Because of this good record of being hospitable to refugees, Uganda is among global countries that have been invited to participate and share her experiences at the first World Humanitarian Summit
By Musa Ecweru
On April 7, I highlighted in the New Vision how Uganda is now home to over 500,000 refugees.
This is because Uganda is increasingly gaining global consideration as a model country in refugee management. These refugees are mainly from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Kenya.
Because of this good record of being hospitable to refugees, Uganda is among global countries that have been invited to participate and share her experiences at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey due on May 23-24.
But as we prepare for this historic summit, what is important is how to link humanitarian assistance with development of the host countries.
The decision for Turkey to host this historic summit was arrived at during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly on September 26, 2013, when the Secretary General Ban Kimoon declared Istanbul as the host of the first-ever summit.
In his statement, Ban Kimoon emphasised both Turkey’s position as one of the world’s leading humanitarian donors and Turkey’s own experience in directly responding to humanitarian emergencies.
Like Uganda has 17 refugee camps mainly in western Uganda and West Nile, Turkey has 26 temporary camps where about 300,000 of the 2.8 million refugees mainly Syrian have been accommodated. Turkey has been hosting Syrian refugees ever since a vicious civil war broke out in Syria in 2011.
Just like Uganda, which historically has hosted neighbouring countries civil war refugees, Turkey has a strong tradition of responding to those in need. In fact, Turkey’s land has historically been moulded with humanitarianism because it is situated in a disaster-prone geographical area.
As early as in the late 15th century, Turks provided a safe harbour for several hundreds of thousands of exiled populations fleeing from persecution. Since then, Turks have embraced countless peoples in dire need.
Based on such heritage, modern Turkey has always provided humanitarian assistance to peoples in need, either by hosting them or helping them in their own countries or in third countries, to the extent possible.
However, the challenge currently is international humanitarian system can no longer adequately address today’s humanitarian crises.
There is growing complexity of contemporary humanitarian crises, the great majority of which are conflict-related; growing financing gap between ever-increasing needs and limited resources and growing suffering of affected peoples and communities, as a consequence.
The Istanbul Summit is expected to address these major challenges because today, 80% of humanitarian needs are caused by conflict, with most being recurrent or protracted crises lasting years long.
Moreover, such crises are transcending borders as we have witnessed the exodus of refugees to Europe who again being turned back to Turkey.
It is, therefore, everybody’s expectation that the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey will be held for the first time to address the extraordinary challenges to the current international humanitarian system.
Globally, the number of people in need of humanitarian aid has doubled in the last 10 years. Every year, over 100 million people are faced with natural disasters. This year, it is estimated that about 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
There are about 60 million people globally affected by wars and conflicts. If these were a population of one country, it would be the 24th most populous one in the world.
Turkey has today become the biggest refugee-hosting nation in the world. It is also the world’s “most generous” humanitarian donor when the ratio of official humanitarian assistance to national income is taken into consideration.
The designation of Turkey as the host of the World Humanitarian Summit is, therefore, the sign of international community’s admiration for the tireless efforts of Turkey.
It is also important to note that since 2015, in Iraq, 8.2 million people have become in need of humanitarian aid. In Syria, over 4.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
In neighbouring Sudan, 1.5 million people have been displaced due to the conflicts and in Ukraine, five million people are in need of assistance.
This summit, co-hosted by Turkey and the UN Secretary General, is expected to take concrete steps to respond to the current humanitarian crises in the fastest and most effective way and to identify preventive policies. It is also expected to emphasise the global responsibility and ownership of the humanitarian community.
The World Humanitarian Summit should, therefore, be the turning point at which we reaffirm our commitment to our responsibilities as States, international organisations, the private sector, civil society and individual leaders.
The writer is the Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees