2020 has been an unprecedented year, with COVID-19 challenging our traditional methods of support as humanitarians.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our private and professional lives, including the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) humanitarian actions in Turkey. How are we to support the lives of people most affected when, as a humanitarian sector, we are facing lockdowns and restrictions to keep everyone safe?
Precisely at the moment that the IFRC took over the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) with the Turkish Red Crescent in March, the first full force of COVID’s impacts were being felt in Turkey and across Europe.
As a result, we have had to adapt and even reinvent in order to ensure those who need it most receive our support. COVID-19 has forced the IFRC and TRC to become even more agile and flexible in order to find ways to continue supporting the most vulnerable while ensuring people remain safe.
I am impressed by the speed and depth of our adaptation to the remote ways of working in Turkey and more broadly across the globe. The IFRC has managed to continue delivering on global key mandates such as coordination in emergencies and capacity building during 2020 despite severe travel restrictions. This is thanks to the rapidly scaled-up and systematic use of messaging, teleconferencing, cloud information sharing, and other technologies that have been around for many years but we had not used well enough previously.
We’ve worked with the Turkish Red Crescent to roll out the first-ever remote focus group discussions,1 providing an essential opportunity to hear and understand recipients’ opinions and maintaining a strong bond with them despite pandemic-related restrictions. Another cutting-edge innovation has been to set up a dedicated rumor-tracking-and-management system2 that captures, analyzes, and responds to rumors related to the ESSN.
The Turkish Red Crescent Call Center3 has also been key in facilitating ESSN’s seamless implementation. After adapting to ensure all the necessary precautions for avoiding the spread of COVID-19 at the onset of the pandemic, the Call Center has continued answering calls and providing vital information in five different languages to refugees receiving support through ESSN.
The Turkish Red Crescent community centers in collaboration with the IFRC were able to rapidly respond to COVID-19; Turkish and refugee volunteers produced more than 2 million masks that were distributed across the country. Other trainings and courses were adapted and moved online so families could still access critical information, psychosocial support, services, and trainings. Community centers have also been critical in helping tackle the stigma and misinformation surrounding COVID-19, using social media and other digital platforms as a strong part of the strategy.
However, COVID did not just change the way we work, it also exacerbated the humanitarian needs among the people we serve. The IFRC and Turkish Red Crescent reacted quickly in conducting a rapid Assessment of the Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-194 on the lives of refugees benefitting from the ESSN in Turkey. The assessment showed that 70% of those surveyed had lost their livelihoods since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Turkey. Combined with almost 80% reporting an increase in expenses, this has forced already vulnerable refugees to borrow more money to meet their basic needs. In order to contribute to lessening the additional socio-economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had, more than 1.7 million refugees living in Turkey have received an additional 1,000 TL cash assistance via the ESSN programme on top of their regular cash entitlements that were a shock-response measure also representing the largest single cash transfer5 in the history of Red Cross and the Red Crescent at a total of EUR 46.4 million.
We have demonstrated that cash programming allows us to respond rapidly to scale while still protecting the people we serve, our staff, and our volunteers in communities around the world. Transferring funds through TRC’s Kızılaykart Platform and Debit Card6 has allowed us to rapidly respond, adapt to current needs and provide additional assistance when needed at a massive scale. IFRC is a global leader in the delivery of cash assistance, and we are committed to continue investing in this modality – as clearly expressed in IFRC’s 2021 Global Plan,7 in which the organization commits to delivering 50% of its humanitarian assistance through the use of cash and vouchers by 2025. More than ever, we need to work with affected populations and acknowledge that they are best placed to follow their own path toward a new normal. Cash gives people freedom, choice, and the possibility to prioritize their own needs and to contribute to their communities.
A new year comes with new hopes, as the upcoming vaccination campaign is expected to put an end to the huge threat that COVID has posed to our global health in 2020. Yet it will also come with persistent challenges, including the socio-economic impact from the pandemic (which is expected to seriously affect the lives of millions, refugees and Turkish citizens alike), an anticipated shrinking of humanitarian aid as donor countries face increasing domestic needs, uneven access to COVID-19 vaccinations for the least developed countries and the most vulnerable groups (including refugees), and climate change which is an existential threat that mankind needs to address decisively and collectively.
As we move forward, IFRC will continue working with the Turkish Red Crescent and all our 192-member National Societies to meet these new challenges while keeping stride with those we know well already. We will endeavor to provide leadership, coordination, and mobilization of critical resources for National Societies to meet the world’s unprecedented needs.