Now, Syrian refugees do not wait in line for food at a Turkish camp nor do they crowd around aid delivery trucks, but instead, they go to the ordinary supermarkets to pay for the goods using their debit cards.
Under the experimental project launched by the UN World Food Programme and the Turkish Red Crescent, thousands of refugees who have fled the conflict raging in their homeland now receive debit cards charged with aid credits rather than boxes of basic supplies.
Food e-cards were initially distributed to 13,000 Syrians in Kilis in October 2012. After Kilis, the Food e-Card programme was expanded in other camps in Hatay. The programme are planned to be expanded to include a higher number of families, as cooking facilities and access to shops become available in other camps.
Each Syrian family receives an electronic Food e-Card that is loaded with 80 Turkish Liras (US$45) per family member per month. This is enough to provide a basic diet (at least 2,100 kcal per person per day). Nearly 22,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey were benefiting from the “Food e-card” project at the end of November, according to the WFP.
The Visa Electron cards, supplied by Turkey’s Halkbank, are accepted only in certain stores operated by a private Turkish retail chain. The supermarkets are stocked with fresh vegetables, meat and a wide variety of staple food products and basic necessities. But there are some restrictions. Purchases of chocolate and cigarettes are not allowed with the cards, and alcohol is not sold in these shops. At the register, the products are scanned and so is the user’s finger, which is checked against the fingerprint stored on the card’s electronic chip.
The WFP and Red Crescent said that while one potential consequence of humanitarian programmes is that an influx of aid can distort economies, they hope the combination of technology and using local suppliers used in the “Food e card” scheme could strengthen the local economy and serve as a role model in the region.
This is an interesting innovative effort to provide food relief to refugees as this is not going to affect the local economy adversely as a consequence of sudden influx of refugees from a neighboring country. But it needs advanced economy and banking system in the host country for making this type of programme to be successful.