Turkey site of EU’s biggest humanitarian aid scheme in single country

Turkey site of EU’s biggest humanitarian aid scheme in single country

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, known by the acronym ECHO, is launching its biggest assistance scheme in a single country in its history in Turkey.

ECHO started its activities in Turkey 3.5 years ago, approximately a year after the Syrian refugees started to come.

The total funding provided by the EU to Turkey in response to the Syria crisis since the beginning, including humanitarian aid as well as longer-term assistance, amounts to over 445 million euros, according to the commission’s fact sheet published on its website.

Following an agreement last November between Turkey and the EU to stem the flow of refugees, which included financial support worth 3 billion euros for two years, the EU launched a comprehensive assistance program called “Facility for Refugees in Turkey.”

ECHO will be using nearly half of that budget, while the other half will be used by another office of the commission (DG NEAR) for the funding of a development project. This is only natural since the needs of more than 3 million refugees in Turkey go beyond basic needs, as it is clear that most are here to stay for a long time.

ECHO’s priority will be to provide basic needs to the most vulnerable, in particular those who are living outside of the camps. While the focus will be on the Syrians, others will not be excluded.

ECHO’s global budget this year is 1.5 billion euros, so imagine the scale of the Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) it is undertaking. ECHO currently has a staff of around two dozen in both Ankara and Gaziantep; their total expat staff all over the world active in the field is around 150.

As ECHO’s budget for Turkey has seen a very significant increase, “we are now going from a project-based approach to a system-based approach,” said an official from ECHO, briefing a group of journalists last week.

In the course of the past four months, the EU and the Turkish authorities have agreed on the guidelines to use the budget allocated to ECHO. Given the slow bureaucracy on both sides, one would think it has been rather a success to have reached an understanding in a matter of couple of months.

In March and April 2016, a first package of 90 million euros as part of the facility was made available for upgrades to the already existing projects. A 40 million-euro contract, for instance, has also been signed between ECHO and the World Food Programme (WFP) for assistance that will provide 585,000 Syrian refugees living outside of camps and 150,000 Syrian refugees living in refugee camps with e-cards that can be redeemed for food at designated shops. This is one of the largest single contracts ever between the WFP and ECHO in one country. The WFP will be working closely with the Turkish Red Crescent.

ECHO’s partners on the projects for the remaining 50 million euros include the Danish Refugee Council, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Medical Corps U.K. and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFCR), who are working in close cooperation with Turkish partner organizations.

This shows that Turkey’s initial resistance to work with foreign/international NGOs or its insistence on “write me a check, I’ll do the rest,” has been overcome.

“We can only work with our FPA [framework partnership agreement] partners,” said the ECHO official, in reference to NGOs that have signed an agreement with the commission. “But those NGOs need to work with the Turkish Red Crescent and local partners.”

As additional money started to flow into the coffers of ECHO, it is busy contracting new projects with international and local NGOs, but always in coordination with Turkish official institutions. That’s a point ECHO officials are keen on underlying.