Pat Lancaster in Kuwait City
The Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah hit out at the “Conflicts and natural disasters that have left many people homeless and doubled the numbers of refugees around the world,” in his opening speech at the first World Humanitarian Summit, which opened in Ankara, yesterday.
According to recent international statistics, there are currently 60 million refugees and displaced people, while more than 2.2 billion living below the poverty line, Sheikh Sabah said. The Ankara summit provides a platform for the international community to unite in easing the suffering of these people, through ending conflicts and providing financial aid for better life conditions, he added. To date, Kuwait has pledged around $1.6 billion for Syrian refugees.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the burden of handling the world’s crises should be better shared, as leaders and aid groups sought to defy sceptics at the unprecedented aid summit. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gathered over 60 heads of state and government with top NGOs at the summit, aiming to better keep conflicts from erupting and ensure legal retribution for those guilty of humanitarian crimes.
With some 60 million people displaced around the world and at least 125 million requiring assistance and protection in the biggest humanitarian crises since World War II, Ban said that the summit represented a chance to forge a “different future”.
But the event has been shadowed by the boycott of medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and others who doubt that the two-day event can make any genuine impact. MSF said the summit risked being just a “fig leaf” for the world’s failure on humanitarian action.
Host Erdogan emphasized the contributions of his country, which is hosting some three million refugees from the Syria and Iraq conflicts and, in a barb at the West, complained others were not sharing the burden. “The current system falls short… the burden is shouldered only by certain countries, everyone should assume responsibility from now on,” he said. “Needs increase every day but resources do not increase at the same pace. There are tendencies to avoid responsibility among the international community.”
“Turkey knows this bitterly,” he added, saying Turkey had spent $10 billion on its hosting of Syrian refugees compared to $450 million from the rest of the international community. Reprising a familiar theme, Erdogan also urged reform of the UN Security Council, saying the “fate of humanity” cannot depend on its five veto-wielding permanent members”.
“The extent to which the international humanitarian system lies broken is alarming,” Erdogan wrote in an opinion piece published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The international community in particular has largely ignored its responsibilities toward the Syrian people by turning a blind eye to Bashar Assad’s crimes against his own citizens.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the highest profile guests at the summit, called for an end to empty pledges on aid that fizzled into nothing.
This fairly despicable practise of promising money which then never materialises has become increasingly widespread in recent years. The country promising the funds gains publicity and international congratulations for its so-called humanitarian efforts when, in reality, the money was never available to begin with. It is the worst kind of attention seeking and results in untold misery to those hosting refugees and ultimately, to the long suffering refugees themselves.
In 2013 the UK’s Independent newspaper sharply criticised a number of Arab states and aid groups, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, for failing to deliver $650m (£420m) in pledges they made at an emergency United Nations conference in Kuwait, four months previously.
Many believe all countries involved in the practise should be named and shamed for their attempts to hog the glory at these international events when, in reality, they are acting – at best – inhumanly, because while they vacillate refugees are undergoing immense hardship, or – at worst – selfishly and duplicitously.
“Too many promises are made and then the money does not come for the projects – that must end,” said Merkel, adding that the world currently had no humanitarian system that was “compatible with the future”.
The commitments adopted by the states will be non-binding and while leaders like Merkel andSheikh Sabah are attending the summit, many other prominent world leaders were conspicuous by their absence.
Participants expressed alarm over deteriorating observance of humanitarian law, with schools and hospitals regularly targeted in conflict. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said in a report almost half its schools had been hit by conflict in the last five years.
This article, from agencies was edited by Pat Lancaster