Syrian women’s art on show in Istanbul subway station

ANKARA � An art exhibition created by women refugees in Turkey opened on Wednesday at Istanbul's Yenikapi subway station, a major transit hub. Part of a three-month art initiative, it's funded by a European Union assistance programme for refugees across Turkey.

In the Umudun Renkleri initiative, 12 Syrian women learned techniques from Turkish artists to create works reflecting their experiences fleeing the war in Syria. Their art has already been exhibited in Ankara and now comes to Istanbul where it will be displayed until 12 December.

Producing this art helped me come to terms with the past and to move on from those experiences, said Salha, one of the women involved in the Umudun Renkleri project, which seeks to foster better understanding of the refugee community in Turkey.

The initiative uses art as a way to help refugees cope with their experiences and was carried out under the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) cash assistance programme, implemented by the UN World Food Programme, the Turkish Red Crescent and the Turkish Government.

The works on display here offer a window onto the emotional journey that these women have undertaken since becoming refugees, said Nils Grede, WFP representative in Turkey. The fact that they were even able to take part in this project shows that, with the help of all of us, they have regained a certain stability in their lives.

Some 1.5 million refugees currently supported by the ESSN programme receive 120 TL for each family member every month on a special debit card to withdraw cash or purchase items in shops, like any other debit card. All of the artists said that receiving cash assistance through ESSN had helped them significantly to adjust to their life in Turkey.

''The assistance programme that we implement with the ESSN card (Kizilaykart) preserves the dignity of people in need and has become a pilot project in the world, said Turkish Red Crescent Deputy Director General Alper Kucuk. Refugees have the freedom to buy what they need. The happiness of a mother who has a chance to cook what her children want to eat at dinner cannot be described.

Families usually spend the ESSN money on a range of basic needs, including rent, food, medicines and school equipment for children. This approach also benefits the local economy.

With nearly Euros 1 billion in EU funding, the Emergency Social Safety Net is improving lives of the refugees and their host communities in Turkey, said Claudia Amaral, the Head of the EU's Humanitarian Office in Ankara. By covering the basic needs of the refugees, ESSN programme improves the living conditions of the refugees in Turkey and allows them to also engage in social activities.

The ESSN is the largest humanitarian project funded by the EU in terms of the number of people it supports and the scale of the EU's contribution. The European Union has so far channeled approximately $US1.2 billion into the ESSN programme in Turkey.

Source: World Food Programme