Turkey urges international community to create safe zone inside Syria

TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu has urged the international community to find a solution to the Syrian refugee inflow within the borders of Syria, stating that Turkey has run out of ability to cope with the current flow by itself.

During a UN Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, which was called by France — the council’s term president for August, Davuto?lu claimed that “the focus should be on solving the [refugee] issue within the borders of Syria.”

“[We] will be in a serious difficulty to tackle the current trend of influx by regular measures. Therefore, from now on we need to focus on the steps which must be taken within the borders of Syria,” the minister stated, indicating, however, that Turkey would continue its open border policy for Syrian refugees in every circumstance.

The number of Syrian refugees on Turkish soil amounted to 80,000 at the end of August.

Currently, Turkey is accommodating the Syrian refugees in 11 camps, comprising tent as well as container cities. Three new camps, each with a capacity for 10,000 refugees, are under construction. Apart from that, a total of 30,000 Syrians are said to be living in different towns and cities in Turkey.

The amount spent by Turkey on the Syrian refugees has so far exceeded $300 million. Davuto?lu also complained that Turkey did not receive a significant amount of assistance from the international community in helping the refugees.

With regard to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) appeal for $193 million, the international community has so far funded $65 million, or 34 percent of it, Davuto?lu claimed. “However, the share of Turkey from this amount can be considered only symbolic,” he maintained.

The path to the council’s agreement on a safe zone for Syrians is fraught with obstacles, headed by the reluctance of Russia and China, Syria’s most important allies. The countries have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council seeking to pressure President Bashar al-Assad’s government with the threat of sanctions.

Moscow and Beijing were highly critical of the no-fly zone established by NATO to protect civilians during last year’s Libyan revolt against longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, saying its enforcement went beyond the Security Council’s mandate. Western diplomats said enforcing the zone required taking out Libya’s air defenses and attacking tanks and military vehicles that posed threats to civilians.

Before Thursday’s meeting, the UK and France announced new funds for refugees and offered support for more aggressive action, including a military-enforced no-fly zone to protect a safe area for those fleeing the war.

“We are not ruling out any options for the future,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a news conference.

Hague said safe zones should remain an option, although he didn’t say when they might be seriously considered.

“We do not know how this crisis will develop … over the coming months. It is steadily getting worse,” Hague said. “We are ruling nothing out, and we have contingency planning for a wide range of scenarios.”

Davuto?lu also harshly criticized the council member countries for the lack of consensus among themselves, which led to their inaction with regard to the 17-month-old Syrian crisis. The foreign minister also called on the council to visit refugee camps in neighboring countries and to adopt a unified response to stop the indiscriminate Syrian bombing of residential areas.

“I understand that the council today will not be able to put forward a unified position, yet again, to stop the humanitarian tragedy. This meeting will not end even with a presidential or press statement, let alone a robust resolution,” Davuto?lu said in his criticism.

Davuto?lu mentioned examples of “the cost of procrastination,” including the 1995 Serb massacre in Bosnia of more than 8,000 Muslims taken from a UN enclave in Srebrenica and Saddam Hussein’s gassing of 5,000 people in the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988.

Clearly referring to divisions in the council, Davuto?lu said the Cold War was over and it was time to put aside the mindset of “sterile power struggles and competition of interests” emanating from that era.

All the 15 members of the council were invited to the conference, apart from the other immediate neighbors of the restive Syria such as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, in addition to Turkey. A total of 214,120 Syrians have been registered in these four neighboring countries, exceeding the UNHCR’s forecast of 185,000 for this year.

The countries that attended the conference at the foreign ministerial level were the UK, France, Germany, Jordan, Morocco, Portugal and Togo. Iraq attended at the deputy foreign ministerial level, while Lebanon sent its social affairs minister. The rest of the countries, including UN heavyweights Russia and China, sent their ambassadors to the conference.

“While I regret the absence of some of my colleagues, I would like to believe that their non-participation is not an indication of their level of interest and concern in view of the developments in Syria,” Davuto?lu added.

The foreign minister explicitly blamed the Syrian regime for the deaths and violence. “Let us also be clear,” he said, adding that “there is only one side which is responsible for this tragedy: the regime in Syria.”

