We spent World Refugee Day on Saturday in Midyat, Mardin where several thousand Syrian refugees are hosted in a camp run by the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). Seeing even a small drop in the ocean of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Turkey is enough to get a sense of the enormity of the problem of a country destroyed, lives shattered, families divided, millions of people including women and children turning into refugees. According to the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey is the country home to the most refugees in the world. With few notable exceptions, the world mostly remains indifferent, uninterested and cold. This speaks volumes about the state of our humanity and the dark side of power politics. The visit to the Midyat camp was attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, UNCHR Antonio Guterres, special envoy Angelina Jolie and local officials. Each expressed frustration, but also gave a message of hope. "We will never abandon you," Erdoğan said to a cheering crowd of several thousand Syrian men, women and children gathered for the iftar meal. He reiterated Turkey's support for Syrian refugees even if the world turns its back on them. He criticized the rich countries of the world for turning a blind eye to the suffering of these poor people uprooted from their homes. We broke the fast with around 5,000 refugees in Midyat, thinking of the millions of others who may not be as fortunate.
Marking the World Refugee Day in Midyat, Guterres announced the shocking fact that "around the world, almost 60 million [people] have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Nearly 20 million of them are refugees, and more than half are children." He then added: "Global powers have become either passive observers or distant players in the conflicts driving so many innocent civilians from their homes." Guterres confirmed Erdoğan's cry that the world is abandoning the refugees - while Turkey alone hosts 2 million refugees, the affluent Western societies have not accepted even a fraction of them. They are more concerned about stopping boats carrying illegal immigrants. Referring to Turkey's efforts, he said that "a larger possible instability in the region was prevented thanks to Turkey's support." In their container school, Syrian children, speaking some Turkish, welcome us with a look and smile worth a thousand words. I asked one of them her name, she said, "Nidaa," with full energy as if she was entering an open race. Next to her was "Mustafa" who responded calmly. Their teacher said they are happy to be in school. This makes their parents and relatives happy, too.
These children do not understand the intricacies of world politics, nor do they know why everyone talks about saving Syria but does not do anything in practice to save them. They look a bit perplexed but also happy seeing presidents, prime ministers and celebrities visiting them. Playing with their toys and chess sets that they had been given, they try to enjoy the moment without the distractions of a brutal war. Speaking at the U.N. Security Council back in April, Jolie slammed world powers for their "division and indecision" in Syria. She said that aid is being provided but "all of this good is undermined by the message being sent in Syria that laws can be flouted, chemical weapons can be used, hospitals can be bombed, aid can be withheld and civilians starved with impunity." She urged council members to visit Syrian refugees to see their tragedy. "Those refugees cannot come to this council, so please, will you go to them?" she asked.
They did not come to see the Syrian refugees in Midyat or Kilis or Antep. She did. In Midyat, she thanked Turkey for opening its doors to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing the bloody war of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. She called on the world to recognize the suffering of these people and protect them. No grand plan, no geopolitical strategy, no institutional code or rule can ever justify the suffering of refugees whether from Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Somalia or elsewhere. Great power games do not bring peace, security and/or stability, they only exacerbate the already vexed problems. Big speeches, catchy phrases or shiny platforms do not provide food, shelter or medicine. Tens of thousands of Syrian women, children and elderly do not care about these speeches anymore. Those who just talk and do nothing to alleviate the pain of these refugees have no moral authority with them.
The Syrian refugee children in Turkey as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere do not know anything about world politics or power struggles. What they know is that their parents, if they are lucky enough to be alive and with them, stare deep into the distance, sigh and offer little to cheer them up with. They simply thank those who take them in, give them food and shelter and perhaps a toy and a chess set to play with. If you have never held the hand of a refugee child or talked to a refugee mother, you, like the rest of the world, would probably tend to treat them as another statistics. The question for all of us then is how many of these people have to suffer and die before we realize that they are not just numbers but real human beings.
Thousands came to say goodbye as we left the camp around 10:00 p.m. in the dark. Some hugged us, some handed us little notes written on a torn pieces of paper, some looked t us in the eye and said "thank you." We left the camp but, our hearts stayed there.