The world is witnessing the highest level of human suffering since the Second World War. This is why, for the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened the World Humanitarian Summit to generate commitments to reduce suffering and deliver better for people around the globe. The Summit took place in Istanbul on 23-24 May 2016. Marmara Municipalities Union organized, in cooperation with Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul and Helsinki Citizens Assembly, a side event named “Multilateral Perspectives on the Refugee Issue: Dynamics In and Around Turkey” at the Summit.

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit was hosted by Turkey at Istanbul Congress Center (ICC), Istanbul. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Çipras, Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipila, Prime Minister of Netherlands Mark Rutte, President of Azerbaijan İlham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were among the leaders that gathered at the Summit.

Erdoğan noted in his opening speech that Turkey is hosting more than 3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees. “Whether Syrian or Iraqi, we will never close our doors to people,” he said. Erdoğan pointed out that Turkey has been providing humanitarian and development aid to more than 140 countries. He called on developed countries to do their part.

As part of the Summit, several side events were organized, such as “Mayor’s Focus Session: Cities’ Response to Migration”, “Legal Status of Syrians in Turkey and Rights and Services Provided for Syrians”, “Experience Sharing of Humanitarian Aid Workers and Victims of Humanitarian Crisis: Share Humanity”, and “Critical Infrastructure  Protection Strategies and Resilience Against Disasters”.

The side event organized by Marmara Municipalities Union, on the other hand, elaborated on the current humanitarian crisis and refugee flux in light of the recent Turkey-EU agreement, examining implications and challenges concerning refugees and local/host communities, and, the response and actions by civic stakeholders, at local, country and trans-border/regional levels. Capacities and prospects for trans-border, regional cooperation for humanitarian relief; resources, mechanisms and efforts required to mitigate risks and threats were discussed with a view to the distinction between a securitization versus the human security approach, including policies for social-economic and cultural integration, inclusion, and cohesion.

The former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and Visiting Scholar at Columbia Law School, Alexander Aleinikoff was the Chair of the panel while Helsinki Citizens Assembly Co-Coordinator Sinan Gökçen moderated the discussion. Other speakers at the panel were Marmara Municipalities Union International Cooperation Expert Burcuhan Şener, UNHCR Head of Field Office in Istanbul Elif Selen Ay, and Helsinki Citizens Assembly Co-Coordinator Emel Kurma.

Aleinikoff asserted that “the issue of Syrian refugees is being discussed for a long time. Destruction in Syria makes it impossible for refugees to go back to their countries. These issues require a responsibility to be shared at the international level.” On the other hand, Elif Selen Ay emphasized that we are facing a more complicated problem going beyond the numbers and statistics. Sinan Gökçen pointed out the way we name the current problem, which will last for a long time, will be determinant at the phase of solution. In order to be able to establish a culture of living together, eagerness of the civil society is not sufficient per se and there is a need for new policies to be developed, Emel Kurma added.

Burcuhan Şener offered insights concerning the achievements and challenges local governments in Turkey have faced so far and their projections for the future. The role of local governments has been and will even become more vital with the effects of the EU-Turkey agreement. Considering the escalating number of Syrian refugees in Turkey, local integration emerges as one of the leading challenges for both refugees and the local communities. Findings were presented by Şener from the most inclusive, substantial and concrete research that has been conducted thus far, by the Marmara Municipalities Union, on the role of local governments for migrants in urban areas and the impact of migration at the local level.

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