Interview: How the Turkish Red Crescent fosters stronger cohesion among refugees and local communities

Inspiring projects

Interview: How the Turkish Red Crescent fosters stronger cohesion among refugees and local communities

05 February 2020

Interview with Fatma Hascalik

Prior to joining Turkish Red Crescent (TRC), Fatma Hascalik worked in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Food Programme (WFP). She played a key role in the launch of the Electronic Food Card Assistance Programme, a joint Turkish Red Crescent-WFP programme which for the first time saw debit cards delivered to refugees from the very start of refugee movements. In her current role at the Turkish Red Crescent, Fatma manages the “Kizilaykart” cash-based assistance programmes.


Equipping refugees with skills and allowing them to join the work force benefits the entire community - refugees and their hosts – Fatma Hascalik


Please tell us about the work of the Turkish Red Crescent and how it relates to resilience for refugees.

Fatma Hascalik: I oversee all cash transfer programming, which altogether represents €1 billion over a two-year period.  The Kizilaykart cash transfer programmes include the Emergency Social Safety Net, the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education, and in-camp assistance for Syrian refugees. It is exciting to see the evolution of the humanitarian landscape in Turkey, which now has a much stronger emphasis on resilience and longer-term solutions. The Kizilaykart programmes have hugely contributed to these changes. Cash-based assistance meets many of the refugees’ immediate and longer-term needs, from basic needs, to education, health protection, and resilience. In December 2012, the E-Food Card Programme benefited about 12,000 refugees; now the Kizilaykart cash platform reaches over 1.9 million refugees and provides them with vital assistance.

Can you describe how the Turkish Red Crescent fosters stronger cohesion among refugees and nationals?

F.H.: Promoting strong cohesion between refugees and Turkish host communities is at the heart of our work; it is a key component of sustainability and resilience planning, especially in protracted humanitarian situations. With international support, the Turkish Red Crescent has launched several programmes that address the needs of refugees and the host populations.  These programmes focus on the development of social cohesion, the expansion of livelihood opportunities for both refugees and host communities, and the creation of employment opportunities. There are several ways we do this.

We have established joint community centres for refugees and Turkish nationals. These centres provide livelihood activities and vocational training, educational support, referral services for employment, protection, and capacity-building. The counselling services in the community centres also provide much-needed psychosocial and health support. Last but not least, they are a place where the public and private sectors come together. The Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR), in particular, has had a leading role in terms of providing refugees with coaching and access to the job market. There are currently 15 community centres across Turkey, all located in cities that face the complex challenge of hosting a large population of refugees with limited NGO presence.

The Conditional Cash Transfer for Education programme encourages school enrollment and attendance for approximately 350,000 children from vulnerable refugee families. It also includes child protection mechanisms such as identification and assessment of the most vulnerable refugee children and referral to complementary child protection services.

Last but not least, another of our flagship programmes are the language classes for refugee adults. Starting in November, in partnership with UNDP, the Ministry of Education will provide Turkish language instruction to 52,000 Syrian adults. It is a mixed-learning approach that accommodates varying levels of Turkish proficiency and ensures that participants acquire the requisite levels of language proficiency to access the job market and engage with the host communities.

Allowing Syrians to work and to have savings in bank accounts has created a win-win situation for them and their host communities - Fatma Hascalik



How are refugees contributing to local communities in Turkey? 

F.H.: Refugees are contributing to their local communities in a number of ways. Across Turkey, with the support of Government mechanisms, more than 10,000 Syrian refugees have opened businesses. By extension, these businesses reap positive benefits reaching a hundred of thousands other people, both Syrian and Turkish. A significant number of Syrians work in the textile, construction, agriculture and service industries. Allowing Syrians to work and to have savings in bank accounts has created a win-win situation for them and their host communities —it enables refugees to support their families and to let them contribute to the local economy. In the long-term, equipping refugees with skills, vocational training, education and work opportunities will support the reconstruction of Syria should they return. Culturally, their presence and participation in their local communities creates an enriching and diverse environment.

What makes you passionate about humanitarian aid and your work?

F.H.: Jean-Paul Sartre once said: “man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life a meaning.” I give my life meaning by playing a role in supporting and improving resilience for vulnerable populations. All my life, I have been a numbers-oriented person and I know that people assume that analytical fields are impersonal. In my experience, it’s highly personal—I know that any fluctuation in the exchange rate, for example, is directly related to fewer people receiving food, in-kind assistance, and support for their basic needs. Every day, I feel impassioned and enthusiastic about being able to use my business, finance savvy and data analysis skills to directly support populations in need.


By Anouck Bronee and Jessica Hernandez