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LINK in Turkey: supporting Syrian refugees more important than ever due to COVID-19


May 14, 2020 • 4 min read

GOAL's LINK programme in Turkey works to connect vulnerable refugee communities with support services available to them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this service has become even more crucial, as the regular processes of support and communication for refugee communities are disrupted.

By Caroline Lavelle

GOAL has been operational in Turkey since 2013, working with national systems to improve the protection of those affected by the Syrian crisis. Over 3.5 million Syrian refugees have crossed the border to Turkey since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. Upon doing so, they are often left vulnerable to a number of protection risks. This is largely due to a lack of access to information regarding their rights, their obligations and the services available to them within the Turkish state. At this time of international crisis due to COVID-19, these groups are left particularly exposed due to disruption of regular processes of support and breakdowns in public services.

GOAL’s LINK programme in Turkey connects vulnerable groups of refugees and nomadic groups to state and non-state services in order to guarantee their basic human rights, including healthcare and education. GOAL staff work to reduce, remove and prevent protection risks to an individual. They do this by referring and accompanying them to services suitable to their needs, providing them with information regarding their rights, and offering both legal counselling and psychosocial supports.

A GOAL LINK information stand at the World Refugee Day Information Fair in Şanlıurfa, Turkey.

The experience of Ahmed

One Syrian refugee who benefitted from assistance from the LINK programme was Ahmed*. He lives in a 3-room house with his wife, four children, six grandchildren and one daughter-in-law. Due to a lack of knowledge of the state supports and health services available, Ahmed and his family lacked sufficient income to meet their medical and basic needs such as food and school supplies. Their area suffered from many social problems and his own son was abusing alcohol and other substances.

Through GOAL’s LINK programme, Ahmed was provided with information counselling on eligibility and application criteria for two state social assistance schemes. This increased his income and enabled him to pay for school supplies and transportation fees to bring his family to the nearest health facility. Thanks to information and accompaniment provided by GOAL, his grandchildren received vaccinations and his son received treatment at a state alcohol and substance addiction treatment centre.

Ahmed’s situation was greatly strengthened thanks to the help of the LINK programme. His family’s vulnerabilities were reduced with the help of increased income, improved access to healthcare and supports and better attendance and performance in school. The LINK programme strives to make the lives of refugees like Ahmed safer, more secure and more protected.

COVID-19 and the LINK programme

During the current COVID-19 outbreak, this lack of connection between Syrian refugees and the supports available to them poses an even more detrimental challenge. Social support centres in Turkey have been closed due to social distancing measures, causing parts of the LINK programme to be placed on hold temporarily.

However, GOAL staff are continuing to work remotely to support the programme’s beneficiaries during this challenging and uncertain period. A recent survey of refugees in Turkey carried out by GOAL shows that many refugees are not getting the correct health information related to COVID-19 due to language barriers and remote locations. In the current public health crisis, receiving accurate and trustworthy information is critical to slowing the spread of the virus.

GOAL has been working with these communities to best prepare them with the correct information, communicating through phone calls and messages, including WhatsApp campaigns. Information shared with refugee communities includes the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, basic protection methods from COVID-19, information regarding access to health care service during the pandemic and updates of the evolving rules and regulations affecting their communities. To date, the campaign has reached nearly 2,300 people.

After experiencing a rapid rise in cases at the beginning of April, Turkey’s total number now stands in the top 10 highest totals in the world. As of May 14th, there are over 140,000 COVID-19 cases in the country and it has recorded nearly 3,900 deaths.


* The beneficiary’s name was changed for this story.

Implemented by GOAL with financial support from European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the LINK project aims to connect vulnerable refugees to state and non-state protection, social service and social assistance programmes available in Turkey. These are available under the provisions of Temporary Protection and International Protection regulations. This implements outreach, advocacy and Individual Protection Assistance (IPA) activities in Adana, Ankara, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa.

This document covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.