The huge burden of the world’s natural and manmade disasters are on the shoulders of the Muslim countries, yet their civil societies are not strong enough to respond, according to the head of Kızılay, the Turkish Red Crescent. A network among the national societies of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries will be set up today in Istanbul to strengthen cooperation. Not enough attention is being paid to devastating tragedies in some of the Islamic countries like Yemen, Somalia, Kerem Kınık told Hürriyet Daily News adding “We also want to outcry our problems with a higher voice to the world.”
Tell us about the meeting that will take place today in Istanbul.
We will establish a network among the national societies, Red Crescent and Red Cross of 57 countries which are members of the OIC. This will be a platform to strengthen cooperation on issues like humanitarian aid, disaster response etc. There are similar platforms in the world, so we thought about replicating it for the Islamic world. It actually started with the call of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2016. More than 50 heads of national societies will come to Istanbul to formalize this platform.
The devastating effects of disasters both natural and manmade are increasing. There are 69 million people in the world forcefully displaced from their homes or their countries. Of those 61 million live in Islamic countries. In other words real burden of these big crises are on the shoulders of Islamic countries. There are around 50 ongoing armed conflicts in the world and 30 are in the Islamic countries. There are 135 million people who cannot survive without receiving assistance. 71 percent live in Islamic countries. In other words the majority of humanitarian disasters take place in Islamic world but their civil societies are weak and vulnerable. The Red Crescents and Red Cross in these countries are strong institutions and they will come together to set up a humanitarian basis platform outside of the classic mechanism among states.
The aim here is to share the burden, to prepare the societies to be more resilient against extraordinary situations and also to outcry our problems with a higher voice to the world and to do rights advocacy. 75 percent of the population in Yemen face death by famine; can we keep this at the top of the agenda in the world? No. The same thing is valid for Somalia, Libya.
There are very rich companies, structures in some of the Islamic countries and they earmark certain budgets but they do not allocate them to their national societies; because they think these are weak and lack reputation. Instead they allocate these resources to Western institutions, to United Nations. So by strengthening local societies we are also aiming at resource generation.
You are also probably aiming to share Kızılay’s experience with other countries.
Yes but there are other national societies who are better than us in some other areas. Like the Iranian Red Crescent, which has a very strong community based disaster management. Countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malesia have experience in natural disasters like volcanic explosions or tsunamis. So it will be a win win in terms of sharing good practices.
Where will be the headquarters of the platform?
It will be decided during the meeting but we have proposed to have it in Istanbul. We will allocate a budget for that. Due to Turkish Airlines it also has the advantage of easy accessibility.
As a journalist I have witnessed several high level meetings among Islamic countries which did not produce much in the end. Do you have a road map?
50 person from Benin to Pakistan are coming to Istanbul not just for show business. We have already prepared a terms of reference on how the platform will function. A technical support team will work on the implementation of the decision and let’s not forget that we have the working tradition of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent will also attend the meeting.
We also want to attract the attention of the humanitarian aid sector to the Islamic world and to their national societies. There are 48 least developed countries, 21 are in the Islamic world. There are very serious problems emanating from the being under developed or from being colonialized and exploited; however you want to call it.
Turkey has been criticized to pursue neo-Ottoman ambitions; that it reaches out only to Muslim communities.
When we were first founded in 1868, the land under control (of the Ottomans) were more than 30 million kilometer square. Currently there are 65 different countries in those lands. We had branches in Ethiopia where the Ottomans ruled for 350 years.
An earthquake took place near Suleymaniah (near Iraqi-Iranian border) in 2017. It was right after the independence referendum; it was a rather politically problematic period. We immediately provided assistance. When I went to Baghdad after Suleymaniah, the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent said “you are our mother. We are born from you.” There is such an expectation. First of all we are neighbors. But some places might gain some priority due to the geography of “heart.”
While you mostly operate in a Muslim geography there are Christian communities living in these countries. Are you faced by criticism that you prioritize Muslim population?
We have not come across such criticism. We do bring assistance to non – Muslim communities. We work in the Philippines, in Haiti, South Soudan. We provide assistance to the refugee Christian communities in Syria. When ISIL targeted and attacked Christian communities in Mosul or in Syria we took them under protection.
Can you give us a short overview of the activities in Syria?
We work in three areas. One is Idlib where there are 3.5 million people and almost all of them are IDP (internally displaced people.) We provide food and shelter as well as health services. We provide support on water, sanitation and hygiene.
Since 2011 we have send 43 thousand truck of humanitarian assistance to Syria. 12 thousand widow and orphans are under our protection.
We have more permanent services in Afrin region, Euphrates Shield region. In addition to camps we operate hospitals; we have around 800 personnel working in these hospitals together with our Health Ministry.
What are your planning in terms of the new military operation that seems to be on the agenda on East of Euphrates?
Our fundamental mission in these types of peace making operation is the protection of civilians; keeping channels open for uninterrupted humanitarian assistance and to respond inside a new wave of refugees toward Turkey. We do have preparations based on this.
Who is Dr. Kerem Kınık?
Prior to that, Dr. Kınık worked as a physician at several clinics. He also worked as the General Manager of national and international technology companies. He keeps on doctoral studies in the field of disaster medicine at Bezmialem Foundation University.
Kınık has volunteered for humanitarian aid at several organizations since his student years and worked as a doctor on a voluntary basis during the Kosovo War and 199 Marmara Earthquake. During his time as the President of Doctors Worldwide Turkey, he managed emergency humanitarian aid efforts in numerous conflict and disaster regions.