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World Humanitarian Summit off to bumpy start in Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the World Humanitarian Summit
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the World Humanitarian Summit Reuters/Murad Sezer

The first world humanitarian summit has kicked off in the Turkish city of Istanbul. But one major NGO is boycotting the meeting and others have questioned Turkey’s suitability as summit host.

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The initiative was announced in 2013 by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Many NGOs and charity groups saw the meeting as a chance to finally speak face-to-face with heads of state to set in motion changes that will benefit the way humanitarian aid is organized.

But even before the two-day summit opened, it faced controversy.

The medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) pulled out of the summit at the start of this month.

After having their staff and hospitals targeted while operating in hostile situations, MSF said the summit was unlikely to provide any guarantees to protect civilians or humanitarian operations. A point that came to light only after the non-binding nature of the resolutions was revealed.

And there have been further developments on Monday.

Kenya to close refugee camp

Firstly, Kenya confirmed that it will not reconsider its decision to shut down al-Dahab refugee camp which would expel some 600,000 persons back into Somalia or South Sudan.

Secondly, the European Union announced a major aid programme to help slow down the flow of migrants in conjunction with the Sudanese government.

It is likely that a German company will help the Sudanese government build detention centres for possible migrants, a source told RFI, despite the fact that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is still the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant on charges that include crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Turkey's refugee action criticised

There has been much criticism by NGOs of Turkey’s willingness to host the summit, while claiming it is housing more than 2.7 million refugees. But many NGOs have accused the Turkish government of sending some Syrians back to their wartorn country after they have crossed into Turkey.

The summit should also set into motion certain initiatives.

One in particular has been the need to provide refugee children with free education. Many children interrupt their studies due to schools being shut down, or displacement. Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who is attending the summit, announced a few weeks back the creation of the United Nations fund for the education of refugee children.

The initiative, called “Education Cannot Wait”, seeks to raise 3.43 billion euros from a mix of private and public sectors in the coming five years.

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