EU refugee funds to be used by Turkey with or without deal

EU refugee funds to be used by Turkey with or without deal

As part of the refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey, which included 3 billion euros of financial assistance over two years, money has started to flow from EU safe boxes to Turkey. 

Obviously we are not talking about a transfer of money into Turkish institutions. The financial assistance - which will come from the EU’s budget as well as from member states - will be used by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), as well as another Commission department known as the Directorate General for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, which focuses on development and resilience projects.

Recently, 1 million euros has been made available. The ECHO is now getting ready to sign contracts for assistance programs worth 505 million euros. With this amount, the ECHO is not only implementing its largest humanitarian implementation program ever in a single country - it is also trying out new assistance models in Turkey. 

The Commission is currently working on the design of the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), a single card social assistance scheme that will cover the most pressing needs of the most vulnerable refugees in terms of food, non-food items, shelter, water and sanitation. “This will be new for us. We are working in partnership with the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs and the Turkish Red Crescent,” said an official from the ECHO. 

Besides the transfer system, health and education will also be under focus. In order to prevent child labor and keep children in school, the ECHO is planning to pay a certain amount of money to families as an incentive to keep their children going to school. This seems to have been inspired by the “Daddy, send me to school” campaign in Turkey, designed to encourage parents to send their daughters to school. 

After so many years of “dialogue of the deaf” between Turkey and the EU, it is relieving to see that the wheels of cooperation are finally turning. What is interesting is that, as the contracts are signed, the assistance program is still going ahead independent of the rest of the Turkish-EU deal. Even if the deal on migrants and visa-free travel were to collapse, the EU’s humanitarian assistance, at least what has been earmarked for the first stage, will continue.

The role of the Diyanet

The mission of ECHO is relatively easy compared with that of the Commission, as the former’s focus area is rather narrow. The real challenge is to reach an agreement between the EU and the Turkish government to decide on projects that will address the longer term needs of refugees.

While those needs are abundant, resources are not. Priorities will have to be determined carefully. A couple of months ago, the government of ousted Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu prepared an action plan presenting a division of labor among different institutions. Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), for example, was tasked with certain activities such as teaching the Quran and fighting extremism. I’m sure this will prove to be a highly sensitive topic to be discussed between the EU and Turkey.

There is no doubt that the enrollment of all refugee children in school is a top priority. Would it be necessary to earmark a separate budget for religious education? If a budget is indeed allocated to the Diyanet, would it outsource to certain local NGOs? If so, which ones?

It will certainly be interesting to see how this issue will be tackled if Turkey insists on a role for the Diyanet.