We are all potential refugees

REMZI KOPAR
Published 29.11.2014 02:00
We are all potential refugees

The first effect of every conflict is mass population migration, which can be compared to the ordeal of a tree that has to survive after having been uprooted from the ground it has been growing in for years and replanted in an unfamiliar forest with a different geography and climate

Dr. Kerem Kınık, the chairman of the board of Doctors Worldwide, with operations running in 44 countries, spoke to Daily Sabah about their relief works in Africa, their aid efforts during Eid Al-Adha and the extent of the water problem and contagious diseases such Ebola currently prevalent in Africa.

Daily Sabah: How are the humanitarian aid organizations in Turkey in general? Are there other relief organizations working as actively as you do?

Our motherland, Anatolia, is a cradle of solidarity and charity. For centuries, Islamic Civilization has helped the downtrodden to get back on their feet, provided accommodation to the stranded, healed injuries and helped people through foundations it had established. During the period of decline we have experienced in the past, we had largely lost these institutions and our links with them. Our spatial belongingness eroded, we fell out of love with the wisdom of our heart, we became individualized under the pressures of modernity and we forgot the meaning of the word altruism. Yet, we have fed our neighbor and helped the poor to have education – on an individual basis – even in that period. But as we began to return to our roots and made peace with ourselves after the 1990s, we started paying attention to what is going on around us in a more systematic and thorough manner. Especially the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the 1999 Marmara earthquake have become a milestone for our humanitarian aid organizations. Doctors Worldwide was established against that background in 2000. Currently, there are around 20 large humanitarian aid organizations in our country that operate internationally. Apart from these organizations, there are hundreds more NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working in fields like education, religion and culture.

DS: You met hundreds of thousands of people who have fled ISIS's attacks on Kobani to take refuge on the border in Turkey and treated those who needed medical help. Do you have a large team waiting always ready to serve?

Doctors Worldwide operates through volunteers and professional members. During the Kobani crisis, our volunteers in Urfa and our professional members rapidly mobilized in the region and have provided medical assistance. Our services have continued afterward at more permanent centers in more effective ways as well.

DS: Turkey has turned into a safe haven, so to speak, in its region. Government officials frequently emphasize that our doors are open and millions of refugees live in camps on Turkish territory. We always hear about their conditions from journalists and politicians, but how do you see these developments as a doctor?

Someone having to leave their home, relatives and country forcibly is incredibly traumatizing. It becomes all the more difficult especially when it results from coercion and war. Many groups of people throughout history have experienced mass population movements categorized under migration. Population movements – which are triggered usually by natural or man-made disasters, changes in industrial production or lifestyle, climate change, and economic, social, cultural or political developments – can be voluntary or involuntary and may take place within a country or between countries. Scientists say that millions of people may have to leave their homes and countries in the future due to desertification and floods caused by climate change. The Institute for Environment and Human Security of the Bonn-based United Nations University estimates that around 200 million people may be displaced due to environmental problems by 2050. This shows that festering geopolitical crises are likely to break out in the coming years. War technologies, development of means of transport, pursuing national interests in overseas regions, increasing demand for energy, water, and food, diminishing resources and a growing global population combine to create a pessimistic picture for the coming years. Unfortunately, the first affect of every conflict is mass population migration. Immigration can be compared to the ordeal of a tree that has to survive after having been uprooted from the habitat it has been living in for years and replanted in an unfamiliar forest with a different geography and climate. Forced migration is one of the most tragic situations that a human being or a society can face and in this sense, all of us are potential refugees.

DS: What makes the Doctors Worldwide different from Médecins Sans Frontières? Have you conducted joint operations with them?

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is also a special organization like ours. Of course, those at MSF have a head start and stay ahead of us since their country offices are structured in a partially independent way, they use the means and opportunities provided by EU members and they started working in this field a bit earlier. We always keep in touch with them and give operational support to each other from time to time. For example, they had decided to totally leave Somalia and we have shouldered the greatest part of the burden after their departure.

DS: During Eid Al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice) you distributed meat to more than 700,000 people in nine African countries. First of all, how does it feel? And secondly, have you bought the sacrificial animals from the regions you operate in?

It is an amazing feeling. Let me explain it this way; as you know, the act of sacrifice is an ancient Abrahamic worship tradition that contains much wisdom that dates back thousands of years ago. What excites us is the fact that a person entrusts Doctors Worldwide with the meat of the animal he sacrifices, so that we can give it to a distant brother in a part of the world he might not know of at all. And we distribute these sacred trusts one by one to the needy with our large team of volunteers and professionals in accordance with religious obligations. The sacrificial animals are bought from local producers in the countries where they are slaughtered. Since the money dedicated to buying these animals is directly transferred from our country to some of the poorest and underdeveloped nations of Africa like Somalia, Niger, Kenya and DR Congo and it also boosts local economies.

DS: To what extent has the water problem in Africa has been addressed and resolved? As you are drilling wells, a need for new wells arises. For instance, we hear that the bored wells sometimes become unusable in a short time due to environmental conditions or contamination. Can there be a permanent solution to the water problem in this region? If so, how can it be done?

