The two-day World Humanitarian Summit, the first of its kind, officially kicked off on May 23 in Istanbul, with both host President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel raising serious criticisms about shortcomings by the United Nations.
Erdoğan noted in his opening speech that Turkey was hosting more than 3 million Syrian and Iraqi migrants, saying the country would never close its doors on people and humanity regardless of their identities.
“Now everybody should take on responsibility on this issue,” he said. “We know very well that pain has no race, language and religion. With this understanding, Turkey conducts humanitarian and development aid in more than 140 countries of the world and realizes thousands of projects.”
The president also said current systems were insufficient in the face of humanity’s urgent problems, noting that some countries were forced to take on more than their fair share of the burden.
Erdoğan once again urged a change in the U.N. Security Council, of which the five permanent members are Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Each of these members has the power to veto, allowing them to block draft council resolutions – even when these have broad international support.
“For the Security Council to fulfill its main functions, we need urgent reform,” Erdoğan said. “The use of veto should be limited,” he added.
He said Turkey had spent more than $10 billion on migrants while the international community’s contributions remained at $455 million.
Merkel, for her part, called for an end to empty commitments on aid.
“Too many promises are made and then the money does not come for the projects – that must end,” said Merkel, adding that the world currently had no humanitarian system that was “compatible with the future.”
German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller said at a press briefing on the sidelines of the summit that he proposed that 10 percent of the European Union budget be allocated to a single fund in order to tackle the refugee crisis. Müller added that one single EU commissioner was also needed to be appointed for the usage of this fund inside the EU to find a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his country was dedicated to continuing the cooperation with Turkey on refugees, which continue to exceed EU efforts on the matter. “The number of refugees located in EU member states are less than 1,000,” he said.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is boycotting the event, saying it risked being just a “fig leaf” for the world’s failure on humanitarian action.
“I regret very much that they came to that decision,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.
During the summit, attended by 125 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, more than 50 heads of governments announced several commitments to reduce humanitarian disasters.
These include preventing and ending conflict; respecting the rules of war; addressing forced displacement; achieving gender equality; responding to climate change; ending the need for aid; and investing in humanity.
Celebrity stardust at the summit was sprinkled on the event by actors Daniel Craig and Forest Whitaker, who urged participants to seize a unique chance to make a difference for the world’s worst off.
The commitments adopted by the states will be non-binding and while leaders like Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah attended the summit, many other prominent world leaders are conspicuous by their absence.