“Therefore, we appeal to the members of the council to take responsibility in putting an end to the atrocities committed by the regime against the people of Syria, enable the democratic transition in accordance with the legitimate demands of the people and thereby to restore security and stability in this part of the world,” he underlined.

1 Syrian crossing border dies after mine blast, 2 more injured

Three Syrians trying to cross the Turkish-Syrian border fleeing from the violence in their home country were caught by a mine blast near Mardin on Thursday night. One of them, an 11-year-old boy, died while the other two were injured, according to information provided by the governor of Mardin’s K?z?ltepe district, Erkaya Y?r?k.

One of the injured, a 12-year-old girl, was sent to Diyarbak?r’s Dicle University Hospital, while the other, a 28 year old, was sent to Mardin’s K?z?ltepe State Hospital.

Y?r?k has warned Syrians trying to cross the border to stay out of dangerous areas, reminding them to use the Turkish safe zones in Hatay and Kilis.

Stating that Syrians are desperately trying to flee their country due to the severe violence, Y?r?k expressed his sadness on the large number of such incidents. On Wednesday night, another four people were detained while trying to cross a mined area in order to cross the border. The detained were sent to ?anl?urfa’s Ceylanp?nar refugee camp.

 


Full text of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu’s speech at UN Security Council on Aug. 30, 2012:

Mr. President,

I wish to start by expressing our thanks to the French Presidency for organizing this timely and very important meeting on Syria and inviting us, the neighboring countries, which bear the brunt of the crisis in Syria.

I also extend our appreciation to Deputy UN Secretary General, Mr. Jan Eliasson and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guterres for their lucid and comprehensive briefings on the situation.

When I received the invitation, I decided to come without hesitation.

It was a meeting at the Security Council which is the primary organ for the maintenance of the international peace and security and the issue was Syria, which has been seriously threatening both regional and global peace and security for a long time.

The meeting seemed very significant, because it was organized by the Security Council, after the absence of a required action and determination to put an end to the brutality and bloodshed in Syria for the past 18 months.

I was encouraged particularly by the fact that the humanitarian dimension which calls for an urgent action would be on the agenda and become hopeful that the Council could finally act with one voice, taking long-overdue steps.

Apparently, I was wrong about my expectations.

I understand that the Council today will not be able to put forward a unified position, yet again, to stop the humanitarian tragedy. This meeting will not end even with a Presidential or Press Statement, let alone a robust resolution.

Not even all members are represented in this meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers. While I regret the absence of some of my colleagues, I would like to believe that their non-participation is not an indication of their level of interest and concern in view of the developments in Syria.

The situation in Syria does not need further description. Everything is taking place in front of our eyes. Everyday a new massacre is being committed against the Syrian people. Now, the regime started to deploy fighter jets against the people, in addition to heavy artillery and tanks.

How long are we going to sit and watch while an entire generation is being wiped out by random bombardment and deliberate mass targeting?

Let’s not forget that if we do not act against such a crime against humanity happening in front of our eyes, we become accomplice to the crime.

We need to ask ourselves whether our good conscience is comfortable about such inaction?

We need to ask ourselves how are we going to explain such inaction while we preach the coming generations about being virtuous and righteous?

Do we really need to revisit the 90s and repeat the same mistakes?

We know very well the cost of procrastination.

Srebrenica, Halepje and Gaza …

These all went into the annals of history as the symbols of the heavy price that the civilian population had to pay, because the UN Security Council did not act on time. There is no reason to make this notorious list any longer.

UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban, acknowledged during his recent visit to the Balkans that: “We must learn from the lessons of Srebrenica,” and went on that: “The international community failed to provide the necessary protection to many people who were killed at the time when they needed our support.”

This is actually what is happening right now in Syria.

Although the international community made abundantly clear its position in view of the situation in Syria through several UN General Assembly resolutions, each of them passed with more than 130 votes in favour, still the UN Security Council fails to provide the necessary protection to the people of Syria who need our support.

We can’t put the United Nations again in such an uncomfortable situation to apologize for the inaction or negligence about the tragic situation in Syria.

Mr. President,

We, in Turkey, open our doors to every Syrian who runs for safety, regardless of his or her religion, sect or ethnicity. We embrace every Syrian.

