Migration, Refugees, the Pandemic and Climate Crisis

Hakan Bilgin
President, Doctors of the World Türkiye

The Syrian Crisis, which began in 2011, is still a stain on our collective conscience. Although many years have passed, the crisis is now moving towards a point where it becomes deeper, unpredictable and unfavorable let alone improving. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic, which first broke out in China and then spread worldwide, took millions of lives as of 2019. Even if there were significant advances in vaccine and treatment processes, the world failed to deliver vaccines to least developed countries due to unequal distribution and issues surrounding patents.

In addition, climate change that has been going on for decades and whose impacts have been felt even stronger in recent years, caused extreme flood disasters in the north of Türkiye and forest fires in the south in 2021, bringing serious threat of drought. 82 people lost their lives in the flood disasters that occurred in Kastamonu, Sinop and Bartın in August. The forest fires that occurred in the Aegean and Mediterranean Regions in the same period continued for two weeks and destroyed the life resources of all living things. That being the case, climate change has also negatively affected life all over the world, and the population affected by the climate have joined in with the rest in migration. In addition, there were some governments acting against the fundamental rights adopted with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With their pro-violence and oppression approach, which does not allow people to choose a free and humane life, and which subjects women and children to fear and concern about their safety, they have left their people no choice but to migrate. This situation has not drawn the attention it deserves, like many other problems we need to solve today.

With the Taliban’s seizure of power, the Afghan people, who have been trying to live their lives in pain and misery for years, dreamt of migrating to Türkiye and then to Europe via Pakistan and Iran, and finally maintaining a peaceful life. Thus, they left their home, young and old alike. While Türkiye has been having a hard time dealing with the refugees coming from Afghanistan, there is also a risk of another migration wave of three million, following a potential disturbance in Syria’s Idlib region.

All of the above are just the tip of the iceberg. Harmonization activities, carried out for the host community to accept refugees still creates a problem, let alone the needs of migrants such as health, protection and education. What makes it more difficult is the language barrier, cultural differences, and the inadequate capacity to provide psychosocial support to people who have been going through a deep mental and psychological destruction due to their tragic experiences resulting from war and migration. In addition, the tendency to use substances among the affected groups necessitates a deep and detailed research on this subject.

According to official data, the cooperation and coordination of local governments, public and non-governmental organizations that provide services to 3,738,032 Syrians under temporary protection registered in Türkiye play a crucial role in using resources more efficiently and being present in the right place at the right time. There is no doubt that we need to be more organized and we also need higher capacity, estimating that the current number of refugees will increase and the adverse impacts of climate change will continue for centuries in the best-case scenario. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Report, approximately 21.5 million people have had to migrate every year since 2008 due to weather conditions such as floods, storms, hurricanes and extreme droughts. The World Disaster Report, released in 2020, pointed out that the number of climate and weather-related disasters has been increasing since the 1960s, and has increased nearly 35% since the 1990s. Since Türkiye is on the migration routes, it is one of the countries that is at risk of having numerous people who have to migrate due to the climate crisis. In this context, the international community needs to begin to take the necessary steps with the utmost urgency to make the preparations and investments to avoid climate migration.

In addition, the manufacturing slowdown, supply chain disruptions and setbacks, countries dealing with economic crises and other political issues due to the pandemic makes things extremely difficult for the humanitarian aid community.

Unfortunately, these people, who have been experiencing the cruel impacts of the humanitarian crises, have become a subject matter for the domestic and foreign policies of some countries. This approach results in wars and conflicts, both interstate and also between states and armed separatist groups in the world, causing millions of people to be internally displaced or sometimes to be forced to leave their countries. 

Humanitarian crises in recent years have diverted all the attention away from the struggles of African countries, such as hunger, lack of clean water access, and poverty. Aid delivered to these regions has decreased. On the other hand, the adverse impacts of the pandemic and poverty have caused the migration flow to increase in these regions. Taking drastic measures against immigration to wealthy and developed countries, preventing the admission of refugees to these countries and pushing back those who try to cross the European border is a disgrace to humanity. World opinion on this is still and there is no solution on the horizon. While wealthy and developed countries are hoarding more vaccines and food than they need, people living in countries with no economic power are left alone in this struggle, and these countries have become the epicenter for the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.

Being a small part of the humanitarian aid community, DDD operates with its 12 primary healthcare centers and 146 personnel consisting of 77 medical, and 69 administrative and auxiliary personnel in Türkiye as well as the Idlib region in Syria.

In Northwest Syria, there has been 92,532 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of December 2021, and 2,266 deaths due to COVID-19 have been recorded so far. While a total of 321,048 PCR tests were done in this region, the country experienced the most serious wave of the pandemic between August and October 2021 and the test positivity rate increased to 61%. Fighting against the pandemic in Syria, which has been in a state of war for more than 10 years, DDD continues to try hard by performing 300-600 tests per day in its PCR laboratories in Afrin and Idlib.

We provided health services to 89,195 people with 141,580 consultation services between September 2020 and September 2021 through primary health care, psychosocial support and protection services and awareness activities provided by our clinics and mobile teams. We provided 82,306,884.80 TL worth of medicine and medical supplies, and services to 1,367,000 people between 2017 and the end of 2020 in Syria and Türkiye. Only these figures are enough to show the extent of the crisis, and they are a clear indication that the crisis is still continuing and that more resources are needed. It is beyond doubt that what has been done is not enough in the face of the current situation. 

As non-governmental organizations, we can say that predicting a crisis before it happens and taking precautions is much more effective than responding during the crisis. Communication channels, coordination, information and advocacy activities for both natural disasters and other humanitarian crises mentioned above are efficient before and after the crisis. The activities that might be beneficial include improving migration literature nationally and internationally by conducting academic field research with harmonization and rehabilitation activities to minimize the negative consequences that may occur, and increasing the capacity to respond immediately in case of crisis.

I wish I could describe a more promising future, but as it stands, it is likely that the current situation will become more challenging due to ongoing wars in different parts of the world, increasing poverty, infectious diseases and the serious impacts of climate change.

We work hard and will work harder as we believe that the hope, effort and love of humanitarian aid workers will make things better for the whole world.

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