WHS: Will the outcome be as ambitious as it sounds?

WHS: Will the outcome be as ambitious as it sounds?

The World Humanitarian Summit, which will take place May 23 and 24 under the auspices of the United States in Istanbul, is the first of its kind in the 70-year history of the international body. It has been convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and will gather heads of state and government from most parts of the world. Some 5,000 delegates are expected to also represent businesses, aid organizations and civil society organizations; broadly speaking, anybody who is interested or affected by humanitarian catastrophes will be present. 

What will be discussed, and what will be the outcome? A new global approach and specific policies to re-energize the commitment to humanity and humanitarian principles, as well as, practical policies “on ensuring hope and dignity for refugees or internally displaced people and support for host countries and communities.”

Our region has been experiencing its worst humanitarian disaster since World War II. Scores of migrants and refugees are fleeing the theaters of terrible wars in the Middle East and North Africa and trying to reach Europe. They are trying to reach an area where, in theory at least, fundamental human rights are protected and where a refugee, fleeing a war zone, can hope to be granted asylum and safe living.

Values and principles can only be verified in practice. And the way these principles and values have been applied by the interested parties since last summer has left us with significant doubts about their validity.

Nobody can tell for sure if German Chancellor Angela Merkel could foresee what impact her stance on what to do with the people fleeing the wars in the Middle East would have on the rest of Europe. I have put that question to several colleagues who cover German politics. I could not get a clear answer about the chancellor’s motives. Many called it a major mistake that could threaten her political future, linking it to the recent problematic EU-Turkey agreement. Some, though, quote economists who think that Germany needs extra working hands to sustain its economic superiority in Europe.

Whatever the motives, Merkel’s statement last summer that Germany could host up to 1 million refugees gave false hope to hundreds of thousands of desperate people fleeing the war and drove them to a perilous journey through Turkey and the Aegean Sea. It caused the death of thousands and filled the pockets of human smugglers.

The humanitarian crisis resulting from the unending wars in our neighborhood reached a peak last summer.

The endless rows of the washed-out, hungry and homeless seeking a new life in Europe pushed Europe into an existential crisis. It became a testing ground for European governments and societies to show how much of their “fundamental human values” were still in force. And how much Europe could be considered as a continent of advanced democracies with laws that protect fundamental human rights and freedoms. It was also a testing ground for the unity and allegiance of the most cherished European institution of recent history, the European Union.

All of the above were tried and failed to a large extent. The 1 million or so people who managed to reach the borders of Europe found them closed, wired and locked. They discovered that the leaders of several European countries would prefer not to deal with people of different cultures, races and religions. And it is only logical to link the recent rise of nationalist and racist political rhetoric across Europe – which is either blunt or masked by the fear of terrorism – with the latest influx of Middle Eastern refugees and migrants.

Turkey, the host of the May 23-24 summit, is already hosting the highest number of refugees/migrants in the world. It is already facing a huge problem of integrating such a large number of people unless it embarks on a long-term, well-planned and financed integration program as refugee camps are not really the solution.

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister whose country was the first European stop for the bulk of the refugees/migrants coming from Turkey, is struggling with inadequate infrastructure and limited help to deal with several thousand of them stuck in Greece after the EU-Turkey agreement was put into force.

And besides Ban, I think everybody would be looking forward to hearing of the “practical policies on ensuring hope and dignity for refugees” that the German chancellor may have to propose.