Statement by Ambassador Baki İlkin, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN, at Security Council Meeting on UNHCR

Baki İlkin 08.01.2009
Mr. President,

I wish to join the previous speakers in welcoming and thanking High Commissioner Mr. Antonio Guterres for his comprehensive and thought provoking briefing.

I would first like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to High Commissioner and the entire UNHCR family for their hard work. Their dedication to improve the lives of millions of refugees is most commendable.

Mr. President, it is our firm opinion that the work of the UNHCR is an essential element of our collective efforts to maintain international peace and security. Thus we very much welcome the opportunity to engage with High Commissioner Mr. Guterres.

In this regard, I listened very carefully to Mr. Guterres' briefing. Unfortunately, the current security environment and the evolving security challenges of our time do not help us in bringing down the number of refugees. On the contrary, the overall number of refugees, together with other populations of interest to the UNHCR, has risen dramatically in recent years.

That development, which is an outcome of worsening security conditions in many parts of the world, has now become a security problem in itself. Indeed, there are now around 67 million forcibly displaced people in the world giving rise to much bigger challenges for the countries involved as well as the UNHCR.

That said, it is obvious that no single international organization or individual country can cope with a problem of this magnitude. International cooperation and solidarity is imperative. Yes, the UNHCR is playing a leading role in this field, but it deserves the support of everyone concerned, including that of the Security Council. And, on this point, the question that needs to be answered is how can the Security Council further support the work of the UNHCR.

This is indeed very important for us, as Turkey is deeply committed to supporting the efforts and activities of the UNHCR. And I have to underline that this is not merely a humanitarian consideration for Turkey, but far more than that it represents a hard core reality for us, given our close proximity to areas of conflict in the Middle East, Balkans or the Caucasus, producing high number of refugees in and around our country.

As a result, Turkish people throughout history have always welcomed, extended an helping hand and provided safe heaven to people who fled oppression and violence. For instance, in not too distant past, Turkey hosted vast numbers of refugees fleeing away from either the wars in the Balkans or repression of the former regime in Iraq.

I am sure many of you will recall the time when we provided shelter and protection to more than 500 thousand Iraqis during the First Gulf War. It was a daunting responsibility which we had to shoulder without sufficient international support at that time. But, in the end, we managed to perform a successful operation.

Unfortunately, Iraq today is again faced with a serious displacement crisis. Although it is this time mainly Syria and Jordan which has taken the brunt of the refugee flow, Turkey also hosts a considerable number of Iraqi refugees.

Despite recent improvements in the security conditions prevailing in Iraq, the refugee problem is still a serious one and requires continued international support. In this regard, we would like to commend the work done by the UNHCR from the very early stages of the crisis and reiterate our pledge to continue to support UNHCR's Iraq program.

Likewise, we also highly appreciate UNHCR's latest efforts in conjunction with the situation in Gaza and in support of its sister organization UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency). In this regard, we join High Commissioner Guterres' strong appeal to the international community and all humanitarian actors to support UNRWA's efforts to help the innocent victims. The situation in Gaza is indeed tragic and totally unacceptable and requires immediate intervention on the part of UN and Security Council.

Mr. President, that brings me to my final point, which is the importance of providing the necessary resources to the UNHCR. Indeed, reliability and continuity in donor contributions constitute a major element of our efforts to address the refugee problem. Without such commitment on the part of the international community, we can not expect the organizations like the UNHCR to deliver what is expected of them. And without an effective UNHCR, we can not expect to fulfill our responsibilities in maintaining global peace and security.

This is why Turkey is a regular contributor to UNHCR's main budget and its various programs, ranging from Middle East to Africa. And here, I would like to assure the High Commissioner, once again, of Turkey's continued support to the activities of the UNHCR, as well as our firm determination to support all international efforts aimed at improving the lives of the displaced people worldwide.

Thank you.