Turkey doesn’t receive enough int’l support in refugee issue: UN official
NALAN KOÇAK - Istanbul
Turkey does not receive enough international support to tackle the refugee issue, U.N. Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis Panos Moumtzis said in a Skype interview with Hürriyet Daily News on June 13, while lamenting international humanitarian agencies, including the United Nations, can only cope with maximum 800,000 refugees from Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib as the number can mount to 2 million.
Moumtzis is on a 10-day trip to Turkey and is currently in the southeastern province of Gaziantep to attend meetings with Turkish officials especially on the current humanitarian situation in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the war-torn country which is the scene of fresh tension.
Moumtzis said the situation in Idlib is very worrying. “Three million people live in Idlib, half of them are internally displaced. Every time the regime took over an area, the fighters and families were brought into Idlib. So it is the most densely populated governorate in Syria. Since April 24, we have been very worried because we see on a daily basis barrel bombs, airstrikes, ground offensive, and a lot of these have affected hospitals. We have at least 25 hospitals and 30 schools confirmed to have been bombed. Some 300,000 Syrians are also newly displaced; people left entire towns and villages in the south of Idlib. There have also been attacks on refugee camps. Hospitals have to be respected according to international law.”
When asked if Syrian forces attacked hospitals deliberately, Moumtzis said, “It’s hard to tell whether it’s the case. But a Security Council briefing on Idlib took place in New York 10 days ago, then we saw a big decrease in the bombing of hospitals. All we can say is that many of hospitals had to close down. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham also fired rockets at two government-held hospitals.”
‘We cannot cope with more than 800,000 refugees’
Moumtzis said the U.N. had made an emergency plan to tackle a new imminent refugee wave.
“The biggest problem in Idlib is land. Where would people go? It is a very congested area. As people move, you need to plan and think about everything; tents, food, water, medical supplies… We can cope with 800,000 refugees, but if the crisis gets bigger, such as 2 million people, we cannot deal with this. This is beyond our ability. Turkey is the lifeline of 3 million people as we can facilitate cross-border humanitarian operations via the border with Turkey.”
Turkey ‘key to cessation of hostilities in Idlib’
He stressed the vitality of dialogue with Turkish officials. “On the humanitarian level, we communicate with [Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority] AFAD and Kızılay on a daily basis. Turkey helps us on the political level to ensure to prevent a conflict. Turkey is at all levels active to do that as one of the guarantors of the Astana Process. Turkey is a very key, vital actor to ensure the cessation of hostilities, to tip the scale, to bring an effective change. War is never the answer.”
‘Not enough international support for Turkey’
When asked if he thinks Turkey gets enough international support to tackle the refugee crisis, Moumtzis said “no.”
“I think there is a lot of international solidarity and support for Turkey, but really the needs of the people are not covered by the international support,” he said.
“Turkey has been taking a big responsibility by welcoming Syrians. Turkey does not just help Syrians, but it helps them with dignity and respect.”
Moumtzis also shared his personal observations about Turkey’s help to Syrians. “I have been working in international operations in the last 30 years. I have seen a lot in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Gaza, Congo etc. On a personal level, it breaks my heart when I see real hospitality. I mean it, it is not just a compliment in an interview. I see the spirit of caring for and treating Syrians with dignity and respect in Turkey. That’s very impressive. For example, cash cards are given to people in the [refugee] camps. Turkey thinks about the needs on different levels.”