Meryem is a young refugee woman trying to stay healthy with her three children amidst the coronavirus the pandemic. Dilek Latifeci from our Şanlıurfa team tells us what Meryem and others are experiencing during the pandemic, and about her work as a humanitarian.

I am Dilek Latifeci. I have been working as a social worker in the individual protection team of Şanlıurfa at Support to Life Association since 2018. As the implementing partner of the Germany-based humanitarian aid organization Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, our main objective is to improve the living standards of the refugee population in rural areas, ensure their access to rights and services and support their active participation in the community. These activities are financed by the European Union though its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. Perhaps the most fragile layer of the community we are supporting iares disadvantaged women and men, seniors, people with disabilities, children in need of protection, individuals who have been exposed to gender-based violence, and people without legal status. The work we do to meet the needs of these people is called 'protection'.

When starting our protection efforts and response processes, the first step is to identify the problems and needs of our clients. We conduct individual interviews and invite them to our case office find solutions to their problems. We want to enable people to be more confident as they stand on their own feet and increase their competence in problem-solving. However, things have changed since March 2020. The reason is the COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting everyone around the world.

From the moment the pandemic measures were introduced and everyone was asked to stay at home, we, as humanitarian workers working in the field of protection, began to observe the needs of the new era. We now had to define a new ‘normal’ and respond to the changing and increasing needs of the most vulnerable among our clients.

Creative Ways To Reach Those In Need

With the introduction of the location-independent working method, our face-to-face interviews have been replaced by online phone calls. As the household visits we used to make to identify needs came to a halt, we are faced with a declaration-based assessment method. that distance would negatively affect the bond of trust between us and our clients. On the contrary, this relationship of trust deepened, and we noticed that now people expressed their problems more freely.

Basic Needs Or Permanent Livelihoods?

Refugees are already among the most vulnerable; on top of that, they were now negatively affected by the pandemic and the rapidly changing social policies. We were able to observe very clearly that our clients, many of whom worked for daily wage at daily/irregular jobs, were unemployed due to curfews and the economic bottleneck in the country. Right at this point, we provided cash assistance to approximately 400 clients, who couldn't even buy the things they needed most urgently. But we know that social assistance is crisis-oriented, and We are aware that longer term recovery and empowerment for our clients is only possible when they can access jobs. However, when the job opportunities that were already limited locally were further reduced due to the pandemic, we wanted to make it possible for our clients to have access at least to their basic needs.

We're Home, But Are We All Safe?

Another challenge we experienced was about being able to influence what happens within households. During the pandemic, when everyone spent most of their time at home, 'home' did not mean a safe space for some. We observed a worrying trend: the increased socio-economic problems led to an increase in gender-based violence. We tried to support our female clients with legal consultancy assistance and security plans that we created with them. We have come a long way, but we are also aware that there are many women who cannot get in touch with us at a time when it is so difficult to identify cases and reach people.

Delivering Education And Health Services

And then there is education… With the replacement of formal education by distance learning, the demand for educational materials increased as well. We provided information on how to access distance education, and we delivered packages containing educational materials that are essential for children in need to continue to learn. These packages, which we delivered in collaboration with the clients, professionals and support teams, reminded us once again of the importance of team spirit.

The lack of capacity of health systems has also negatively affected our clients who have special needs. In many cases people had, for example difficulty accessing health services due to a shortage of interpreters at hospitals, so we increased our communication with the public and other non-governmental organizations through remote means.

... And New Gates Opening

Despite all the negativities and challenges, this process has been invaluable in terms of showing how everything changes when we are able to touch the lives of our clients. One day during the pandemic, we received a call on our Şanlıurfa information-support line. It was a young refugee woman on the phone. She was telling me: "It is said by the Provincial Migration Management that we have to go back to Sivas. I didn't want to leave without calling you, I couldn't... There is a travel restriction. We can't go even if we want to. And even if we do, we have nowhere to stay there. And here, I'm not registered, no one is able to provide support. A baby in my arms, two kids with me, disease everywhere..." Aren't the new gates opening when we are most desperate the ones that light the way? This phone call was the new door opening at that difficult time for 34-year-old Meryem, who had come from Sivas to Şanlıurfa with her three kids due to economic difficulties. As the Support to Life protection team, we addressed the case promptly. We brought the temporary protection record of Meryem and her children to Şanlıurfa and had an identity document issued for her baby. Then we referred Meryem to basic livelihoods where she could earn income. One woman and three persons-of-the-future are now climbing the steps of a new life… Meryem was just one out of many clients whose life we have made easier during this challenging time. Stories like Meryem’s drive our determination to work and face all the challenges and exhaustion we have been dealing with since March.

While the second wave of the pandemic has reared its ugly head, we continue to work to increase the well-being first of ourselves and then of the people we support by using the experience we have gained in this entire process effectively. To not leave a single person behind...

Dilek Latifeci
Support to Life Association
Şanlıurfa / Social Worker


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