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Cash assistance reduces poverty among refugees, new study finds

ANKARA – Extreme poverty among refugees receiving EU- funded cash assistance in Türkiye has fallen by half in a little over a year, according to a new report by the World Food Programme (WFP), the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) and the World Bank.

Separate monitoring data shows that cash assistance received through the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme helped families reduce the amount of debt they are carrying by half, from about 750 TL (US$175) to 350 TL (US$82) per household. 

The number of participating refugee families living in extreme poverty dropped from 20.8 to 11.7 percent between surveys carried out in the spring and autumn of 2017, the WFP-TRC-WB study indicated.  

Funded by the European Union and delivered via a special debit card, the ESSN programme supports Türkiye's most vulnerable refugee families. It is implemented jointly by WFP, TRC and the Turkish Government. The lifeline of cash assistance that it provides covers families’ basic needs such as food, rent, medicine and clothes.

“We didn’t eat very well last Ramadan, only fried potatoes, tea and zaatar. We didn’t get proper meals in the evening. So ESSN is very important for us,” says Khadija, a mother of three whose family was not part of ESSN this time last year. “This Ramadan we’ll have yoghurt, dates and cheese.”

Families receiving ESSN assistance are less likely to sell their possessions, stint on medical expenses or take their children out of school. Data also indicates that families are eating better, with more fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products.

“The changes that the ESSN is bringing are important,” says WFP Country Director Nils Grede. “If parents can treat health problems quickly, they’re unlikely to have serious complications later. If they aren’t forced to sell their belongings or borrow money, they may be able to invest more in building a livelihood. If they can invest in their children’s education now, it will help build a better future.”

Some 1.3 million refugees currently covered by the ESSN programme receive 120 TL for each family member every month on a special debit card. The card can be used to withdraw cash or to purchase items in shops, like any other debit card. 

“This safety net programme is one of the most efficient ways of supporting millions of refugees,” said Turkish Red Crescent President Dr. Kerem Kınık. “We are very glad that we are giving freedom of choice to refugees through this programme, which demonstrates to refugees that the world is not deaf to their hardship.” 

Surveys show that families spend the money on a range of basic needs, including rent, food, medicines and school equipment for children. Some US$420 million have been channeled into the Turkish economy via the programme so far.

“The ESSN is a clear example of the strong partnership of the EU and Türkiye in finding innovative ways to address one of the most important humanitarian challenges of our times,” says Jane Lewis, the Head of EU’s Humanitarian Aid Office in Ankara. “With the commitment and work of our partners, the impact of the programme grows by the day and is making a real difference for refugees in Türkiye.”
With almost 4 million refugees within its borders, Türkiye is hosting the largest refugee population in the world. Most have been driven from their homes in Syria by conflict there and are now living in villages and towns in Türkiye, rather than in camps. The most vulnerable among them depend entirely on the support of the ESSN programme.
The ESSN is the largest humanitarian project funded by the EU in terms of the number of people it supports and the scale of the EU's contribution. The European Union has so far channeled approximately $US1.2 billion into the ESSN programme.
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The United Nations World Food Programme - saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development.  WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

The European Union and its Member States are the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid. Relief assistance is an expression of European solidarity with people in need all around the world. Through its civil protection and humanitarian aid operations department (ECHO), the European Commission helps over 120 million victims of conflict and disasters every year. 

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For more information please contact:
WFP (e-mail address:
Martin Penner, WFP/Ankara, Mob.  +39 340 246 6831
Didem Akan, WFP/Ankara, Mob. +90 538 394 3621
Mathias Eick, ECHO/Ankara, Mob. +90-5334125663
Zeynep Atılgan, ECHO/Ankara, Mob. +90 536 866 0159