping in the town centre, so local shops have started to earn money and it’s good for business,” he said.