Politics of Transnational Humanitarianism: Humanitarian Aid Organizations Assisting Syrian Refugees in Southeastern Turkey

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Dolunay UGUR, Yale University, USA
Turkey, as the top host country for Syrian refugees, also hosts dozens of INGOs, local Turkish and Syrian NGOs assisting them, mostly in southeastern Turkey. However, Syrian refugees are not the only population who have been suffering in the region. The region, where Kurdish people constitute the predominant ethnic group, has recently witnessed state violence, curfews, civilian deaths, human rights violations, and hundreds of thousands internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the June 2015 general election. The co-existence of historically ‘less-than-citizens’ Kurdish people and relatively recently ‘less-than-human’ Syrian refugees in the same region constitutes the ideal setting to explore the complex dynamics of transnational humanitarianism with politics, law, and morality, more specifically with nation states, supranational decision making bodies (e.g. the EU), international law, and humanitarian ethics. In the presence of these complicated dynamics and two “possible” beneficiaries of the humanitarian aid in the region, namely Syrian refugees and Kurdish citizens, this paper analyzes the humanitarian claim of impartiality in determining who can be the “subject” of its assistance. The in-depth semi-structured and open-ended interviews with 20 humanitarian workers from 15 different organizations reveal that this morally and legally driven international assistance intersects with national and international politics in various ways. The research shows that humanitarian assistance cannot be given to the conflict induced IDPs in an authoritarian nation-state, like Turkey, if there is a prevalent fear among NGOs about being dismissed from the country where they operate. The paper argues that the realization of the humanitarian principle of impartiality in such conditions is strictly restricted by the national politics.