Humanitarians without borders

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 22 May 2016

Victims of war: The Syrians did not choose to become refugees willingly. They were forced to leave their country out of fear. — AFP

IN today’s fast changing and borderless world, humanitarian crises are inevitable as countries around the world struggle to cope with the available but dwindling resources.

It is estimated that 50 million people are living in conflict zones while another 100 million of the world’s population are affected by natural disasters every year.

Due to these startling figures, a new global partnership is necessary to help in disbursing aid more effectively to save lives and assist in the path of recovery.

The United Nations is taking the first step towards addressing this issue by staging the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey, starting tomorrow.

Some 50 heads of state and leaders from 160 nations have confirmed their participation in the two-day, multi-stakeholder summit which includes academia, non-governmental organisations, private sector, youth representatives and affected communities, among others.

The summit has three main goals – reaffirm its commitment to humanity and humanitarian principles; initiate actions and commitments which enable countries and communities to prepare for and respond to crises and be more resilient to shocks; and share best practices which help save lives around the world, placing affected people at the centre of humanitarian action and alleviating suffering.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak will be representing Malaysia and is expected to bring up some salient points, including reiterating its stand and commitment to accept 3,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

A picture taken through an arch remaining from a detroyed building shows Syrian boys on a bicycle on May 14, 2016 in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMAD ABAZEED
Tragic circumstances: Over four million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war there in 2011. — AFP

During the United Nations General Assembly in New York last October, Najib had announced that Malaysia would open its doors to 3,000 Syrian migrants over the next three years to help alleviate the refugee crisis.

Over four million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war there in 2011. The summit, says Turkey Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, will provide a vital platform to address the challenges burdening the humanitarian system and constitutes a timely recognition of the successful humanitarian diplomacy.

“The choice of hosting the summit is hardly coincidental. Today, besides being a major humanitarian donor, we also host the largest refugee population – more than three million – in the world.

“This is largely due to the Syrian war. Providing shelter and vital services such as free healthcare, schooling and vocational training for these refugees is a major financial burden for our country,” he notes.

In fact, the world is now facing major humanitarian crises, unlike anything since the last World War. While natural disasters are still the main cause of death and displacement, what is most alarming is that nearly 80% of all humanitarian crises are conflict-related and of a recurrent or protracted nature.

The ministry’s deputy undersecretary (general political affairs) Levent Murat Burhan concurs, calling for a right balance between handing out humanitarian assistance and providing development tools to bridge the gap.

“There is an urgent need to deal with the root of the problem through a viable solution, instead of only meeting the needs of those affected on a short-term basis. This summit is just the beginning and not the end of the crisis.”

Burhan’s concern is apprehensible. Turkey shares a border, approximately 700km, with Syria. About 2.75 million Syrians are now residing in Turkey. In addition, another 270,000 Syrians are seeking shelter at the 25 refugees camps, and they are given full access to education and health just like any Turkish citizen. Then, there are also 300,000 Iraqis and other nationalities here accorded with temporary protection status.

In the south-central Kilis province, the number of refugees stand at 120,000 people, more than the local population of 90,000.

Last January, job opportunities were opened up to enable refugees with qualifications to join the labour market and make a living. Over the last five years, the Turkey government has spent a staggering US$10bil on these humanitarian efforts.

“This is the Turkish people’s money. We only got about US$500mil from international aid and we have overstretched our financial capabilities.

“This is not just our problem.This is a problem of global proportions. So we are asking our friends to share this burden. Hopefully, the summit will raise awareness in every segment,” he adds.

Turkey’s Emergency and Disaster Management Authority (AFAD) deputy president Hamza Tasdelen believes strongly that as long as the civil war in Syria persists, the movement of refugees will be never ending.

“Syrians do not choose to become refugees willingly. They are forced to leave their country out of fear,” he says.

True, humanitarian crises are transcending borders. Today, an estimated 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance around the globe. The number of displaced persons – 60 million – has almost doubled in just a decade.

These numbers stand as testament to the human suffering caused by the growing complexity of humanitarian crises, inability and unwillingness of world communities to tackle them, and the widening financial gap between increasing needs and limited resources.

Something has to be done to galvanise the international community towards action.

Turkey, in setting an example, is responding to all manner of humanitarian crises in some 51 countries from Haiti to Nepal, Guinea to Somalia and the Sahel to Indonesia, says Cavusoglu.

“Our humanitarian efforts seek not only to relieve symptoms but also to treat the disease. This holistic approach covers humanitarian and development assistance, addresses the root causes and push factors of humanitarian crises. This approach is demand-driven and can best be seen in Sahel or Somalia, where Turkey has pursued an integrated policy.”

The Istanbul summit is an opportunity to step up and shoulder that responsibility.

“We are calling on all leaders of the world to work with us to find solutions for those who desperately need humanitarian assistance,” Cavusoglu adds.

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