WFP-Turkish Red Crescent cooperation 'shows best practice in refugee assistance'
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“We have been able to establish very close cooperation with the Red Crescent, which is one of the factors behind our success,” WFP Turkey representative Nils Grede told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that this can be a best practice in refugee assistance that others can learn from.
Tell us about your operation in Turkey.
We started five years ago. At first we were only only in camps, where we had a voucher program. We then took the same voucher program for people living outside camps. Very quickly we switched to using cash. The disadvantage of the voucher system is that it ties you to one specific provider; the advantage of cash or debit cards is that you can use it everywhere. It gives the beneficiary a lot more ability to make their own decisions on what to buy and where to buy it. Therefore, given that Turkey is a very developed country with a well-functioning economy with lots of options where to purchase food and other items, and given that the program that we implement with the Turkish is a program that focus on basic needs other than food, such as shelter, cash is the only modality that made sense in the Turkish context.
So with their cards they can also pay their rent as well.
That is the unique thing with the WFP program in Turkey. The WFP usually works with what we call “zero hunger,” in order to combat hunger everywhere. But given that the ones in Turkey are refugees who have lost everything, who need a place to live, who have to pay their utility bills, who have to send their children to schools, the Turkish government and the EU wanted a program that could address all these needs. And they wanted two agencies to implement it rather than many.
About a third of the first 3 billion euro tranche [that the EU promised to supply] is dedicated to this Red Crescent card program, called the Emergency Social Safety Net [ESSN]. The beneficiaries need to first be registered as refugees and then they can apply to the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. We have identify to select the most vulnerable ones.
There are close to 4 million refugees currently in Turkey. We started in November 2016 and since then over two million refugees have applied. Of those, nearly 1.26 million have been accepted. In other words, around one in two applications was found eligible. Given that bigger families tend to be found eligible, around 60 percent of the people who have applied are receiving assistance. Ninety percent of the beneficiaries are Syrians, 7 percent are Iraqis, 2.5 percent are Afghans and one percent are from other nationalities. They receive 120 Turkish Liras per person in the family per month.
What makes you confident that the beneficiaries are spending the money appropriately?
This is a population that is homogeneously poor. Most of them live among host community, in contrast with other countries where most live in camps where everything is taken care of. In Turkey they need to take care of finding an apartment, paying their bills, buying goods, etc. They are in the best position to decide how to spend the money. Our survey shows that at the beginning of the month most beneficiaries tend to pay their rent and then whatever they have left they use for food.
We carry out two types of periodic surveys with beneficiaries. The Red Crescent conducts the surveys over the phone; it has a call center that contacts the beneficiaries, and we also conduct household visits.
We monitor coping strategies: For instance, you don’t want the beneficiaries to sell their own assets; you don’t want them to take their child out of school in order to send them to work; you don’t want them to cut back on their health expenditures. Those are typical behaviors that people do when they are under distress. Through our surveys we see that the program has achieved its objective of reducing the use of these coping strategies.
Another thing we monitor is dietary diversity. We defined seven food groups and we monitor how many of these food groups people eat over the course of a week. For a healthy diet you need to be eating from between five and seven of these groups. In Turkey we are consistently reaching seven, which again shows us that the program is working.
In what sense does this program contribute to the goals of the grand bargain (a set of commitments between the biggest humanitarian donors and actors)?
Turkey is a developed country but is badly affected by a major ongoing crisis in its neighbor. We are fortunate that we are in a very stable context, in which we have a well-functioning government and a good government bureaucracy. We can use the government system and work with the government actors. With strong financial infrastructure and well-functioning markets, providing cash assistance is cost-effective and stimulates the local economy. All money [from the EU] is spent in Turkey.
Another example is the program where the card is also used for UNICEF’s conditional cash transfers for education. Families get an additional 40 or 50 liras for each of their children who are attending school. Turkey has a very sophisticated way of monitoring school attendance.
Are there any other elements that distinguish this program from others?
Turkey is the only country in the world where we have a joint office with a partner organization, in this case with the Red Crescent. That is symbolic of the very close cooperation we have been able to establish and it is one of the factors behind the success of the program.
The WFP brings its own experience. The Red Crescent is deeply ingrained in every single community and has a very good refutation. We bring different things to the table and this is one of the situations where one and one makes three. The Red Crescent has a call center that operates in five languages; it has a hotline that people can call if they have a problem. The WFP will never have the same understanding of the local culture as a local partner has.
The ability to communicate with beneficiaries is always a challenge when you have such a huge program. In this sense, our work in Turkey constitutes best practice. I think we have created with the Red Crescent a solution that other countries can learn from.
We have eight offices and we have monitoring teams going to the field. When they see problems they are referred to the Red Crescent, which either solves the issue itself or refers it to other institutions. In other countries we don’t have such partners with the capacity for such solutions.
Right now we are funded until January 2019. Turkey and the EU are negotiating the second tranche of 3 million euros, which will presumably start in 2019.
In 2018 we will complete household visits to all the beneficiaries to check that all of them still need the assistance. Also there are some households that might not have met the criteria for assistance but are still extremely poor. We are trying to convince our partners to provide funding for them too. So we are trying to improve the targeting.
As the crisis from the war in Syria enters its eighth year, it will be important to work with other partners too for better linkages. We need to make better use of referring people to other programs that may allow them to gain skills or connect to the job market. How we can better link with other programs is something that we will be thinking about.
WHO IS NILS GREDE?
Before arriving in Turkey, Grede was the WFP’s representative in El Salvador. He gained experience as WFP Deputy Director in Jakarta (2013-14), and temporarily served as WFP Interim Deputy Director in Brazzaville, Congo and WFP Interim Country Director in Mbabane, Swaziland. Before that he was Deputy Chief of Nutrition and HIV/AIDS Policy at the WFP’s headquarters.
Prior to joining the WFP, Grede worked as Director of International Recruitment Marketing at the Boston Consulting Group. A German national and fluent in eight languages, Grede holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Sciences received from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He has also received an MBA from Stanford University.