Actually, Africa is a water-rich continent. It is rich not only in terms of surface rivers like the Nile, Congo and Niger, which are thousands of kilometers long, but also in underground rivers and aquifers. For example, while annual water supply per capita in Turkey is 1,500 cubic meters, the amount reaches 7,000 cubic meters in Africa. The water problem in Africa largely stems from low urbanization, government mismanagement in countries established after colonialism and the underdevelopment of these countries due to external interventions. Africa is no longer a continent with a population of 200-300 million as it was in the past; Its current population of 1.3 billion need more permanent investments especially in areas like urbanization and rural development. For this purpose, Western countries that exploit the resources of African countries should devote a part of their revenues to infrastructure investments. However, the current mechanism works instead to channel that money into the pockets of the collaborating administrations in these nations.

DS: Is Ebola a naturally occurring virus? Can be it that Ebola and previous viruses and epidemics have been created? For instance, why don't we see such viruses in Britain? Is it completely related with the level of development?

These types of frightening diseases do not only emerge in Africa; SARS and bird flu, for instance, emerged in China and mad cow disease originated in Britain. The U.K. has spent a lot of money to prevent the disease from spreading from animals to humans. For example, a type of antibiotic called NDM-1, which, in turn, makes some bacteria resistant to every kind of antibiotics, turned into an epidemic first in Britain. Today, similar drug-resistant bacteria are very common in some parts of Britain such as Manchester as well as in Greece and India. Hospitals in the U.S. are also infected with a microbe that is very hard to eradicate: The highly toxic Clostridium difficile. These hospitals face serious problems due to this strain of bacteria. Again, cases of the sexually transmitted disease Gonorrhea, caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is resistant to existing drugs, are on the increase. These are the problems of Western nations; so, contagious diseases are not seen only in Africa, but emerge in advanced Western countries too. But the only difference is that those diseases that proliferate in Africa due to poverty such as malaria, tuberculosis and viral hemorrhagic fevers are of a different kind and affect more people since necessary measures are not taken.

DS: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "We need to collect $1 billion to fight Ebola." Is this too large an amount for the world? Why can't this sum be collected?

We can ask many questions similar to the one for Ebola: Why can't we collect much smaller sums that are enough to end hunger, prevent malaria and the spread of HIV? Is there really such a priority in the U.N.'s mission? There are various theories to explain why the U.N. Security Council acts so slowly and reluctantly during humanitarian crises. One of these theories even suggests that it is because those who die in masses are poor and dark skinned Africans, Arabs South Asians and other Middle Easterners.

DS: You are working to strengthen local capabilities by offering various kinds of training in places where you operate. How effective are these trainings?

Doctors Worldwide is conducting different efforts to strengthen local capabilities by supporting the professional education of medical staff in places where it operates. These efforts, which can be listed as undergraduate study and specialization training in medicine, continuing medical education, certificate programs, student exchange and scientific congresses, are extremely effective in increasing nationwide health capabilities. Students who receive medical education as part of these programs are subjected to regular exams and the results are evaluated through scientific methods.

WHO?


Founded by a group of doctors in 2000, Yeryüzü Doktorları (Doctors Worldwide) provides medical aid to those in need of basic medical treatment and health services anywhere in the world regardless of race, religion, gender and nationality under the banner of its slogan "We Are There and Everywhere!"

WHERE?

Doctors Worldwide has delivered humanitarian and medical aid to 44 countries or regions on four continents so far in including: Turkey, Sudan, Ingushetia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestinian territories, Sierra Leone, Ghana, India, Kenya, Bangladesh, Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Syria, Libya, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Kosovo, Guatemala, Macedonia, Greece, Indonesia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen, Mauritania, Somalia, Tanzania, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, and the Philippines.

WHAT DOES IT DO?


Dedicated to making societies healthier by providing medical aid to those deprived of basic medical treatment and health services in the least-developed countries, Doctors Worldwide aims to meet the medical needs of countries that lack a sufficient number of internal disease specialists and surgeons by forming volunteer health teams tailored to the specific needs of these countries. Doctors Worldwide reaches every corner of the globe to heal wounds inflicted by disasters, wars and domestic disturbances, and operates various health projects for the people needing medical aid. Hundreds of thousands of people are provided relief with these health projects that are conducted by establishing full-fledged hospitals and health care centers in some places and nutritional health centers in other places.

WHO IS KEREM KINIK?


Dedicated to making societies healthier by providing medical aid to those deprived of basic medical treatment and health services in the least-developed countries, Doctors Worldwide aims to meet the medical needs of countries that lack a sufficient number of internal disease specialists and surgeons by forming volunteer health teams tailored to the specific needs of these countries. Doctors Worldwide reaches every corner of the globe to heal wounds inflicted by disasters, wars and domestic disturbances, and operates various health projects for the people needing medical aid. Hundreds of thousands of people are provided relief with these health projects that are conducted by establishing full-fledged hospitals and health care centers in some places and nutritional health centers in other places.

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