Kerem Kınık, president of the Turkish Red Crescent and newly elected vice president of the world's largest humanitarian organization, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said he wants the organization to focus more on migration and the refugee crisis by producing more human-centered policies, adding that they are also addressing rising Islamophobia and xenophobia in Europe
In the recent weeks, the world's largest humanitarian organization, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), elected Dr. Kerem Kınık, president of the Turkish Red Crescent, as its new vice president responsible for operations in Europe for the next four years.
Fighting hunger, poverty for years, Turkish Red Crescent to stand up against Islamophobia
Newly elected Vice President Dr. Kınık said during his vice presidency he aims to focus more on migration and the refugee crisis and emphasized that they want to contribute by producing more human-centered policies on these issues. Dr. Kınık also underlined that they have to address the crises originating from Europe, render European immigration policies humanitarian, and fight against rising Islamophobia and xenophobia on the continent with humanitarian projects and increase cooperation.
The Turkish Red Crescent was the first international aid organization that lent a helping hand to the humanitarian tragedy in Rakhine state in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar. Regarding their ongoing efforts for Myanmar refugees, Dr. Kınık said they have suggested to Bangladeshi officials to build 24,000 prefabricated houses that have individual bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. He said these houses can accommodate approximately 150,000 and they can also be used by Bangladeshi people even after the refugees in Myanmar return to their homes.
Regarding the Red Crescent Card program, Dr. Kınık said this program is the most original and widespread social security net program. Dr. Kırık said the current program has currently reached 1 million people, stating that they aim to reach 1.3 million.
Fighting hunger, poverty for years, Turkish Red Crescent to stand up against Islamophobia
Providing information about their activities in Turkey, Dr. Kınık said the people's expectation from the Red Crescent changes with society. He mentioned that the Red Crescent has begun to educate people on healthy aging while adding that they have founded healthy aging units and retirement homes as well as continuing their duty on disasters, public health and humanitarian aid.
Ali Ünal: Recently, you were elected as the vice president responsible for the European region of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Could you inform us about this process?
Kerem Kınık: The Red Cross and Red Crescent span over 150 years. Since its conception, the Red Crescent has been a part of almost every important event, especially world wars, population exchanges and international disasters. These two movements established an international federation in 1919. Currently, there are 190 members of this federation. The General Assembly meets biannually, while elections take place every four years. The general assembly meeting in Antalya was about the election. The administration of the federation was elected there. The president of the federation was elected from Italy. Meanwhile, there are four vice presidents who are responsible for four regions. The vice president responsible for North and South America was elected from Venezuela, and we were elected as the vice president responsible for Europe, Senegal was elected the vice president responsible for Africa and China was elected vice president responsible for the Asia-Pacific. For every region, five board members are elected, therefore, 20 board members were also elected.
For the first time, we, the Turkish Red Crescent became the vice president responsible for a region. I believe this is prominent development, as Turkey is a land of benevolence. We have become a country that is sought for help by those in need, regardless of region, religion and language. Turkey's humanitarian policies toward immigrants and refugees have also consolidated the country's power.
In terms of shared dedication for humanitarian aid, we are the most generous country in the world. Turkey has dedicated 0.75 percent of its national income to humanitarian aid for those in need abroad. While Turkey is dedicating almost TL 1 ($0.25) for each TL 100 ($25), the U.S. is dedicating TL 3 for each TL 10,000. The U.S. is the country that provides the most humanitarian aid in the world, $400 million more than Turkey. The 2017 statistics are yet to be announced, however, I believe Turkey will replace the U.S. in this category. We entered the elections with this momentum. A total of 116 countries voted for Turkey, while 61 voted for Germany.
A.Ü.: Could you elaborate on the campaign process? How did you prepare for the election?
