Intellectuals call for humanitarian access to Syrian refugees in Turkey
A Syrian refugee woman and a boy stand outside a tent at Yayladağı refugee camp in Hatay province, near the Turkish-Syrian border on Nov. 8. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)
Three prominent intellectuals called on Turkey's foreign minister to shift his government's policy to allow humanitarian relief agencies to help the country's Syrian refugees, currently taking shelter mainly in southern Turkish provinces.
An open letter signed by Lord Anthony Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics; Dr. Hany El Banna, founder of several relief organizations and current board member of the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA); and Turkish Professor Fuat Keyman, who is also the director of the İstanbul Policy Center appealed to Ahmet Davutoğlu, asking him to join Jordan and Lebanon in enabling humanitarian agencies to support relief efforts for the Syrian refugees.
More than 120,000 Syrian refugees are taking shelter in camps in southern Turkey and more are expected with winter setting in and millions of people estimated to be short of food inside Syria.
Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war, which started with peaceful demonstrations for reform but grew into demands for the overthrow of 42 years of dynastic rule by Bashar al-Assad and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their country and more than 2 million more have been displaced. The opposition said last week $60 billion would be needed for reconstruction.
With winter coming, the suffering will grow as displaced families seek food, medicine and shelter. UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is expected to visit Turkey on Dec. 7, said only 40 percent of needed humanitarian aid has been made available.
The open letter to the foreign minister praised Turkey's efforts to host Syrian refugees and said the solidarity shown by Turkish communities to their neighbors has been exemplary.
“Turkey has earned worldwide admiration for meeting its international obligations to welcome those fleeing from violence and fear of persecution,” the letter said, adding that while the numbers of those seeking shelter continue to grow, Turkey is understandably starting to feel the strain of providing this huge number of vulnerable people with essential life-saving assistance.
“Turkey should no longer have to bear this burden alone. Now is the time to invite and accept the financial and technical support of the international community,” the letter urged.
Professors wrote that they believe the international community and donor countries, especially from the Gulf region, must urgently step up their support and increase their assistance to Turkey and to all neighboring countries that currently host Syrian refugees.
The letter urged Turkey to allow international organizations to aid Syrian refugees.
The prominent intellectuals said in the letter that relief organizations and UN agencies stand ready to respond to Turkey's requests for support to share the burden of international refugee protection.
However, it said, political, legal and bureaucratic hurdles come in the way of full-fledged cooperation between Turkey and these humanitarian organizations. The letter said with only one exception, Turkish and international NGOs have no access to Turkey's Syrian refugee camps.
Syrian refugees in Turkey: an Open Letter to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Dear Mr Davutoğlu,
Your country has operated an ‘open-door’ policy ever since Syrians first started crossing into Turkey in May 2011, fleeing violence and regime attacks. Since then, Turkey has gone on to provide shelter and humanitarian assistance to more than 120,000 Syrian refugees at the cost of over $300m. These efforts in hosting such a large number of refugees are hugely commendable. Syrians fleeing violence, traumatized by the loss of their loved ones, the destruction of their homes and the horrific carnage of the civil war have been made welcome and hosted in excellent conditions. The solidarity shown by Turkish communities to their neighbours has been exemplary. Turkey has earned worldwide admiration for meeting its international obligations to welcome those fleeing from violence and fear of persecution.
But, 18 months later, there is still no end in sight to Syria’s conflict, and the UN now warns that the number of people inside Syria who need humanitarian aid could rise from 2.5 million to 4 million by early 2013. Against this backdrop of crisis we appeal to you. While we each have our own, singular perspective on the Syrian crisis we unite today in the belief that more must be done to assist Syrians who have no choice but to flee.
While the numbers of those seeking shelter continue to grow, Turkey is understandably starting to feel the strain of providing this huge number of vulnerable people with essential life-saving assistance. Nine thousand Syrians arrived in 24-hours on one day in November. Managing this crisis has become an effort of unprecedented magnitude. The Red Cross estimates that Turkey will need millions of dollars in foreign aid to cope with the still-growing surge of Syrians fleeing the prolonged civil war. Turkey should no longer have to bear this burden alone. Now is the time to invite and accept the financial and technical support of the international community.
We believe the international community and donor countries, especially from the Gulf, must urgently step up their support and increase their assistance to Turkey and to all neighbouring countries that currently host Syrian refugees. With the arrival of the harsh winter season this is more important than ever.
It is unacceptable that the $488 million UN Regional Refugee Response Plan is still only one-third funded. The international community must now fully fund the plans to care for Syria’s refugees. Equally important, all refugee-hosting countries must allow international humanitarian organisations to operate within their borders. We urge Turkey to join Jordan and Lebanon in enabling these specialist organisations into the country to support this effort with their technical skills and resources.
ECHO, UN agencies, ICRC and non-government organisations (NGOs) from all countries with expertise in assisting refugees all stand ready to respond to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s requests for support to share the burden of international refugee protection. However, political, legal and bureaucratic hurdles come in the way of a fully-fledged cooperation between Turkey and these humanitarian organisations. With only one exception, Turkish and international NGOs have no access to the Turkish refugee camps.
We welcome reports that the Turkish government has recently endorsed the UN’s regional response plan for Syrian refugees and that it has created a project pool, in which outside aid agencies can coordinate proposed projects with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and AFAD. Yet more needs to be done to meet the massively expanding needs. Allowing the UN humanitarian agencies and international NGOs to operate in Turkey could significantly relieve the strain of the rising numbers of refugees on their Turkish hosts. It would also unlock additional European funding to address the escalating humanitarian crisis. Finally, it would bring additional technical experience and expertise to help cope with the trauma that refugees, in particular children, are going through.
Your government may fear that external actors have political agendas or constitute a threat to Turkey’s sovereignty or security. Yet such professional humanitarian agencies have a long track-record of impartial and neutral action in many refugees crisis like the massive Somali refugee’s crisis in Kenya or the Libyan refugees in Tunisia for example. These organizations are guided by universal values of humanity and by international principles of the Geneva Conventions. As such the motivations are strictly humanitarian, based on mandates of providing relief to those who need it most, and they seek only to assist and support your government’s efforts to uphold its international obligations.
It is time for the world to support Turkey and for you to welcome support from international civil society, donors and friends. We urge you to accept help from international humanitarian organisations to provide life-saving support to the tens of thousands who’ve crossed into the country and the thousands still waiting to flee. It is our hope and wish that Syrians can continue to find a place of safety in Turkey.
Professor Lord Anthony Giddens is the former Director of the London School of Economics.
Dr Hany El Banna has founded several charities including The Humanitarian Forum, Islamic Relief, and the Muslim Charities Forum. He is also a board member of the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA).
Fuat Keyman is the Director of Istanbul Policy Center and Professor of International Relations at Sabancı University.