The European Union plans to spend hundreds of millions of euros over the next year helping refugees living in Turkey, most of them people who fled the war in Syria.
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, said on Wednesday that it is extending two programmes, one that provides cash assistance to refugees in Turkey to meet their basic needs and the other that provides funds to help educate children.
The programmes will be extended until early 2022 at a total cost of 485 million euros ($590 million).
The commission said they provide much-needed cash to more than 1.8 million refugees and help educate more than 700,000 children. The programmes are managed by the Turkish Red Crescent in partnership with the Red Cross and UNICEF. Money does not go directly to Turkey’s government.
Turkey is home to almost 4 million refugees. Around 70 percent are women and children, and the overwhelming majority of refugees live outside migrant camps.
The European Union relies on Turkey to stop migrants and refugees from trying to reach the bloc’s 27 member-nations illegally. Well over a million people entered the EU in 2015, overwhelming Greece and Italy and sparking one of the bloc’s worst political crises.
In 2016, the EU offered Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees on its territory, fast-tracked EU membership and visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens if Turkey stopped migrants from trying to depart for Europe. The number of arrivals dropped dramatically.
But in March, Turkish authorities began waving thousands of migrants through to Europe after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had sought European help in northern Syria, but the request was refused and he accused the EU of reneging on its promises under the 2016 deal.
EU leaders in turn accused Erdoğan of “blackmail” but then promised to review the deal in an effort to end the chaos at Europe’s borders.
According to the European Commission, all 6 billion euros under the EU-Turkey deal has been “committed and contracted, with close to 4 billion euros disbursed”. Part of the money, 2.4 billion euros, was earmarked for humanitarian assistance and has been contracted out.