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Press Centre (4/2017)

During the cold winter months, debit cards bring warmth to the most vulnerable Syrian children

Ranya waits at the checkout line of a local shop in Kilis, southern Turkey, to buy clothes for her children. Photo Credit: © UNICEF Turkey/2017/Feyzioglu
By Donatella Lorch / UNICEF

KILIS, 5 April 2017 –
Since Ranya fled Syria and settled in the Turkish city of Kilis just over a year ago, she has moved four times, her five young children in tow. 
For a few months they lived with her parents but it was too crowded. Ranya, 34, whose husband has been missing in Syria for over a year, then had a brief five-month streak of luck when a Turkish family offered to temporarily pay rent for a single room. Since then she spends her days in a friend’s apartment, while her three boys beg on nearby streets.

“We don’t have a house, we don’t have anything,” explained Ranya, as she sat on the floor of her friend’s kitchen. “The children can’t go to school. Now it is winter and they need warm clothes and blankets.”

Ranya and her family are among the 120,000 Syrian refugees that live in the city of Kilis, in Southeast Turkey just a few kilometres from the Syrian border. Most of the refugees here are from Aleppo or farmers from just across the border.

Her children’s feet are chapped and dirty, their T-shirts stained and layered. Rania’s seven-year old daughter wears tattered worn out white sandals. Her brother, Ahmed, 13, has outgrown his sneakers and uses them like flip flops

In Kilis, UNICEF has partnered with the Danish Refugee Council to support 3,670 vulnerable refugee families, including Rania’s, that live in dire conditions worsened by the winter cold. But because each family’s needs vary, this winter assistance from UNICEF comes in the form of a pre-loaded debit card that allows the families to prioritize their own shopping in 20 pre-selected stores. The most popular items are warm clothes, blankets, heating coal and cooking gas.

The amount of money varies according to the size of the family, from 500TL (US$139) for a family of four to 900TL (US$250) for a family of eight. In total, UNICEF debit cards have benefited an estimated 20,000 Syrian refugees across Kilis this winter season. The debit card program has made it possible to identify Rania for further assistance. UNICEF and its partners will help her register her children in school as well as have them immunized.

As soon as she received her debit card, Ranya’s priorities focused on buying clothes. She had 700TL (US$194) to spend and she knew exactly where she wanted to go. With Aliya and 14-year-old Mohammed in tow, she went straight to a modern two-story glass-walled clothing store with the UNICEF debit card logo displayed on the entrance window, zeroing in on the children’s section. Aliya was all smiles, skipping down the aisles, caressing sweaters, checking out shirts and at one point donning an electric pink down coat and pirouetting with unrepressed glee. Mohammed was more subdued and helped Ranya select three pairs of jeans for his brothers and himself (on sale for 9TL each or US$2.50). Mohammed then tried on sweaters warily entering a dressing room to face a giant mirror. “It is very soft,” he whispered as he caressed his cheek with the edge of the hoodie. “It is so nice.”

At the checkout line, Ranya joined a handful of Syrian refugee women, all with debit card in hand. While Aliya tried to peak over the counter, her mother paid 255TL (US$70) for the jeans, the pink coat, sweaters, socks and several shirts. There were smiles all around including from the all female check-out staff.

“The debit card is good business for our store,” said Mehmet Tek,” the store manager. “We are very crowded on the first and second day after the debit cards are activated. Our sales are good.”

Loaded down with plastic shopping bags, Ranya, walked down the store steps onto the main street. The sun was out and Aliya skipped ahead, her torn white sandals clacking against her heels.

“Tomorrow I will buy shoes for all my children,” Ranya said. “I may not have a place of my own to live in but my children now have warm clothes.”

This winter program is made possible thanks to the generous financial support of the European Union through its European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO). 

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org