Community Resilience

Food Banks Support Syrian Refugee Communities in Turkey

The civil war in Syria, which started more than a decade ago, has forced 6.6 million people to flee the country and internally displaced another 6.7 million, creating the world’s largest refugee crisis. About 5.5 million Syrians are now in neighboring countries — particularly Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan — according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Estimates suggest 400,000 to 500,000 Syrian refugees currently live in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, and many struggle to make ends meet. Most Syrians are unable to secure work permits in Turkey and end up taking on informal jobs for low wages. The COVID-19 pandemic limited economic opportunities further, leaving many unemployed.

In Turkey, food banks are filling an essential community need by providing food to those pushed from their homes due to conflict. TIDER is a GFN member organization committed to ensuring people living below the poverty line can first access basic needs and then find dignified work. One of the main functions of TIDER, which is an abbreviation of “Basic Needs Association” in Turkish, is to provide funding and technical assistance to food banks throughout the country.

To fight hunger and food insecurity in the community, TIDER partnered with another local organization, the Refugees Association, to start a food bank in Istanbul’s Sultanbeyli Municipality, where many refugees and migrants live. Out of the more than 8,000 people who access the Refugees Association Food Bank, 90 percent are from Syria.

The idea for the Sultanbeyli food bank began at the end of 2019, when Refugees Association staff identified needs that could be fulfilled by a food bank in the municipality. They reached out to TIDER, visited several of the organization’s established food banks, and felt like a partnership would be a good fit. So the organizations worked diligently to raise funds, find a suitable location, and procure the necessary equipment. With TIDER’s support, the Refugees Association food bank began serving the Sultanbeyli community in February 2021.

Other TIDER food banks in the country are working to address undernutrition and hunger among refugee families. The Metropolitan Food Bank is in Gaziantep, about 35 miles from both the border with Syria and Turkey’s second-largest refugee camp. They have been in operation for seven years, and since the crisis in Syria began, staff members have put a particular emphasis on increasing capacity to store and distribute food. Currently, Gaziantep Municipality Food Bank is serving 34,000 people, and they are planning to continue to increase their ability to reach out to refugee communities.

“As a result of COVID-19 closures, economic stagnation left many groups working with daily wages unemployed, which increased the need for social assistance,” said Fatih Aksut, manager of the Gaziantep food bank. In response, Metropolitan is making plans to open a new food bank specifically to serve the area’s refugee community.

Food banks like those TIDER supports in Turkey are crucial to addressing the needs of refugee populations. June 20 marks World Refugee Day, an international observance promoted by the UNHCR that emphasizes education and advocacy. For more information and ways to participate, visit UNHCR’s World Refugee Day page.

To support food banks and networks like TIDER that are providing community-driven solutions to end hunger, visit GFN’s donation page.

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