K.K.: Firstly, while I can't claim that the Red Crescent and Red Cross are free of international politics and perceptions, we are movements with a tradition and connection. Two nations may be in a war, but the wounded and prisoners of war are mutually supported by both the Red Crescent and Red Cross of these two nations. In this respect, political polarization is nonexistent in our societies. For instance, despite competing against each other in the election, the German Red Cross and us are always friendly and carry out projects together. Moreover, the German Red Cross was the first to congratulate us right after the elections, saying they wouldn't have entered the elections if they knew we were up for this job.
Before the election, the Myanmar Red Cross announced that they would support us in the election. The Kenyan and Greek Red Crosses have also announced their support for us. In terms of our campaign, we emphasized "good hands." We said the current humanitarian aid sector is unable to relieve the world's pains. For instance, the humanitarian aid sector has half the budget of cosmetics around the world, a total of $30 billion. Now, we are living in an age that is dominated by human sorrow and pain. Some 65 million people are forced to leave their homes at gunpoint, and 130 million immigrants are roaming the world and people are suffering from famines and wars. We know we cannot have the budget of the defense industry, however, we want to able to dedicate at least 5-10 percent of this budget to humanitarian aid.
We asserted that the humanitarian aid sector has to raise its voice - we can't stay silent or indifferent. Since the last general assembly, 76 Red Cross and Red Crescent employees were killed in conflict zones. One of them was Serhat Önder, who was martyred at the General Staff compound on July 15. He was martyred while he was trying to do what he did best, helping people. Therefore, we're not offered adequate protection. There are international security systems and the Security Council, and they are taking certain decisions which unfortunately are not enough to protect us. As a part of our duty, we have to be in conflict zones.
For instance, during the evacuation of 34,000 people in Aleppo, we were in the middle of a conflict zone. All guns were trained on our employees and we had nothing to protect us but our banner. The much required protection is not being provided to our employees. We have expressed that we will emphasize this subject and will also mobilize to send more help to regions ravaged by war, hunger and pestilence. We are responsible for Europe as there are neglected crises on the continent along with 1.5 million refugees that are being disregarded by Europe. There are events in Europe that are similar to those that transpired in Bosnia and Kosovo, which disregard human rights and civilization that the continent continuously boasts about. We have to address especially the crises originating from Europe, render European immigration policies humanitarian, and fight against rising Islamophobia and xenophobia on the continent with humanitarian projects and increase cooperation. There is an unbalance between Caucasia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Western and Northern Europe. We have provided certain visions about eliminating this unbalance. Our discourse was on the same line with Italy, which was elected president of the federation. The newly elected countries are actually the representatives of this transformation. Therefore, the federations' actions and discourse regarding international crises are transforming and becoming increasingly effective.
A.Ü.: You have expressed that addressing rising xenophobia and Islamophobia is in your agenda. As a humanitarian organization, do these subjects fall under your jurisdiction? If so, what are you aiming to do about them?
K.K.: Both the Red Crescent and Red Cross movements prioritize human life and honor. Therefore, we have to provide the necessary support to protect these. Let us suppose you are living in the northern parts of Nigeria. Boko Haram invaded the region and threatens to abduct your children. You seek shelter in Chad. There are 1.5 million people around Lake Chad, living in an arid region where producing food is not possible. They completely depend on aid. Some say they should try to reach Europe, so they can save the lives of their children and have a life anew. They travel to the Libyan coastline and try to go to Italy with boats and rafts. Around 30,000 people died in the last five to six years while trying to go to Italy. Then, when they arrive some people tackle them while taking photos, and some others give them expired sandwiches in train stations. Boko Haram's invasion is not these people's fault, nor their poverty. Their imposed conditions are the shame of humanity and the responsibility of fixing their conditions fall on the shoulders of those who have exploited them the most. The policy making mechanisms of these countries should protect human honor, not push the xenophobic agenda further.
