The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, reaching 150 million people in 192 National Societies through the work of 13.7 million volunteers worldwide. Together we act before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people.
In Türkiye, IFRC works with Turkish Red Crescent to support more than 2.1 million people including refugees, Turkish communities, those impacted by disasters and other groups in need of humanitarian assistance. One of the most prominent programs we are working on together is the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), which is funded by the European Union and provides monthly cash assistance via debit cards to more than 1.5 million of the most vulnerable refugees in Türkiye.
More than 10 Years on… 3 Challenges Ahead
In March 2021, Türkiye marked the 10-year anniversary of the Syrian crisis and recognized the 13.4 million Syrians still in need of humanitarian aid. Türkiye has played a leading role in responding to their basic needs, hosting 3.7 million Syrians while advocating for a more permanent political solution to the conflict.
But they are now entering the 12th year of their displacement and – as is the case in most protracted crises, complex emergencies and situations of chronic vulnerability – the prospects of a permanent solution remain far from reach. The focus, therefore, must be on building long-term resilience. This is when we turn our attention to the “nexus,” which refers to the long-running efforts to link humanitarian and development actions; when we focus not just on addressing needs but on reducing them.
This year, the IFRC released new research, entitled Drowning just below the surface,1 which reveals the magnitude of socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic globally. The research found that the groups most disproportionately affected by the devastating socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 are women, people in urban areas and people on the move. The latter category (migrants and refugees) were more likely to lose jobs during the pandemic and have been widely neglected by formal protection and safeguarding measures.
This particular finding is backed up by our own research in Türkiye: Our Post Distribution Monitoring reports,2 Focus Group Discussions (including one focusing specifically on debt), and our Inter-sector Vulnerability Study,3 all of which have been conducted with people under temporary and international protection, many of whom are part of the ESSN.
What the research revealed is that many refugees and host communities in Türkiye have lost work (income) due to the pandemic. This, coupled with the increase in cost of living and limited capacity to pay for food, utilities and rent, have contributed to refugees borrowing and falling deeper into debt. Debt levels for people under temporary and international protection in Türkiye have more than doubled since the pandemic began. Subsequently, families are denying themselves basic necessities including food, and sacrificing other important expenses including their children’s education, communications, and health-related care.
Cash assistance is helping prevent many from going further into debt and resorting to negative coping mechanisms (1 in 2 people receiving assistance has said ESSN helped them manage their debt) and continues to be vital in meeting the intensifying humanitarian needs of people under temporary and international protection.
But while cash remains critical – especially for the vulnerable majority – longer-term solutions are needed. Supporting the transition of refugees into jobs that provide more predictable financial security, with rights that are protected by law, will help to reduce the dependance on basic needs support. Of course, given the current labour market conditions, this also needs to be done without negatively impacting employment opportunities for Turkish citizens to ensure social cohesion and to avoid increased tensions.
We see three major challenges we need to tackle in 2022 and beyond:
First, we believe that Türkiye as a host country with its diversified economy presents unique opportunities for refugees. However, current investments in livelihoods opportunities and social cohesion in Türkiye are not enough. The cumulative interventions from 3RP members,4 international financial institutions and other actors have resulted in around 30,000 new jobs created between 2017-2021, which makes it clear that efforts need to be scaled up.5
Second, notwithstanding the political sensitivities, we must take bolder steps to mitigate some of the existing barriers, particularly those impacting refugee access to the labour market.6 The Regulation on Work Permits for Foreigners under Temporary Protection (2016) was an important legal development giving them the right to work formally. However, it has not yielded the desired outcome as Syrians continue to face obstacles in accessing formal employment opportunities such as the reluctance of employers to submit work permit applications (despite the reduction in cost); the quota system demanding that for each Syrian employed, a company must have 10 Turkish employees; or the geographical restrictions making it more difficult to tap into job opportunities where they arise.7
Lastly, we believe there needs to be greater synergy between funding streams for humanitarian assistance and development aid – this has become a protracted displacement situation, which means we need to integrate our humanitarian assistance with longer-term programming efforts to be more effective. As long as the alternatives to basic needs assistance remain limited, the cycle of dependence will persist, and transition will be illusory.
Humanitarian actors, including the Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC, authorities, donors and development partners (including the private sector) must engage in continuous dialogue to enable better linkages between their interventions, for example through the 3RP Task Team on Transition8 of which the Turkish Red Crescent is currently the co-chair together with UNDP.
It is in this spirit that the IFRC Türkiye delegation is approaching the new year, focusing on the challenge of socio-economic inclusion and empowerment for refugees in Türkiye, particularly those who are currently benefiting from the ESSN. This shift will require courageous and collaborative leadership, which believes in sustainable change over political expediency and is ready to make short-term sacrifices for a longer-term gain for the most vulnerable people in Türkiye.
To conclude, we invite humanitarian and development actors, donors, the private sector, Turkish authorities, academia and civil society to contribute to addressing this triple challenge: increasing investment in socio-economic empowerment; contributing to mitigate barriers to employment; and joining forces to create greater synergies between humanitarian and development interventions.
4. The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP): Turkey Country Chapter isa strategic, coordination, planning, advocacy, fundraising, and programming platform for UN agencies and other humanitarian and development partners to respond to the Syria crisis
5. Task Team on Referral and Transition to Livelihoods Opportunities, December 2021, draft Output Paper
6. These include structural issues particularly related to the low participation of women in the labour force and drivers of informality in the labour market, which call for more flexible criteria and standards.
7. People under temporary and international protection are required to remain in the province where they are registered with DGMM and NUFUS. While applications to move are possible, many provinces including Istanbul have suspended new registrations.
8. People under temporary and international protection are required to remain in the province where they are registered with DGMM and NUFUS. While applications to move are possible, many provinces including Istanbul have suspended new registrations.