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GOAL On The Ground: Combating COVID-19 in Turkey


July 9, 2020 • 4 min read

As part of our ‘GOAL on the Ground’ series Kevin Naughton looks at how GOAL is helping vulnerable communities fight the spread of COVID-19 in Turkey.

By the first week of July, Turkey had recorded over 206,000 cases of COVID-19 and 5,200 deaths. The first official case of the virus was confirmed on 11th March. As a result, the Turkish Government introduced travel and operations restrictions. In response, GOAL has adapted many of its programmes to continue operations in the new context of COVID-19.

The Challenges in Turkey

GOAL has been operating in Turkey since 2016. Our main beneficiaries are refugees fleeing conflict in Syria. Turkey is host to more refugees than any other country and there are currently over 3 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Our activities have focused on addressing gaps and responding to identified needs in health service delivery, social security provision, and the protection of vulnerable and marginalized refugees in southern Turkey. Our current projects target nomadic and semi-nomadic refugee groups and seasonal agricultural workers in Adana, Şanlıurfa and Gaziantep. So far in 2020, GOAL has reached over 25,000 refugees with targeted protection support activities.

Many of these refugees rely on informal jobs to sustain themselves. As a result of Government-imposed restrictions, many of these refugees have seen their livelihoods disappear. Without an income, many are struggling to meet their basic needs and requirements. A recent assessment survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Syrian refugees who have benefitted from the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) basic needs assistance programme shows that many have been left jobless. The survey identifies food assistance as a priority for refugees, with multi-purpose cash transfers that can help cover rent and bills being listed as the second most urgent need.

In order to better understand the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on refugee households targeted in our programming, GOAL conducted a rapid needs assessment survey with 188 refugees from nomadic and semi-nomadic communities in Adana, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa. These people are engaged in seasonal agricultural labour. In addition, the survey also targeted 60 other individuals that resided in urban areas in Ankara. The survey’s findings were shared in inter-agency Protection Working Group meetings and with the Turkey Representation of UNHCR, the United Nations’ (UN) Refugee Agency and have influenced our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Information Campaign

One of GOAL’s priorities in Turkey is ensuring awareness of COVID-19 and best prevention practices among the refugee population. Many of the refugees speak Arabic and cannot access Government-issued health information as it is in Turkish. GOAL has provided tailor-made messaging campaigns for these communities. These campaigns are done in person and via TV and radio.

So far, GOAL has reached more than 3,400 vulnerable households in Adana, Ankara, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa via telephone to provide them with information on COVID-19 avoidance and prevention measures and on access to healthcare. In addition to this, the campaign is educating people on movement restrictions and other new regulations implemented in their places of residence.

Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

GOAL team member distributing PPE to refugee community in Adana, Turkey.

In the COVID-19 context, women, children, minority groups, and migrant and refugee populations are at increased risk of suffering violence, exploitation and discrimination due to lockdowns. The pandemic is already impacting social cohesion by causing novel forms of distrust between communities and exacerbating the stigmatisation and scapegoating of minorities, refugees and migrants. Widening fear and uncertainty is leading to the exclusion of specific groups from access to services or resources and to barriers against their participation or leadership in local response efforts.

GOAL is working with local communities to raise awareness around GBV and help families cope better with restrictions. GOAL has adapted its psychoeducation activity modules and messages to be delivered through phones and digital means. 764 clients were informed via WhatsApp messages, both text and voice, on COVID-19 related stress indicators. GOAL also has a hotline number and psychologists available for support when needed.

Food and Water 

Maintaining proper personal hygiene is one of the most essential tools in combatting COVID-19. These have formed a crucial aspect of our messaging campaign. To assist this, GOAL has provided food and hygiene vouchers to 700 individuals selected from among the communities targeted in its programming in accordance with their vulnerability status.

With reduced incomes, the ability of many of GOAL’s beneficiaries to purchase food has become more limited. Many people bought food from salesmen and women who visited their neighborhoods. With travel restrictions, these communities have had to travel further and at greater expense to obtain food.

GOAL team member providing local nomadic and semi-nomadic refugees with PPE.

Inter-Agency Operation

GOAL is the largest NGO in Turkey working with nomadic and semi-nomadic refugees. We work closely with other NGOs and humanitarian agencies to ensure vulnerable groups who must travel continue to be cared for.

GOAL has helped connect 1,279 refugees to services provided by UN agencies and other national and international organizations to support their access to various kinds of assistance. We have provided transportation to 20 refugees in order to enable their travel to cities where they could complete their International Protection registration applications.