Turkey bears a heavy burden in a "fragile region of the world" by hosting more than 4 million refugees and providing free health services to refugee mothers and babies, Turkey's first lady said in Switzerland on Monday.
First lady Emine Erdoğan was the keynote speaker at a forum titled “Time for Action: Adopting a Proactive Approach to Prevent Maternal and Infant Mortality at Birth.”
The panel was held as part of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva to build on decades of work for refugees.
"We need to work to ensure that everyone shares one common denominator so we can give the best to the world in life," said Erdoğan.
"Our country has the second-fastest decrease in infant and child mortality in the last 30 years," she said, adding that the record includes refugees.
"According to a survey conducted in 2018, the number of Syrian infant deaths was 42 per thousand for 2003-2008, and this number decreased to 22 per thousand in 2013-2018," said Erdoğan.
"All services we provide to our citizens for a mother and baby’s health are also given to refugees equally and free of charge," she underscored.
The conflict in Syria that started in 2011 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced more than 5 million people to flee, while more than 7 million are internally displaced. Refugees mainly took shelter in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, with Turkey hosting the largest number of refugees. Some have sought to reach Europe via the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, but hundreds died en route to Greece and other coastal countries.
According to Interior Ministry figures, the number of refugees in Turkey was 4.2 million in 2017 and has now reached 4.9 million. While 3.6 million Syrians are living in Turkey, more than 415,000 Syrians have been born in Turkey since the start of the civil war in 2011.
Erdoğan spoke of the great efforts made for the lives of more than 100,000 Syrian babies that are born each year in Turkey.
Looking to safeguard the future, Erdoğan voiced a goal: "If we can replace the fighter jets with children's kites in the sky, we can provide the best of life."
At the end of her speech, Erdoğan said "the world will know peace" as soon as possible and that the three-day Global Refugee Forum would be an instrument for good.
Among the participants of the panel were Jordanian Princess Sarah Zeid, Uganda’s Minister of State for Primary Health Care Joyce Moriku Kaducu, Nansen Refugee Award-winning South Sudanese refugee surgeon Evan Atar Adaha and International Rescue Commission Vice President Alyoscia D'Onofrio.
Separately, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett and Ben Stiller, as well as world business leaders, are among those participating in its campaign for solidarity with refugees.