Unlike other humanitarian organizations, we are tasked with the implementation of humanitarian law and law of war per the Geneva Convention. This includes the protection of people in the conflict zone, the prevention of conventional weapons being used against civilians and supervision of civilian arrests. Collectively, we have not attended these matters as much as we did in the1930s-40s. After World War II, the movement became increasingly introverted, and it has transformed into individual national associations. Moreover, as states provided superior services, these associations were deprived of duties. Therefore, they are attending matters that are dissimilar to what the Turkish Red Crescent attends.
We will try to implement humanitarian policies that protect human honor along with immigration policies aiming to improve security and comfort. We will continue to press the whole world on these matters while keeping this long-lasting movement relevant.
A.Ü.: What will be your priorities during your term?
K.K.: Firstly, decisions will be shaped jointly by the executive board, four regional vice presidents and the president. We will discuss our individual approach, however, we are responsible for 53 countries in the eurozone. Improving the relations between these 53 countries is one of our aims. We will attempt to decrease the dehumanizing effects of poverty-based immigration, and possible conflicts as it was the case in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, we will attempt to improve Trans-European ties. The Mediterranean network, which has its headquarters in Spain, consists of Red Crosses and Red Crescents that have coastlines on the Mediterranean. Moreover, we have met with Ukraine, Georgia and Bulgaria to realize the Black Sea network. Regional cooperation often yields different and more beneficial results than the international.
We also aim to establish thematic networks. For instance, we have implemented the cash transfer social security network with the U.K. Therefore, we will prioritize the establishment of similar networks between various branches of the Red Cross and Red Crescent that implement similar programs.
A.Ü.: Returning to the activities of the Turkish Red Crescent, you were among the first to address and lend a helping hand to the human tragedy in the Rakhine region of Myanmar. What are the latest developments? What is being done to resolve this tragedy?
K.K.: Firstly, we began to work in Bangladesh at the end August when the crisis was growing bigger. We also submitted the necessary applications to work together with Myanmar. This took some time. However, with President Erdoğan's initiative, his meetings with presidents of more than 30 countries and the inclusion of international mechanisms like ASEAN, this crisis gained international renown. Turkey, thus, has once again sided with the downtrodden.
This development changed the attitudes of Bangladesh and Myanmar, as opposed to the 2013 crisis. We have increased our capacity at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. We started a campaign for this location. This team is working in the region nonstop with the gathered aids and with our own aid reserves. We are supporting approximately 1,000 families on a daily basis. These supports are various and multidimensional: Food, shelter, drinking water, hygiene kits et cetera. In terms of camp administration, we have submitted applications to Bangladesh together with the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD). Bangladesh has approved our application and now we are waiting for the official documents.
We have visited the region in Myanmar along with our regional office in Malaysia. We also went to Singapore. We previously had an agreement with the president of the Chinese Red Cross in Malaysia and Singapore in the framework of ASEAN. We signed an agreement with the Myanmar Red Cross that foresees faster delivery of humanitarian aid to the Rohingya. Now we are working on the technical details of the agreement's implementation.
A.Ü.: What will be the capacity of the camps that you and AFAD are going to construct?
K.K.: We suggested 24,000 prefabricated houses. These houses can hold approximately 150,000 people and have their individual bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. We have said that Bangladesh could continue to use these houses after Rohingya return to their own lands. With a concrete base and steel construction body, these houses will have the infrastructure to support drinking water and sewage. We are currently waiting for the official allocation of land.
A.Ü.: You have also sent aid to Iraq after last week's earthquake. Could you inform us on this subject?
K.K.: We have offered our help to both the Iranian Red Crescent and the Iraqi Red Crescent right after the Halabja earthquake. We have received the first assessment from the national and international disaster assessment center, the GDAC. After acquiring the preliminary information about the magnitude of the earthquake and its possible destruction, we started to pack aid to trucks at depots in Elazığ, Muş, Van and Adana around midnight. The earthquake occurred around 9:20 p.m. We sent our teams to Sulaymaniyah and Halabja. They arrived at night and provided us the initial data. Meanwhile, our trucks were already loaded and on their way to the Habur border gate. With 70 truckloads of aid and over 100 personnel, we entered Iraq. We started to distribute aid in Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Darbandikhan and Halabja regions. We provided shelter to those who were on the streets together with AFAD. We provided other basic necessities to those people, in which the Iraqi Red Crescent also assisted us. This is not to brag, but to define our duty.
