Statement by Turkey at the UN Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict “Repatriation of Children from Conflict Zones: From Camps to Homes. Call for Action.”

Bilge Kocyigit Grba 29.01.2021
Mr. Chair,

We thank Permanent Missions of Russian Federation and Kazakhstan for organizing this important meeting. We also extend our appreciation to USG Voronkov and SRSG Gamba for their briefings. We also commend Kazakhstan for their exemplary actions in this area.

Turkey supports UN’s efforts in taking the “Children and Armed Conflict” agenda forward and commends efforts to ensure that everything is being done to provide children with better prospects for their future.

Unfortunately, we continue to see children immensely suffer in many places around the world. COVID-19 pandemic has serious impacts on countries in armed conflict, with children being among the most vulnerable groups.

Meeting the fundamental humanitarian needs of children in conflicts and emergencies, including the provision of health and education services must be one of our main priorities. Turkey, on its part, takes all necessary measures to alleviate the suffering of children fleeing armed conflict.

For the Syrian children who are under temporary protection in Turkey, we have succeeded to constantly increase the school enrolment rate. More than 750.000 of over 1 million school-age Syrian children in Turkey are enrolled in education. I would also like to note that health services are provided free of charge for all Syrians including children in Turkey.

As for the children living in northwest Syria, Turkey plays a vital role as the only corridor for the delivery of UN's cross-border humanitarian aid where more than 4 million people live, 80 percent of whom are women and children. The continuation of the UN cross-border assistance mechanism, which provides uninterrupted and unhindered humanitarian access is crucial for children living in this region. We urge all Council members to work in this direction in the months to come.

While Turkey does its utmost to provide protection and humanitarian assistance for nearly 9 million Syrians both within its borders and at its doorstep in the northwest, we are aware of the importance of creating opportunities for children in Syria to avoid the risk of a lost generation that would undermine Syria’s chances of recovery for years to come.

We believe that successful reintegration of children into society is not only a matter of protection of children’s human rights, it is also of primary concern to achieve sustainable peace and development. In this vein, Turkey has joined the Friends of Reintegration and contributed to its deliberations.

Assisting unaccompanied and separated children, by providing shelter and protection and enrolling them back to school are only the first steps for reintegration. Comprehensive and successful reintegration programs require long-term commitment and should follow a rights-based approach. Without proper psychosocial support and trauma treatment, children usually struggle to adjust to society and cope with social challenges.

Mr. Chair,

Governments have the main responsibility to bring children in conflict situations and their parents home where they can receive adequate care.

According to UN figures, so far around 20 countries have repatriated more than 650 children. The actions of these countries, however, remain the exception, rather than the norm. Governments should ensure the safe reintegration of children into their local communities and the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of foreign children back to their countries of origin.

As co-chair of the Friends of Mediation, we strongly believe that protection of children, as the most vulnerable victims of conflict, should be mainstreamed into mediation activities in a systematic manner.

Giving due consideration to child protection issues and the best interest of children in mediation efforts could contribute greatly to achieving sustainable outcomes in peace processes.

As also underlined in the “Practical guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict”, conscripting children into armed groups constitutes a war crime. There must be accountability for all grave violations against children. Mediators should work closely with existing accountability and investigation mechanisms.

However, efforts aimed at preventing recruitment and use of children by non-state armed groups should not result in conferring unwarranted legitimacy to terrorist organizations. It should be borne in mind that signing action plans or deeds of commitment are easily exploited by these groups including for propaganda purposes. And we have seen several examples of this in recent past. Instead, priority should be given to reinforcing the international legal framework for the prevention of recruitment of children.

Mr. Chair,

The plight of children at the hands of terrorist organizations should continue to be our focus.

In Syria and Iraq, PKK and its Syrian offshoot YPG have long been employing the tactic of forcefully recruiting young girls and boys, in violation of international law and norms, just like other terrorist organizations, such as DA’ESH, Al Qaida, Al Nusra and other affiliated groups.
We should unequivocally condemn crimes committed by all these terrorist groups regardless of their ideological orientation.
The Secretary General’s 2020 report provides damning insights into the horrific treatment of children at the hands of PKK, as well as in areas under its control.

As highlighted in this report and as no different than in previous years, YPG recruited the highest number of children in Syria. YPG also topped the lists in the abduction of children, deprivation of liberty of children and using schools and medical facilities for military purposes.

Despite all this evidence of war crimes, it is regretful that this terrorist entity, hiding behind the name of “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), is considered a legitimate counterpart by several among us today. It is high time that we have a united front against all terrorist groups and refrain from actions that legitimize them, in full respect of the territorial integrity of Syria.

We must particularly focus on the deteriorating situation in the Al Hol camp, under the control of YPG, so-called SDF, where 40.000 children from more than 60 countries continue to suffer in lamentable conditions. Security incidents and reports of deaths of hundreds of children continue to be recorded in this camp. Family reunification and repatriation remain crucial for long-term solutions to this protracted problem.

We expect all concerned countries to assume their responsibilities and readmit their citizens without delay. This tragedy is happening in front of our very eyes and looking the other way is not a dignified approach to deal with this issue.

Thank you.