The European Union will distribute cash-loaded debit cards to refugees in Turkey to help them pay for food and housing. The program, which begins next month, envisions the cards going to as many as 1 million of the nearly 3 million refugees in Turkey - most of them displaced by the civil war in Syria.
"The refugees in need of humanitarian assistance will receive an electronic debit card," European Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said at a press conference held in Brussels to announce the 348 million euro ($393 million) plan on Thursday. "They will get monthly cash transfers to the card. Of course, they will be able to buy what they need to put bread on the table for their families, to provide a roof for their families, to send their children to school instead of being forced to send them to work."
Stylianides said the plan - developed with the UN World Food Programme, the Turkish Red Crescent and Ankara - would serve "the most vulnerable" and would also boost local economies in the communities where refugees live. Nearly four years ago, the WFP and the Red Crescent launched an experimental project in which thousands of refugees began receiving cards charged with aid credits rather than boxes of basic supplies.
For keeping refugees from the EU, Turkey won an acceleration of its long-stalled bid for membership, billions of euros in aid and visa-free travel to much of Europe for its nationals. Concerns that the deal could collapse have grown as the two sides accuse each other of improper implementation and as Turkish officials have rejected heavy criticism from Brussels over the government's crackdown following a failed coup on July 15.
In that respect, agreement on the debit card plan represents relative progress - in addition to help for refugees. The plan will make a "significant difference in the lives of men, women and children who have had to flee conflict and violence," Stylianides said, adding that it would provide more "dignity" than food handouts do.
The European Union will top the cards up monthly, with payments dependent on the size and needs of families, and European Commission officials said they would put in place safeguards and monitor how refugees spend their disbursements.
mkg/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)