Now, the number of Syrians we accommodate is more than 80 thousand. Currently, another 10 thousand Syrians are waiting just on our borders for accommodation.

We are constantly building new camps to host them. However, it takes approximately a month to build a camp, but usually in two days they become full, as the average number of daily entries is around 4 thousand.

We accommodate the Syrian refugees currently in 11 camps, comprising tent as well as container cities. 3 new camps, each with capacity for 10 thousand refugees, are under construction. We provide all their needs, including education, health, vocational training, social and psychological support as well as leisure.

Since the intensity of the influx exceeds our capacity to accommodate, we had to mobilize every means we have to fill the gap.

In this vein, we opened up student dorms and gyms, since the schools are still in the summer break. Currently, 17 thousand Syrians are being accommodated in such centers. However, the schools will be open in just a couple of days.

Yes, we are building new camps and will try to transfer them to these camps. Yet, we are fast getting short of suitable areas to build camps and means to support them.

I don’t even mention the tens of thousands of Syrians who escaped to Turkey and living in various cities and towns, putting an extra strain on the local resources and infrastructure.

Mr. President,

We do all these with a sense of high responsibility as we regard our Syrian neighbors as our brothers and sisters with whom we share long history and often a common fate.

We will continue to stand in full solidarity with them and address their needs.

However, the scale of the tragedy in Syria growing so out of proportions that Turkey finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the ensuing challenges all by itself.

Up until now, we provided funding for the accommodation, up keeping and other services. The amount we spent so far is exceeding 300 million Dollars and it keeps rising every

We have already informed the international community of our readiness to accept assistance offers. While expressing our gratitude to those countries which have responded, I must also tell that the overall response fell far short of what was required.

As to the UNHCR’s appeal for 193 million Dollars under the Regional Response Plan, the international community has so far funded 65 million Dollars, or 34 % of it. However, the share of Turkey from this amount can be considered only symbolic.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood … I am not here today or I mention these figures to complain about the Syrian brothers and sisters coming to Turkey.

We will still try to do our best in providing the best possible service in full conformity with international rules and regulations as the UNHCR representatives praise our efforts and principled approach.

However, there is an increasing sense in Turkey that, through making such a sacrifice and tackling an enormous issue all by itself, we are leading the international community to complacency and inaction.

We feel that the open door policy of Turkey and the other neighbors of Syria is actually absorbing the potential international reaction, as the tragic consequences of the brutality by the regime in Syria are all being dealt with by the neighboring countries.

However, given the fact that we are using up all our capabilities and our preparations cannot cope with the current average flow of refugees, we will be in a serious difficulty to tackle the current trend of influx by the regular measures.

Therefore, from now on we need to focus on the steps which must be taken within the borders of Syria.

In this vein, we started delivery of humanitarian aid at the zero point on the border. We also established Relief Reception Centers in Kilis, Gaziantep and Hatay for this purpose. Relief items stockpiled at those centers are delivered to Syrians by the Turkish Red Crescent. We have formally informed the UN of this operation.

It was a necessary step as the millions of people who cannot escape are in acute need of help. The threat of famine is looming as we approach winter. The wounded cannot get treatment as the clinics and hospitals are either bombed by the regime or lack essential equipment to treat people. Although we open up our hospitals and treat every Syrian who is in need, many cannot make it to the border and mostly die from the loss of blood.

According to OCHA, there are more than 2 million internally displaced people in Syria. In the face of such a humanitarian disaster, the UN should initiate the establishment of IDP camps within Syria without delay. Needless to say, these camps should have full protection.

Let us also be clear. There is only one side which is responsible for this tragedy: the regime in Syria. None of the refugees is fleeing Syria because of the opposition groups which are struggling to stop the killing machine of the regime. The Syrian people are the victims of the regime.

Mr. President,

The situation in Syria has long been threat to international peace and stability. This falls directly under the responsibility of the UN Security Council. It is the duty of the Council to take action in developing required responses to the pressing challenges as Syria poses today.

Therefore, we appeal to the members of the Council to take responsibility in putting an end to the atrocities committed by the regime against the people of Syria, enable the democratic transition in accordance with the legitimate demands of the people and thereby to restore security and stability in this part of the world.

We all have interests in the developments in Syria.

Our views can diverge, but our objectives, I believe, converge.

