Say ‘refugee camp’ and many people think of sprawling tent cities where war victims wait in line to receive standardized food rations. But in Harran camp, in Turkey’s southeast, it’s not like that at all. There, Huda and her mother, both refugees from the Syrian city of Idlib, just go to a supermarket in the camp. They put the food they want in a basket and then go to the checkout where they pay by card. It’s what millions of people do every day in New York, Berlin and Tokyo.
Refugees in 11 camps in southeast Turkey can do this reassuringly normal thing— choosing and paying for food — thanks to a special ‘e-food card’ that is topped up every month. The programme has been funded in 2017 by Australia, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Norway, the Republic of Korea and the USA.
“The card has made our life much better,” says Huda, who came to Harran camp two years ago and lives in a container with her mother and children. “We can buy greens, vegetables and fruit for children. And we can cook the food we are used to.”
Huda is just one of the 230,000 Syrian refugees who live in refugee camps run by the Turkish government in the southeast of the country. For tens of thousands of vulnerable Syrian families, the camps offered a safe shelter away from the war. But it was a challenge to put food on the table for their families.
So, on the request of the Turkish government, the World Food Programme (WFP) began assisting Syrian refugees in the camps in October 2012. Joining forces with the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) and the Turkish Government’s Emergency and Disaster Management Presidency (AFAD), WFP helped put in place an innovative electronic food-assistance programme. By allowing refugees to choose the food they eat, the ‘e-food card’ programme helps bring a sense of normalcy to their lives.
The programme provides every Syrian family living in the camps with an entitlement of 50 Turkish Liras (around 18 euros) per person in each family. This money can be spent in supermarkets set up inside the camps. In addition to the WFP/TRC e-food card, the families are provided by AFAD with 50 Turkish Liras per person per month to buy additional food and non-food items.
Abdurrahman, who now lives in Harran camp with his family of nine, receives a total of 450 Turkish Liras per month through the e-food card. “The card has made a huge difference to our lives. We are happy because we are able to buy the food that is essential to our family,” he says.
Neceh is another Syrian refugee who lives in Kahramanmaraş camp. Neceh has five young children, two of them babies: “My children are growing so fast! But thanks to the card, I am able to buy plenty of milk and food for them. I shop from the supermarket at the camp. It has Syrian bread and other products that we are familiar with.”
Thanks to the donors, the programme was able to continue in 2017, assisting close to 150,000 people every month. It’s a fundamental part of the package of assistance that refugees are receiving. Some of them, like Abdurrahman, are keen to express their gratitude.
“The camp administration, the Turkish people and the humanitarian organizations all welcomed us so warmly,” he says. “After all the troubles we went through in Syria, the affection we received was more than what we expected.”
The e-food card programme allows Syrian families in camps to choose and buy nutritious food in regular supermarkets that have been set up in the camps. The project is implemented jointly by WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent. Learn more about WFP in Turkey.