After the referendum in northern Iraq, there were various perceptions. However, I have told the president of the Iraqi Red Crescent and the administrators of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah that we reacted as if the earthquake occurred within Turkey. We acted quickly to aid as a state and nation and arrived first to the region. While I was visiting Darbandikhan, the people of the town were telling me their conditions and asking me to resolve their issues, as if I was an administrator or mayor of the region. This shows that our historical and cultural ties are very much intact with the region.
A.Ü.: The Red Crescent Card has over 1 million users. Could you inform us about the frame and future of this project?
K.K.: We have a set of criteria for the Red Crescent Card and it is automated. It is an Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) program we implemented for impoverished foreign nationals in Turkey. We serve the citizens of 65 countries, while more than 90 percent of card users are Syrians. Our aim is to reach 1.3 million people. These people will receive regular monthly cash support from us. We are carrying out this program together with the European Commission, more specifically with the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) unit. The World Food Program and the Ministry of Family and Social Policies are our partners.
The Red Crescent Card is the most original and widespread social security net. Our funds are secured until the end of 2018. This corresponds to approximately 1 billion euros. We signed an agreement with EU for 348 million euros last year, and this year, we will be signing a new fund agreement of 630 million euros. Meanwhile, we have other supportive programs. We are providing scholarship to 250,000 Syrian children, trying to improve their schooling rates.
A.Ü.: What does the Turkish Red Crescent do in Turkey?
K.K.: Because of our international activities, this is rightfully one of the most asked questions. As the Red Crescent and Red Cross, this movement's priority is to provide resilience to their own society. Therefore, it is our most essential duty to serve our own nation. We serve them in three fields: Disasters, public health and humanitarian aid. In terms of disasters, we have a tremendous team prepared for disasters. We have a disaster management capacity that is ready to shelter and feed 350,000 people in nine regions that are under the risk of disasters and almost all cities. Secondly, in order to achieve a secure life for our citizens, we are working on decreasing the risks of disasters. We have prepared a curriculum with the Ministry of National Education to educate 18 million primary and secondary education students about disasters. We have 348 branches and 30 agencies that contribute to the humanitarian support programs which fight against poverty all around the country. We also provide aid to those affected from extraordinary situations. For instance, we have sent aid to families and workers in Fethiye, Antalya after the tornado.
Meanwhile, blood donations continue to be one of our strong suits. We collect approximately 3 million units of blood each year and aid 9 million people. This is achieved through volunteers. We will continue to improve ourselves next year. We are engaging in new fields, which we will announce to the public.
A.Ü.: What could you share about these new fields?
K.K.: For instance, we are educating people about healthy aging for the first time. Our country's population is around 80 million and half of the population is under 30. Meanwhile, life expectancy is improving and the number of elderly people is increasing, and they require special services and we are working scientifically on these services. We founded a social care unit where we will implement healthy aging units and retirement homes in regions with a high rate of elderly people. We will also realize support houses for the terminally ill, where they can receive medical treatment and continue to be in contact with their families. We have started to build the first geriatric care center in Istanbul. In this respect, we have projects about retirement homes. Moreover, we are working on providing support to families that have members who suffer from illnesses like Alzheimer's and dementia and require special care.
Similarly, the Turkish Red Crescent will continue to work on certain healthcare and social services that are neglected. We will also focus on education as every branch of the Turkish Red Crescent will also serve as a school. We have founded the Turkish Red Crescent Academy, which is to provide education. The Turkish Red Crescent currently certificates 70-80 trainings aiming to increase the resiliency of the society. We will continue to work on improving social awareness.