H.E. Feridun Sinirlioğlu 29.09.2015

Dear colleagues,

I will make a few observations and offer some recommendations. My intervention may lack diplomatic niceties; I hope it serves as a warning and helps shape your thoughts.

In Syria, a mass murderer, bent on self-preservation, has rampantly and with impunity, gassed, barrel-bombed, starved, deprived and otherwise oppressed his people. The result, so far, is 300.000 lives lost and 12 million displaced. This is, by any definition, a humanitarian catastrophe, and as such, a colossal stain on our collective human conscience.

As millions of migrants and refugees take Europe’s borders by storm and images of lifeless infants washed up on kind beaches go viral, the urgency finally dawns and meeting after meeting is held, as if we are faced with a new crisis.

The political debate meanwhile rapidly turns into; how high the walls and how sharp the barbed wires should be, how much money - by way of re-appropriating funding - can we throw at the problem, how can we minimize the numbers that come our way and how can we preserve our religious, i.e. Christian, identity.

Also, we discuss the difference between migrants and refugees ad nausea, because if we can just call them migrants, then their exodus becomes more about choice and we can turn them around, without worrying about international law..

Meanwhile, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, take in more than 4 million refugees, shouldering this burden, almost completely, alone. In Turkey, we are hosting upwards of 2.2 million Syrians, building and running temporary protection centers, giving them all free health care, and some of them education, to the best of our abilities. Having spent nearly 8 billion US Dollars so far for this care and received only a fraction of this amount from the international community - 417 million USD - we are fast exhausting our national means to cope.

And one final observation. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. While the regime’s relentless campaign of repression knows no bounds, its brutality is matched only by the tsunami of terror with which ISIL has swept unto the scene in Syria and Iraq. Left unchecked, together as tactical allies in the fight against moderate Syrian forces who seek a pluralistic Syria, the regime and ISIL and its ilk will stop at nothing to perpetuate their own existence. All of this means, of course, that in the absence of a political solution supported as necessary with military measures, the potential for more mass migration is very real. In other words, and I hope everyone understands this, the crisis that shook Europe is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now for my recommendations.

Belatedly or not, there is more awareness now. This awareness needs to translate into joint action, both in terms of burden and also responsibility sharing.

In terms of the immediate human and humanitarian dimension, this is a disaster and it needs to be treated as such. Responding to such emergencies are not easy but this is not a new phenomenon; we have the tools and know what can and must be done. Syrians have to be helped, wherever they are, not turned away or treated like cattle. We must either actually share the burden, or stop giving lip service to the catch phrase of burden-sharing. If we have learned anything from history, it is that our mistakes today will come back to haunt us tomorrow.

In the meantime, there has to be much more focus on the root causes of the problem. Sustainable solutions can only be possible if the “push factors” such as war and conflicts, human rights violations and economic deprivation in many of the origin countries are eliminated. Destination countries have to actively support peace processes in conflict-affected areas and increase humanitarian and development assistance in the countries of origin and transit. This includes acting in solidarity, giving full support and applying hard pressure to ensure a genuine political transformation in Syria, based on the Geneva Communique.

Another vital step to turn the tide is to create the necessary conditions that ensure the voluntary return of refugees. We have, to no avail, long called for safe zones in Syria as part of a wider strategy to bring about a political solution. Now, a chorus of influential voices are supporting this idea. We cannot, in the face of such a tragedy and in good conscience, let legalistic or political debates cramp our ability to act. Without safe zones that can be protected and sustained by our collective means, there will be no return.

In this context, denying ISIL their presence in northern Syria, especially in areas North of Aleppo is essential. We must enable the moderate Syrian opposition to hold these areas in a way that preempts regime or DEASH attacks. Coupled with the right humanitarian assistance, this will allow Syrians to begin to return. Otherwise, they will inevitably make new lives for themselves and develop roots.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Those are my observations and recommendations. A comprehensive approach that brings together all the necessary vectors, including humanitarian, developmental, political and military is the only way forward. Until now, all the support and activity we have seem has been half-hearted, at best. It is now time to get our act together.

Thank you.