The Leading Role of Türkiye in International Humanitarian Action

Hatice Karahan
Prof. Dr., Visiting scholar at Columbia University Advisor to the President of Türkiye

The Republic of Türkiye has displayed an upward trend in international development cooperation on which it places special importance since the 2000s, and it has become one of the most prominent actors in the world in this respect. Responsibilities taken within international structures and a wide range of global and local advancements have played an active role in this. It can be stated within this framework that the humanitarian and conscientious identity of Türkiye is the reason behind the country’s humanitarian efforts within the bounds of possibility no matter what causes humanitarian cooperation. As a matter of fact, this ever-present characteristic is pretty aligned with the principle of “leaving no one behind” stated in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

Shaped by an understanding based on humanitarian diplomacy, Türkiye’s official development assistance displayed a significant increase over the years in terms of the total amount and in proportion to national income. Thus, Türkiye managed to become one of the few countries to provide development assistance in the amount of seven per thousand of the gross national income which is considered a threshold for developed countries. Humanitarian aid certainly has an outstanding share in this success. Data extending to years shows that humanitarian aid has had an important place in Türkiye’s official development assistance recently. These activities are shaped by the broad support of multiple institutions including the Turkish Red Crescent, Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), and other NGOs.

When the countries cooperating in development are analyzed, it can be seen that Türkiye has been consistently in the top three in providing humanitarian aid since 2013. Türkiye was in the first position between 2017 and 2019 and ranked second in 2020, following the US. If the gross national income is taken into consideration, Türkiye, being the most generous country for years, was one of the five countries that allocated one per thousand of the gross national income to international humanitarian aid.1 Türkiye alone shouldered 26% of the total global humanitarian aid in the relevant period.

These outstanding efforts verified by 2020 data also included the needs that have risen with the pandemic crisis. The pandemic, which has added a health dimension to the ongoing humanitarian needs worldwide and has been continuing to be a critical problem, has become a new and important channel in Türkiye’s aid diplomacy. Accordingly, the Republic of Türkiye cooperated on health within the scope of bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. It should be noted that the Turkish government received large-scale aid requests from both developed and developing countries during this period.

Türkiye managed solid international cooperation by providing medical supplies and equipment to nearly 160 countries during the COVID-19 crisis that profoundly affected many countries since its outbreak. While bilateral ones constitute the majority of these co-operations, pandemic-oriented aid activities continued in 2021 through multilateral mechanisms such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Turkic Council (the Organization of Turkic States). 

There is no doubt that Türkiye’s humanitarian efforts were shaped by various initiatives aside from the field of health in 2021. The humanitarian disaster triggered by the civil war in Syria is one of the most significant ones when it comes to these efforts. Constituting a considerable portion of the country’s humanitarian efforts, the support provided by the Republic of Türkiye to Syrian war victims sets a precedent in humanitarian aid to the Syrians under temporary protection. Türkiye attempts to meet the basic needs of the Syrians who try to maintain their lives across the border with the activities it conducts within this framework. A great deal of support was delivered to the victims in the north of Syria in 2021 to meet their food, shelter, and heating needs.

The basic needs of people from other regions and countries are equally important for Türkiye. Within this context, countries experiencing humanitarian crises and suffering from war, terror and chaos, as well as the least developed ones, continued to be an essential part of this approach. Palestinian people were among the regions supported by Türkiye in 2021. Related Turkish institutions, especially the Turkish Red Crescent, tried to meet the increasing health and food needs resulting from the attacks of Israel. Moreover, Türkiye continued to support Palestinians not just within the territories of Palestine but also in nearby countries in cooperation with UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

Türkiye also continued to provide aid to further regions in 2021. Arakanese refugees who were subjected to oppression were one of the people not left behind by Türkiye in this period. Türkiye continued to support the refugees living in camps in Bangladesh and worked with determination to help those in need, especially after the fire disaster that occurred in the camps in March. Likewise, Afghanistan should be mentioned as one of the regions where Turkish aid teams continued their extensive efforts, especially in the first half of the year. It should also be pointed out that when it comes to the multidimensional humanitarian problems of Afghanistan, those who suffer the most are children and orphans. The aid that has been provided to orphanages in Afghanistan through the medium of the Turkish Coordination and Cooperation Agency (TİKA) is of particular importance in this regard.

In addition, Türkiye did not remain a bystander to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which will be remembered as an embarrassment to humanity. Türkiye continued to deliver food and medical assistance to the victims in 2021. It should also be mentioned that Africa is among the important regions to which Türkiye directs its foreign aid. Generally speaking, it can be stated that over 80% percent of the Turkish official development aid in Africa is provided to the least developed countries, in other words, to less developed countries. Not only development projects in various countries of the region, from Ethiopia to Mali, but also a great number of humanitarian aid activities were conducted in the previous year.

It should be highlighted that Türkiye’s humanitarian aid cooperation quickly responded to disasters in various regions of the world: In this sense, in 2021, Türkiye provided aid to a large number of disaster victims in distant areas in a fast manner through its relief agencies. 

There is no doubt that Türkiye’s human-centered diplomacy activities will continue in a consistent way as we enter a new year. Though its the agenda of humanitarian aid will be set by global events, Türkiye will continue to support the victims and people under bad conditions. Integrating humanitarian aid with development-oriented projects within the framework of a sustainable approach will also maintain its importance. Türkiye, which puts emphasis on effectiveness and having a humanitarian agenda in foreign aid, will continue to be an inspiring actor in the international development cooperation system.

1. Devinit (2021), The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2021

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