Op-Ed: Turkey: 95 Years of Humanitarian Foreign Policy
By Republic of Turkey’s ambassador to New Zealand, Ahmet Ergin.
On 29 October 2018, we celebrated 95th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey. In these 95 years of the Republic, Turkey has managed to shape a humanitarian foreign policy in a much volatile region.
The changing political and economic environment in its neighbourhood has made Turkey more vulnerable to an increasing number of challenges; being located close to the volatile regions where intensive transformations are still taking place.
Despite the uncertainty in the parameters and dynamics of the international system in a changing world, Turkey, powered by its growing means and capabilities, strives to effectively respond to today’s challenges in a determined and principled manner, as a reliable and responsible actor guided by the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, in his dictum: “Peace at Home, Peace in the World.”
With a view to adapt itself in a changing regional and international environment, Turkey adopted an enterprising and humanitarian foreign policy, aimed at promoting stability and prosperity regionally and globally.
New Zealand shares the same approach as a prominent contributor to the Pacific region and supporter of other countries that are currently experiencing humanitarian crises like Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Papua New Guinea.
Humanitarian aid, as one of the fundamental aspects of Turkey’s foreign policy, has been implemented with determination and success in all the countries where people face massive challenges. Turkey is a leading actor in the global responsibility of fighting extreme poverty, providing education for all, improving the lives of women and youth, as well as alleviating the challenges in conflict and disaster affected areas. The key element of Turkey’s humanitarian policy is the combination of humanitarian and development assistance, without discrimination.
Conflicts and natural disasters are the leading causes of human suffering. Today, more than 60 million people have been displaced from their homes due to conflicts. Since the World War II, this is the biggest number of people displaced. More than 200 million people have been affected by natural disasters and need aid. The gap between the needs of the people and aid provided to the people in response to humanitarian emergencies is widening. In order to find solutions to this problem, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit was organised jointly by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul on 23-24 May 2016. Nine-thousand participants from 180 Member States, including 55 Heads of State and Government came together in Istanbul.
According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, Turkey’s official development assistance (ODA) amounted to USD 8 billion in 2017. Humanitarian assistance has the biggest share in our ODA with an amount of USD 7.2 billion. Turkey was the biggest humanitarian aid donor worldwide in 2017 and the most generous donor when the ratio of official humanitarian assistance to national income (0.85%) is taken into consideration.
Turkey’s humanitarian aid is delivered mainly through the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and the Turkish Red Crescent with development oriented humanitarian aid from Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA).
Another aspect of our humanitarian approach is Turkey’s open door policy for Syrians fleeing their country due to ongoing violence over the past seven years. Over 3.5 million Syrians are currently hosted in Turkey. Around 230,000 of them live in one of 21 temporary protection centres. Turkey has spent USD 31 billion on these refugees (including contributions of municipalities and Turkish NGOs).
According to the UN Refugee Agency, Turkey maintains its position as the biggest host country with 4.3 million refugees. More than 600 thousand Syrian children continue their education in Turkey. The schooling rate among Syrian children in the age of primary education is 97 percent. Furthermore, the number of Syrian school leavers studying in Turkish universities is over 20,000.
Development-oriented humanitarian assistance constitutes the ultimate target of Turkey’s efforts. Turkey intervenes at the request of the host country with humanitarian aid for emergency humanitarian relief and continues with development projects, such as the construction of fundamental infrastructure, like hospitals and schools. This approach has been very successful particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Turkey’s policy to assist Somalia can be regarded as an exemplary case. All segments of Turkish society, from public institutions to NGOs and private sector, were mobilised to assist the people of Somalia following the severe famine in 2011. This approach has gradually evolved into a comprehensive policy, comprising humanitarian, developmental, as well as stabilisation efforts in an integrated strategy. Several projects were initiated, which consisted of human and institutional capacity building, construction of essential infrastructure, providing services such as education, sanitation and health. Humanitarian aid, such as delivering food and medicine is ongoing.
Whether it is an emergency resulting from a conflict or a natural disaster, Turkey extends its helping hand indiscriminately by responding to emergencies in its region, from the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to Yemen; from Colombia to Vietnam; from Nepal to Libya and Sudan.
Turkey’s humanitarian contributions are not confined to bilateral assistance projects. Turkey aims to further increase its contributions to various international organisations. Turkey is working and cooperating closely with the UN and its related institutions.
In order to assist further and to offer guidance to the UN’s humanitarian efforts, Turkey became a member of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) donor support group, which brings together leading humanitarian donors.
Turkey also financially supports and continues to increase its financial contribution for humanitarian aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and has been actively working to raise awareness to solve the financial crisis of UNRWA in view of its recent budget constraints.
Through mediation, and in fostering mutual respect and common values, Turkey actively seeks prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts around the globe. These efforts transcend into the multilateral sphere. In 2010, Turkey spearheaded, jointly with Finland, the “Mediation for Peace” initiative within the UN in order to raise awareness for mediation. “Friends of Mediation” formed within this framework has reached 56 members (48 states and 8 international/regional organisations). A similar group is co-chaired by Turkey-Finland-Switzerland at the OSCE.
As part of its leading role in the field of mediation, Turkey also hosts “Istanbul Conference on Mediation”. The three conferences held in February 2012, April 2013 and June 2014 brought together representatives from various institutions, NGOs and experts. The 4th “Istanbul Conference on Mediation” was held on 30 June 2017 under the theme “Surge in Diplomacy, Action in Mediation”. On 21 November of that year, as a summit chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Turkey hosted the first ever OIC Member States Conference on Mediation in Istanbul, with the theme, “Surge in Mediation: The Role of OIC”.
The UN Alliance of Civilisations Initiative, co-sponsored by Turkey and Spain, (currently with 146 members) represents the strongest response to the scenarios of the so-called “Clash of Civilizations”. Thus, boosting this global initiative is essential for strengthening the world now more than ever. We believe that one is not born with prejudices and discrimination but rather these are learned. These negative attitudes turn into hate speeches and even violence. Respect for social diversity and inclusive societies are crucial in our challenging world. We need to unite against all forms of intolerance, xenophobia, and discriminatory policies, including animosities against different religions.
To sum up, based on actions on the ground and the content of the policies, we call Turkish foreign policy enterprising and humanitarian; basically because it is a peaceful, creative and effective – a foreign policy able to utilise various elements of sway in a rational way, a foreign policy not hesitant of taking initiative, a foreign policy that takes into account peace and development.
Turkey is committed to shoulder its share of the burden in a multilateral framework, motivates to pursue these and further avenues of action believing that the international community needs to make a serious and concerted effort to achieve sustainable development and social justice globally.