ISTANBUL, -- As many as one million refugees, or one third of those being sheltered across Turkey, will have pre-paid debit cards as part of the European Union's multi-million-euro aid package.
NGOs in Turkey welcomed this project with cautious optimism, arguing it is "insufficient" to cope with the refugees' social and economic integration into local communities.
The EU introduced the program lately for refugees living outside camps under an agreement signed with Turkey in March with a view to curbing the illegal influx of refugees into Europe, under which the bloc agrees to offer six-billion-euro aid to those housed on Turkish soil.
Syrians will mostly benefit from the project that starts in October and runs until the end of 2017, in which they will have their debit cards credited with 100 Turkish liras (some 34 U.S. dollars) each month and can pay for food, clothing and health services.
Currently, only eight percent of the refugees in Turkey live in camps established by the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD), while the rest are scattered across the country.
The debit cards are expected to reach one million refugees in urgent need.
In a tweet post, the EU's commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management described the project worth 348 million euros (391 million dollars) as a "ground-breaking humanitarian program to help refugees to lead dignified lives."
For NGOs in Turkey, however, the EU project is only a drop in the ocean.
According to representatives of the NGOs, the aid would fall short in reaching the most vulnerable ones as many refugees do not have any identity card provided by Turkish authorities since most of them sneaked into the country.
Refugees without IDs could neither benefit from the education and health services nor be eligible for receiving EU debit cards.
"Now this is the sixth year of the crisis and we have long passed the emergency action period," explained Metin Corabatir, director of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration.
In his view, the best solution would be the launch of projects that can help them to acquire a profession rather than get "save the day" kind of donations.
Corabatir argued that Syrian refugees in Turkey need "concrete and comprehensive" strategies that can help ease their integration into the Turkish society.
Veysel Ayhan, director of the International Middle East Peace Research Center (IMPR), agreed with Corabatir.
In Ayhan's opinion, the international community has no experience in dealing with a vast number of refugees living outside camps.
"That's why the international community lacks a concrete strategy," he said.
The IMPR, in cooperation with the UN refugee agency UNHCR, has been developing sustainable projects for Syrians living in Turkey, including organizing workshops and vocational courses.
Ayhan urged the EU to develop similar projects, "so that the refugees could survive here, earn their money and take care of their families."
Cigdem Usta, a corporate communication expert with "Hayata Destek Dernegi," or Support to Life, laid emphasis on the importance of the operational capacity and experience needed to implement the EU debit card project.
She called on the EU and the Turkish Red Crescent, the coordinator of the credit card project, to increase cooperation with the NGOs working on the field, as these groups have remarkable experience in dealing with refugees.
"So that new projects could be developed which would seek a permanent recovery in the lives of the Syrians," added Usta.
Some Syrian refugees living in Istanbul said they heard about the debit card project but do not know how it works and how they apply.
Unofficial figures show that some 500,000 Syrian refugees are living in the metropolis and most do not have any ID.
For them, the main problems are expensive rents and insufficient job opportunities.
Ahmad Mahmoud, 30, came to Turkey one and a half months ago through illegal border crossing. He has not been registered with any institution, neither has his family of four.
Mahmoud needs at least 2,000 Turkish liras (some 650 dollars) per month to survive in Istanbul, as house rent alone costs him 1,500 liras. He is paid only 1,000 liras for working with a travel company.
In the view of 26-year-old Mohammad Moustafa, the EU project could help a family of four but means nothing to a single person like him.
Moustafa is sharing a small flat with three others. With his 300-dollar salary, he pays his share of the rent, and "with the rest I eat and nothing more."
Source: Nam News Network