Refugee Fund supported 4020 refugees at the Turkish-Greek Border

We launched our Refugee Fund when a humanitarian crisis involving Syrian refugees unfolded in the Turkey/Greece border and waters as of 27 February 2020 escalating the need for urgent help.  Jointly with the Support Foundation for Civil Society,  we have mobilised GBP 10,000 (equivalent to TRY 81,000) to support Support to Life (Hayata Destek) and meet this critical need as well as procure other critical goods and services.

With the Refugee Fund, STL aimed to provide assistance for the urgent basic needs of refugees waiting to cross the border. Following the publication of the Rapid Needs Analysis report on March 1st, STL determined the urgent needs of the refugees in Edirne as follows: shelter, food safety, access to clean water and toilets, weather-appropriate clothing, safety.
The coordination for emergency supply distributions was established with the support of UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM). As part of this coordination unit, STL distributed 15.360 cans of ready-to-eat baby food with high nutritional value with the financial support of this emergency fund. Overall, 3.843 babies and children received food support.  In addition, with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Turkey, another emergency occurred due to long wait times at the border. This situation required STL to develop other interventions to help the refugees in the region since the Edirne Provincial Immigration Administration started sending them to Istanbul. Due to those circumstances, STL started providing transportation support for refugees who are willing to go back to their city of residence. Furthermore, STL provided transportation and short-term accommodation assistance to a group of refugees who were quarantined for 14 days in different cities across Turkey.

Within the scope of the project, 4.020 people were directly supported.
– 3.843 babies and children received food support.
– 161 people received transportation support.
– 19 people received short-term accommodation support.

As Turkey Mozaik Foundation, we will continue  to provide the most efficient help and funding for organisations that work to improve the livelihoods and integration of the refugees by bringing solutions to this humanitarian crisis through direct assistance, research and advocacy.

Interview with Support to Life Association about their work

Operating in the field of humanitarian aid, Support to Life Association (STL) aims to ensure that communities affected by disasters have access to their basic rights and needs. Can you tell us about your programs and the basic principles you comply with when you are working in the field?  

We are a humanitarian organisation that aims to provide access to basic rights and needs of disaster-affected communities. Since 2005, we have been carrying out Emergency Assistance and Response, Refugee Support, Child Protection in Seasonal Agriculture and Capacity Building programs. Today, with the Refugees Support and Child Protection in Seasonal Agriculture programs our resident team carries out activities on 8 provinces in Turkey.  In a disaster or emergency, we are ready to intervene anywhere in Turkey. We also have the capacity to support emergency interventions for disasters in other countries where international support is needed. In addition, we aim to strengthen the capacity of the public institutions and civil society organisations in all of our fields of operation. In other words, we work for a world where everyone affected by the disasters lives a decent life.

When we carry out our programs, we work on basic universal principles such as humanity, non-discrimination, impartiality, independence and accountability. To elaborate, we put human dignity at the centre of our work. We work on a needs basis without discrimination in terms of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political view. We focus on the humanitarian needs, without political, economic and military interests and without being a party to any conflict.  Humanitarian actors should be accountable to all stakeholders, including individuals, communities, donors, governments and other partners in their work. We carry out all our activities by taking accountability into account.

As part of the Refugee Support Program, which is one of your primary areas of work, you have been working to empower the refugees to become independent and self-sufficient individuals since 2012. What kind of support does the Refugee Support Program provide for refugees and what are the methods you use to empower migrants and refugees?

The basic approach we have adopted to strengthen the refugees in Turkey with temporary protection and international protection status, is working with them instead of working for them. For example, we worked with 170 volunteers from refugee communities in 2019 to inform their communities about access to basic rights and services. Under the leadership of our volunteers who experience the problems themselves, we have organised nearly 2.500 information sessions. We provided information to 26.461 people about access to basic services such as education, health, shelter, protection, registration, social benefits, as well as child rights, negative effects of child labour, prevention of child marriages, women’s rights and gender equality.

Our case-based support activities are another important component of our Refugee Support Program. According to the need in question, our psychologists, legal counsellors and social workers are working to meet the basic needs of individuals. In this context, we have been instrumental in providing 7.277 people with the right support at the right time. Our 8 lawyers working in the field provided legal support to 1.329 people on different issues such as disputes arising from family law, criminal law and labour law, appointment of guardians to unaccompanied children or being placed under state protection, family reunion, registration, deportation and administrative oversight processes. With our mental health and psychosocial support, we aimed to reduce the trauma and adjustment problems of the refugees and help them adapt to daily life in Turkey.

