Skip to main content
European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

The cost of living in safety

Aid worker walking on a road in the refugee settlement
Refugee settlements near Adana
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Diego Cupolo)

Nacah and Ahmed live in Turkey. They both fled the war in Syria with their families to find safety and support. But as many refugees in Turkey, they are struggling to make ends meet.

“Every month it is a challenge. Prices for food, fuel and health care are rocketing. More and more, we need to choose what to pay first,” explains Nacah.

EU-funded cash assistance helps refugees in Turkey like Nacah and Ahmed cope with harsh living conditions.

Nacah fled Damascus in the middle of the Syrian war 8 years ago. Today, she lives in the Turkish town of Nizip, some 50 kilometres from the Syrian border.

6 days a week, she works in a local dessert shop, earning an income that barely covers her family’s needs. Nacah lives with her son, whose hands were heavily injured by shelling and who is unable to work despite several operations.

Nacah also takes care of her daughter and a 5-year-old granddaughter. Following the difficult divorce of her parents, the little girl is still waiting for ID papers, making it impossible to attend school in the meantime.

Asking her about the future, Nacah says: “I don’t make plans or have high aspirations. My only dreams are to get my son proper medical treatment and to have my family united again. My youngest son is still in Syria and doesn’t have the money nor the right papers to move to Turkey.”

Mother and father sitting on a carpet with inbetween them their daughter
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Tom De Smedt)

To pay the rent of their modest house, Nacah and her family can count on a cash assistance programme funded by the EU and implemented by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) together with the Turkish Red Crescent.

According to Nacah, “every month it is a challenge to make ends meet. Prices for food, fuel and health care are rocketing. More and more, we need to choose what to pay first and where to save money or make debts. But luckily, we are living in safety, and we get support from the local Turkish community.”

Helping Ahmed and his family

a child sitting on a small motorcycle with behind it the father and the mother holding up another child in her arms
Ahmed and his family
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Diego Cupolo)

For 3 months, Ahmed has also been receiving help through the cash programme. Ahmed is a construction worker from Aleppo, living with his wife and their 4 kids in a tent settlement in the outskirts of the Turkish city of Adana.

His home – a rudimentary shelter without running water – is set up near the tomato fields where he can find work every now and then.

For every worked day, the owner pays him some 150 Turkish lira (around €8), which he uses for bread, water, oil and other essentials. The rest of the food comes from a few potato and corn plants and a couple of hens around his shelter.

Ahmed’s children sometimes go to a school nearby, but 2 of them are born deaf and get very little support.

“We have been living here for the past four years now – 4 cold winters, four long and hot summers. I hope to move out to a better place in Turkey one day – not for me, but for my family. My children were born here, I don’t want them to live in the continuous fear I’ve gone through in my home country,” he explains.

EU-funded cash assistance

The EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) is the largest humanitarian cash programme worldwide.

Over 1.4 million refugees living in Turkey are receiving humanitarian support through ESSN. Aside from covering basic needs, the programme also promotes self-sufficiency and fosters social cohesion.

However, according to research by the Turkish Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the 2 organisations implementing the ESSN, beneficiaries remain very vulnerable.

Ruben Cano, head of the IFRC delegation in Turkey, says: “Debt levels have more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, exacerbating humanitarian needs. Around 86% of ESSN recipients are not able to cover their basic needs without cash support”.

Like Nacah and Ahmed, many families struggle to cover basic needs such as food, housing, medicines or schooling, and many are forced to resort to negative coping mechanisms like sending their children to work or reducing the quantity and variety of the food they eat.

View of a living room with Ruben Cano in front
Ruben Cano
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Diego Cupolo)

Still, cash assistance is seen as the most effective approach to help beneficiaries participate in community life and to give them the freedom to manage their own lives in a transparent and accountable way.

“At IFRC, we have the ambition to raise the share of cash assistance to 50% of our humanitarian funding by 2023 worldwide. In parallel, we are looking into the options – in close cooperation with the Turkish authorities and the European Union – for developing sustainable long-term solutions for the refugee population in Turkey, for instance, in the area of employability,” explains Ruben Cano.

To achieve such sustainable living conditions, the ESSN cash assistance often goes together with other EU-funded support.

For example, Ahmed’s family also receives legal and psychosocial counselling from the NGO workers of GOAL, facilitating marginalised and vulnerable populations’ access to services.

Story by Tom De Smedt, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
Publication date: 01/07/2022