The SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. hosted a conference on the Syrian Refugee Crisis on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. With over 150 guests, two panel discussions, and a Keynote Address by Her Excellency Mrs. Emine Erdoğan, the conference explored the many issues facing the Syrian refugees today, including the state of refugees in Turkey and the plight of women and children refugees.
The first panel, “Confronting the Syrian Refugee Challenge,” was joined by Fuat Oktay, President of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey (AFAD), and Ghassan Hitto, President of the Syrian Forum and the First Prime Minister of the Syrian Opposition National Coalition Government. The two discussed the extent to which the crisis has intensified over the past five years both within Syria and in neighboring countries.
Ghassan Hitto explained, “[this situation] was beyond Syria’s wildest imagination that it would reach a point where it would be described as a population in need.” He insisted that the only path to peace in Syria is to get rid of Assad and argued for the establishment of a safe-zone within northern Syria.
Fuat Oktay contributed a number of statistics detailing the refugee crisis. Turkey now hosts over 2.7 million refugees, all of which have access to free healthcare. As a result, Turkey has administered over 13 million outpatient services to refugees. He also discussed the state of education for refugee children, 86,000 of whom are currently in schools in Turkey. Turkey’s goal is to reach every school-aged refugee child by 2017, according to Oktay, who added, “Humans aren’t statistics to play with. Unless we reach every kid that has lost family and education, they will be at risk.”
Her Excellency Mrs. Emine Erdogan delivered the conference’s Keynote Address, which focused on the extensive role Turkey has played in addressing the refugee crisis. She underlined Turkey’s willingness to open its doors to refugees, whom Turkey considers guests rather than refugees. “We may have different languages, religions, and denominations, but our common feature is being human,” she remarked.
The final panel discussed women and children refugees, a topic that is often overlooked in conversations about Syria. There was consensus among the panelists that of the many issues facing refugees, healthcare and education are among the most important.
Ahmad Tarakji of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) discussed the degree to which hospitals and medical facilities are targets of violence in Syria. He stated that SAMS hospitals experience approximately one attack every five days in Syria.
Providing basic education is a great step in caring for refugees, but access to education alone is not enough, according to Paul Frisoli of the International Rescue Committee. Our educational institutions “must provide outlets for children refugees to cope with the more social and emotional consequences of conflict,” he said.
Nadia Alawa of NuDay Syria agreed, “If you bring hope to one child in a family, the whole family knows that people care.” She emphasized the need to empower refugee mothers who have never previously performed the role of breadwinner for their families.
Karam Foundation’s Kenan Rahmani pointed out that approximately 76% of Syrian refugees are women and children. He added that children have also stepped into the role of breadwinner in many cases, and this will need to be addressed in order to keep them in school.