At this point, we describe the Syrian refugee crisis as a long-term crisis. Hence, it is really crucial for us that the people who immigrated to Turkey for safety reasons can have independent lives and they are provided access to livelihood resources in order to live independent and dignified lives. In this context, we provide many services such as Turkish language trainings, vocational courses and social entrepreneurship workshops. In 2019, we supported 969 people through vocational trainings. While doing all this, we aimed to contribute to the revival of local economies and to improve social cohesion by working together. In addition to this, we placed 30 young people in 3-month internship programs in Istanbul area by providing employability training to 132 young people between the ages of 18-24 and ensured that 10 young people settled permanently in the job.

As the Support to Life Association, you received a grant from our Emergency Support Fund co-financed by the Turkey Mozaik Foundation. Can you tell us about the activities you have implemented with this grant?

It was of great importance to be quickly involved in the emergency situation in Edirne and the fund provided by the partnership of STDV – Turkey Mozaik Foundation gave us this opportunity.  The first news on immigrants moving towards the border began to spread on February 27.  Apart from public institutions, we were one of the first civil society organisations to go to the field. Support to Life Association completed the needs analysis study in Edirne – Pazarkule region on  March 1, 2020.

As a result of the needs analysis, we decided to transfer different funds and resources to this area for a large number of refugees who had difficulty to meet their basic needs. With this fund, we aimed to provide nutritious foods for infants and young children. Within the scope of the project, we delivered 15,360 cans of ready-to-eat baby food with a high nutritional value, based on vegetables and fruits.

Support to Life teams left the field on March 13, but we continued to closely follow the process from Istanbul. We found that refugees who wanted to return to their cities of residence from Edirne. Although they were brought to Istanbul Bus Station with the support of Edirne Provincial Immigration Administration, there was uncertainty about what to do next and how to return to the cities they live in. After the need assessment made by our Istanbul field teams, we identified the families who could not go to their city because of the transportation costs.  As of March 19, we have provided transportation support in the 9-day period to 77 people who were at the Edirne border gate and wanted to go to the cities of residence.

After this stage, we had a short waiting period in our project. COVID-19 outbreak was beginning to take effect in the country and the families leaving Edirne were subjected to 2 weeks of quarantine in various cities across Turkey. At the end of the 14 days quarantine, the refugees under irregular migration status were sent to neighbouring cities for registration instead of the cities they used to live in. We have observed that refugees whose registration have been completed and who have been granted road permits to go to the cities where they live, were still in a difficult situation because they lacked the financial resources needed for transportation.

In summary, we can say that thanks to the joint fund of Sivil Toplum Destek Vakfi (Support Foundation for Civil Society) and Turkey Mozaik Foundation, we were able to respond to the needs of refugees at every stage of the crisis in Edirne, addressing both the primary and secondary effects.

COVID-19 outbreak caused changes in the work of civil society organisations as in other areas of life. How did this outbreak affect your current work? If there are any methods you use to continue your activities in this period, can you share them with us?

Digitalisation was among the strategic priorities of 2020-2021 for Support to Life. What we mean by digitalisation is to use innovative communication and informatics-oriented solutions to bring our activities to more people, faster and to make our internal processes more effective. We were already working on this transformation within the association, but the outbreak of COVID-19 outbreak led us to accelerate these efforts. We updated our activity plans on the basis of remote working conditions in all of the cities where we operate. By building a virtual telephone switchboard (sanal santral), we managed to put our support line into action within days. In a short time, we were able to start our trainings like language training on digital platforms with webinar methods.

Of course, the economic effects of the epidemic were much more severe for refugees who already have very limited opportunities and mostly work in informal jobs. In this context, we have developed our own response plan in parallel with the Global Humanitarian Response Plan of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) which is responsible for global humanitarian coordination. We added additional components and models for the specific needs for our activities in agreement with our current donor organisations.

We can say that the crucial concepts of this period in the humanitarian aid field were flexibility and rapid adaptability.  Humanitarian actors like us who are obliged to strictly supervise and execute their internal processes, policies and procedures in order to avoid any kind of misconduct may end up in bureaucratic processes from time to time.

The developments in the COVID-19 outbreak process are expected to cause changes in the focus areas and ways of working of civil society organisations. Based on this situation, do you plan to make any changes in your work, the way you operate and the target groups you work with? What will be your priorities for the rest of 2020?

In our COVID-19 response, we have identified two primary missions for ourselves: to ensure the continuity of our current humanitarian activities and to respond to the needs arising as a result of the primary and secondary effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

First of all, this is a disaster situation and Support to Life Association’s mission puts emphasis on helping individuals and communities that are affected by the disaster. The main difference is that this time we are all affected by this disaster without any exception of city, country or continent. Therefore, it will be our priority to increase disaster awareness in the coming period, to share what it means to establish disaster-resilient institutions and systems with all stakeholders and to work to gain the necessary capacities.