Strategic Support Through International Cooperation and Solidarity

Alvaro Rodriguez
(On Behalf of UN Turkey Team) UN Resident Coordinator

Assessment and Context 

Since 2014, Turkey has hosted the largest population of persons under temporary and international protection in the world. In 2020, the number of Syrians under temporary protection passed 3.6 million, while Turkey also hosts approximately 320,000 international protection applicants and status holders from other countries. 

The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) Turkey Chapter for 2020-2021, provides a comprehensive strategic response to support the government’s efforts to address the needs of persons under temporary and international protection, host communities, and relevant institutions in line with Turkey’s legal and policy framework. 

Under the umbrella structure of the 3RP, with its sector plans for protection, education, basic needs, health, livelihoods and food security and agriculture, UN agencies and NGO partners work in support of the Government of Turkey’s response to the Syrian crisis. This support is directed largely towards public systems and services that have been stretched as a result of the increase in demand in areas with high concentrations of Syrians under temporary protection. 

The burden for countries hosting large refugee populations was compounded in 2020 by the COVID 19 pandemic. In Turkey, many public services had to be paused or reduced in order to focus resources on responding to the pandemic, or to adopt remote and reduced working modalities. Despite Turkey’s inclusive policies, the pandemic resulted in greater difficulties for persons under temporary and international protection and the risk of not having access to essential services during this critical period. 

The economic and social impacts of COVID-19 on persons under temporary and international protection have been equally concerning. The temporary closure of many businesses has caused unemployment and loss of income through decreasing wages, affecting all parts of society, with many companies losing a substantial portion of their revenues. Many Syrians under temporary protection, international protection applicants and status holders were working informally or without job security prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, making them particularly vulnerable to be let go by employers during any economic slowdown. 

The loss of livelihoods and income for persons under temporary and international protection due to the pandemic was compounded by a lack of savings, causing households to struggle to meet the costs of basic needs such as food, rent, hygiene and other daily expenses. With higher risks of poverty due to the pandemic, children living in poor households also face increased risks of malnutrition, with potential lifetime consequences. Women’s unpaid care work also needs to be acknowledged as those responsibilities increase during a health crisis, putting women and girls at heightened risk of becoming infected. 

Impact assessments carried out by 3RP partners complemented the Government assessment of needs related to COVID-19, coordinated by the Vice-Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, highlighting the severe impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups including refugees and migrants. The assessments showed that a majority of households have been severely impacted by the socio-economic shocks caused by COVID-19, reinforcing the importance of prioritizing vulnerable groups in recovery plans. 

Despite the increased burden of responding to COVID-19, Turkey public institutions supported by the UN agencies and partners have continued as much as possible to provide refugees with access to services into national systems, such as health, education, and social services for instance. 

Action Undertaken 

In response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, 3RP partners in Turkey developed an additional appeal document launched on 7 May 2020 to outline complementary activities and interventions to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations in the short to medium term, focusing especially on the needs of persons under temporary and international protection as well as host communities in Turkey.

3RP partners have engaged in adapting the delivery of services and assistance to support continuity, where feasible; identifying priority needs of women and men, girls and boys, communities and institutions impacted by the pandemic; and developing new activities to respond to additional needs caused by the pandemic. 

Priority interventions included information dissemination; support for the continuation of education through remote learning; phone and on-line support services to at-risk groups; and emergency cash assistance to help the most vulnerable households with basic needs following the sudden and unexpected loss of livelihoods. 

Considering the increased protection risks due to COVID-19, the need for timely and accessible information on support services has become even more critical. Gender, age and child-sensitive data collection and targeted programmes are needed to ensure that assistance reaches the most vulnerable individuals and households. 

Social protection plays a vital role in supporting disadvantaged groups while helping to promote social cohesion, as well as contributing to human and economic development. As a result, UN agencies and partners work closely with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services (MoFLSS) to provide multiple cash-based assistance modalities as well as the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE) programme while adapted learning and home school support have been vital in mitigating the impacts of the pandemic. Supporting employability (e.g. vocational and language training), job retention and small and medium enterprises have been key components of UN programming in 2020, working in close collaboration with the private sector and national and local institutions. Support and access to digitalised market was also supported to let enterprises mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19. For the 3RP plan for 2021/22, sector responses have taken into account the impacts of the pandemic and reflected them in the appeal.

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