The European Union has launched a 348 million euro ($392m) programme that will distribute monthly electronic cash grants to benefit a million refugees in Turkey, as part of a deal in which Ankara pledged to curb the number of people trying to enter Europe.
The Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), launched on Monday, will give refugees pre-paid cards to use for their expenses in Turkey.
The refugees will be able to use the cards in shops or institutions to pay for food, education, housing and clothing, or also to withdraw cash from ATMs.
We are launching today a ground breaking humanitarian programme 2 help refugees lead dignified lives.The Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN). pic.twitter.com/FNCLrVTunc
— Christos Stylianides (@StylianidesEU) September 26, 2016
Each card will be automatically topped up with 100 Turkish lira ($33.50) a month, giving people the chance to choose their own purchases.
“Today we launch the biggest and largest humanitarian project the EU has ever supported. It will provide a basic source of income for one million Syrian refugees,” the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, said at a news conference.
“The ESSN is perfect proof of the EU’s commitment to tackle the challenge posed by the refugee crisis,” he added.
Earlier this year, EU member states approved a fund of 3 billion euros ($3.37bn) to help Turkey improve living conditions for some three million Syrian refugees on its territory. The ESSN is part of that deal.
Another 3 billion euros of funds can follow until the end of 2018, if all of the first part is used.
The EU is also funding other humanitarian projects in Turkey under the same deal. However, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the bloc of not following through on its financial pledges.
Ankara has threatened to back out of the deal various times, unless the EU meets its promises.
More than a million refugees entered the EU after crossing from Turkey to Greece by boat last year. Since Turkey agreed to prevent people from setting sail from its shores, the numbers taking that route have fallen dramatically.
On Turkey’s criticism that the promised EU aid for refugees was slow to arrive, Stylianides said he held discussions with Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik on the issue.
“I think now minister Celik recognises and realises that this process for all European funding is going well, and I think day by day the situation is getting better,” he said.
The ESSN will be implemented by the World Food Programme and the Turkish Red Crescent, in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy and the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency.