Syria, Iraq source of ‘new form of terror’: UNHCR

Syria, Iraq source of ‘new form of terror’: UNHCR

Serkan Demirtaş ANKARA
Syria, Iraq source of ‘new form of terror’: UNHCR The tragedies in Syria and Iraq are the source of “a new form of terror,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has told the Hürriyet Daily News, urging the international community to work harder to tackle the ongoing unrest in the region.

“Now we have this new form of terror – ‘lone wolves’ was the expression I heard about them – people who anywhere in the world can go online and become fanaticized. They see [these websites] and start shooting around, so this became a threat to global peace and security,” Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in an interview on Jan. 6, just a day before the fatal attack against the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that left at least 12 people dead.

Guterres made the statement in reference to developments in Syria and Iraq, warning that the number of foreign fighters in those countries who will eventually return to their country of origin is rising.

“I think everything needs to be done to solve this problem, this crisis. The suffering of the Syrian people is absolutely horrendous. It’s a country physically destroyed, its people are scattered not only within the country but now in the region, all over the world. It has also become a security threat for the countries of the region, as we have seen in Iraq, as well as incidents taking place in Lebanon,” he said.

“My hope is that the international community will understand that this has to be stopped. I can’t conceive of a world in which such a tragedy will not be stopped. I hope it will sooner or later.”

Guterres was in Ankara on Jan. 6 and 7 upon the invitation of the government to deliver a speech to the Turkish ambassadors gathered for the 7th Annual Ambassadors’ Conference in Ankara, as well as to hold talks with senior officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, about the growing tragedy in Syria.

As the Syrian crisis approaches its fourth year in March, how do your view Turkey’s performance in hosting Syrian refugees? What is Turkey doing best, and in what fields should Turkey improve its standards?

First of all, Turkey has been able to receive 1.7 million Syrian refugees, not to mention Iraqi refugees who are also coming. While doing that it is not only opening its borders but also the houses and hearts of the Turkish people. It’s an example of solidarity and generosity that I would like to see copied all over the world.

As a matter of fact, Turkey, with Pakistan, is now one of the two countries with the largest number of refugees, and when one goes to refugee camps in southern Turkey they have probably the best conditions you can see in any refugee camp around the world. There has been mass investment by the Turkish government not only for shelter, water and food but also in education, health and in other conditions. The Turkish government has spent more than $5 billion in assistance on Syrian refugees and this represents a generosity and commitment that is absolutely remarkable.

And I believe the international community has a debt of gratitude towards Turkey. Unfortunately the support that the Turkish government has received from the international community has been very, very limited. Even the UNHCR … what we did was a drop in the ocean compared to what Turkey has done.

At the same time, Turkey also took a very important decision. As it was facing a massive inflow and enormous emergency, Turkey decided to reform the legal and institutional framework of asylum in order to create more than an asylum system … The courage that the government demonstrated in taking these decisions is something that deserves applause by the international community, demonstrating that Turkey is becoming one of the most important pillars of the international protection regime for refugees.

Obviously in the period of transition there will be gaps, there will be expectations here and there that will not work perfectly. There are some protection concerns but I think it’s important that there was a massive effort of protection and assistance to the Syrian refugees that needs to be fully recognized by the international community.

Although Turkey is cooperating with the UNHCR and other partners, its policy was to deal with the refugee crisis on its own. This was seen as an obstacle before more generous assistance from the international community. Do you agree with these concerns?

First, the temporary protection regime is a perfectly adequate one and it had our full approval. On the other hand, the prior responsibility for refugee protection and assistance is always of the host state. Turkey has fully assumed this responsibility and nobody can blame it for that … I strongly believe that the fact that Turkey has assumed the responsibilities of a host state in these very difficult circumstances can only be a positive factor for enhanced international solidarity.

In your address to the Turkish ambassadors, you said the world is witnessing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. So why can’t the international community mobilize to provide adequate support?

I think the biggest gap in the international community’s capacity is not the assistance, but in prevention. What is dramatic is that the international community has largely lost its capacity to prevent conflicts and resolve them.

It’s true when one looks at humanitarian budgets that there has been some growth around the world, but that growth is out of proportion with the growth of needs. Just to give you an example, the number of people displaced by conflicts in 2011 per day was 14,000, in 2012 it was 23,000, and in 2013 it was 32,000. There is an exponential growth in needs and there is a linear growth in funding for humanitarian action.

So you think the Turkish government is right to criticize the international community on this?

I think the Turkish government was entitled to expect more support. This support is obviously related to money, but it’s also about telling other countries, in Europe, in the Gulf, and anywhere in the world, that it’s not only a responsibility of the neighboring countries, it’s a global responsibility. The Syrian crisis is such a mega crisis and all borders should be opened, not only those in the region.