We are all for the security, stability and prosperity of Syria.

The territorial integrity and national unity of Syria is sacrosanct for all of us.

None of us is interested in imposing anything on Syria by force.

No matter what we discuss here and there, it will be the Syrian people who will have the final say on their destiny. They will decide about their life, their governance and their future.

However, all of us have a huge interest in bringing the current conflict in Syria to an end as quickly as possible.

The longer the current strife continues, the more difficult the new period will be. Radical and terrorist organizations and groups will enjoy a fertile ground. We cannot let this happen. Not only ours, but also regional and global security will be at stake.

The Cold War era is long behind us. Accordingly, we need to put behind us the reflexes and the mindset emanating from that era. We need to put behind some sterile power struggles and competition of interests.

The UN is facing a serious test.

This test is about whether the UN can represent the good conscience of the international community and act in accordance with it or not.

In other words, whether it can translate humanity into practice or not.

So far, the track record has not been promising.

For instance, when the UN – Arab League Joint Special Envoy took up his job on 23 February, the number of Syrians seeking protection in Turkey was around 10 thousand. When first group of UN monitors arrived in Syria on 16 April, the number of refugees went up to 25 thousand. When the UN monitors left on 20 August,  it was 70 thousand. Today it is more than 80 thousand.

The UN cannot afford to fail in this test. The failure of the UN on such an issue would be irredeemable. Particularly, the regional implications could be disastrous.

We are taking necessary steps to minimize the negative ramifications of the situation in Syria on Jordan, Iraq and, in particular, Lebanon, as the regional security and stability is our national priority.

However, the longer the pressure from the crisis in Syria continues to build on, the more difficult it will be to keep the countries in the region immune from the ripple effects.

All these render the task of new Joint Special Envoy Mr. Brahimi a daunting one. We welcome his appointment and wish him every success. He will receive our full support as his predecessor did.

I could understand that it would not be easy to comprehend the scope of challenges and threats that the neighboring countries are facing only through media reports or indirect observations for this Council.

Therefore, I think that it would be very useful for the members of the Security Council to come to Turkey and other neighboring countries and visit some of the camps.

I am sure that the residents of the camps would be very interested in what the members of the Security Council have to say to them and what kind of solutions they would bring to their acute and tragic problems.

In the same manner, I am sure that the members of the Security Council would be very interested to hear about vivid stories of ordeal that the Syrian people had to go through at the hands of Shebbiha or the regime forces.

Many of them could be very disturbing.

Nevertheless, shying away from summary executions, brutal rapes and mass killings of entire families with babies in the cradles does not make them non-existent.

All of them are real and have been the cause for such a big number of people to seek refuge.

Mr. President,

Under the circumstances, we wish to suggest that the following practical steps should be taken by the United Nations in the face of the current humanitarian disaster in Syria:

1. A visit by the Security Council to the camps in the neighboring countries should be organized to see the impact and to have the first hand information about the situation.

2. A unified approach should be pursued by the Security Council on stopping the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of the residential areas which leads people to be displaced internally.

 

3. The focus should be on solving the issue of IDPs within the borders of Syria.

4. If the Syrians would have to continue to run for safety despite such steps, necessary measures should be taken to absorb them internationally.

5. There can be a joint committee comprising the neighboring countries and the UNHCR to deal with the refugee issue. This Committee should be given a mandate by the UN Security Council. Such a Committee could also facilitate the work of the Joint Special Envoy.

Mr. President,

As I said in the beginning, I was expecting this meeting to produce tangible solutions to the suffering of the Syrian people.

Still, we don’t have anything new to say to thousands of Syrians who suffer in the hands of the regime as the UN system is entrapped in inaction.

The people of Syria find this situation extremely difficult to swallow.

Even if the UN, particularly the Security Council, continue to be paralyzed while the regime in Syria violates every known value, law and moral principle, Turkey would nevertheless continue to uphold the principles of the UN, if necessary on its own, and defend the moral values dictated by the good conscience of the international community.

We are not only facing a serious crisis, but also a test for humanity. If we shy away from our responsibilities today, we will be accountable to coming generations and face a harsh verdict before history.

The humanity must always prevail over insanity and cruelty.

Thank you, Mr. President.

 


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