The war in Syria has sent millions of refugees into neighboring Turkey, overwhelming resources.
THE United Nations food agency has announced that it is being forced to cut off aid to thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey because of a lack of funds. For now, the Turkish government will have to fill the funding gap left by the United Nation’s withdrawal.
But as home to the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, Turkey is taking responsibility for an unfair share of the fallout from Syria’s civil war. Without an aggressive international effort — as well as significant funds from foreign governments and private philanthropists — the unthinkable suffering of Syrian refugees will only increase.
While Turkey is doing an admirable job, the global community must do more to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis — not just for humanitarian reasons, but for the region’s political stability, too.
Sixty years ago, the Istanbul Hilton became one of the first Hilton International hotels built by my grandfather. Writing in his memoirs, Conrad N. Hilton expressed hope that the Istanbul Hilton would be “at this crossroads of the world — a friendly center where men of many nations and of goodwill may speak the language of peace.”
My grandfather’s hopes live on today through the foundation he established. It was for that reason that, as president of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, I traveled to Turkey — but under far less auspicious circumstances.
Although Turkey has enjoyed extraordinary progress in the past half-century, the nation faces severe challenges to its security. Among these is the Syrian refugee crisis, a tragedy that also affects Jordan and Lebanon.
This is the largest humanitarian crisis in modern times. Close to 12 million people have been displaced by nearly four years of war in Syria — including 3.8 million who have fled to neighboring countries. It’s the largest population displacement since World War II.
Along the Turkish border, about 250,000 refugees are housed in just 25 camps. More than 1.5 million more refugees are scattered throughout Turkey’s urban areas. To the nation’s great credit, it has made every effort to accommodate these refugees. But this crisis is not a burden that Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan should be expected to bear alone.
Turkey has already spent more than $5 billion to serve the refugees — making the country the fourth-largest provider of humanitarian assistance in the world in 2013. These efforts have put an enormous strain on Turkey’s ability to address the needs of its own underserved populations.
This situation is not sustainable.
Now that U.N. support is waning, human suffering will only grow — as will the potential for political instability in the region. Children have been hit especially hard. The 2 million refugees under the age of 18, most without access to education or jobs, are at risk of becoming a lost generation. If they do, the repercussions are not difficult to imagine.
To be sure, extraordinary humanitarian work is already under way in the region. I recently traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border with two Hilton Foundation partners, the International Medical Corps and Wings of Hope. These groups were offering essential services in partnership with the Turkish Government, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, other international organizations and local nongovernmental organizations.
Such efforts, however, are far from adequate. Nothing short of massive international support is needed — and it’s needed now.
U.S. humanitarian assistance has been strong — taxpayers have provided more than $3 billion in aid since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. But other donors have been conspicuously absent. To enhance global security and demonstrate humanitarian compassion, America’s Western allies and regional partners must do more. Corporations with investments in the region also have an obligation to help address this crisis.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recently warned the U.N. Security Council that Syria’s refugee crisis is approaching a “dangerous turning point,” as nearly 4 million Syrians face worsening conditions living in exile.
The crisis is an instance where the globe’s security interests and moral obligations are in perfect alignment. That’s why it’s time for the international community to do more to alleviate the enormous suffering of Syrian refugees.