Turkey has the largest refugee population in the world, with a total of nearly 4 million registered refugees.

Most are from Syria but there are also refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. The majority live not in camps but in the poor areas of Turkey’s towns and cities. Although they are safe from war, many refugee families live in challenging conditions and struggle to build stable, normal lives.

The Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme aims to help the most vulnerable of these refugee families. The scheme provides refugees with an ESSN debit card which gives them access to a fixed amount of money every month. They can use the money to buy whatever they need most for their families: food, fuel, rent, medicine and bills. Refugee families receive 120 Turkish Liras (currently about 16 euros) per family member.

The ESSN card can be used in shops, just like a normal debit card. But it is not just a cash card. It’s an acknowledgement that, despite their hardships, refugees should have the right to choose how to manage their lives.

The ESSN programme is the result of a partnership between the European Union and Turkey, implemented by WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent, working closely with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the Ministry Of Interior Directorate General Of Migration Management and the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority.

The ESSN is the biggest humanitarian project that the European Union has ever funded and draws on the World Food Programme’s expertise in handling large-scale cash programmes in the Middle East and elsewhere. With funding of 998 million euros so far, the ESSN programme reaches around 1.4 million refugees in Turkey.

The programme builds on the hospitality and generosity of the Turkish people and the Turkish Government towards refugees. It is unique because it is implemented through government structures and systems. At an unprecedented scale, international humanitarian organizations and government services are reaching out to refugees across Turkey in a way that is efficient, effective and sustainable.