As the perceived threat of massive refugee arrivals begins to subside, the Turkish Red Crescent has scaled down the number of staff members it deploys along the Turkish-Iraqi border.
"At the moment, we do not see any threat of an influx," Oktay Ergunay, deputy general director of the Turkish Red Crescent told IRIN on Monday in the Turkish capital, Ankara, noting, however, they would maintain relief supplies in their current location at the country's main humanitarian coordination centre in the eastern border town of Silopi, 15 km north of Iraq.
His comments follow a decision taken by the Red Crescent to reduce the number of staff at the facility from a high of 286 two weeks ago, to a core team of 60; a decision undoubtedly linked to the rapidly changing events inside Iraq.
"We are no longer looking at opening camps inside Turkey or along the border area. Nonetheless, the warehouse and logistics post that was established in Silopi will remain intact," Ergunay said.
But the threat of a possible crisis is far from over. Following the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1991, close to 500,000 Iraqi Kurds fled towards the Turkish border, catching much of the humanitarian community off guard, a fact the Red Crescent remembers all too well. "If the need arises, our staff will be back," he said.
As part of its current contingency efforts, the Red Crescent is storing relief material for up to 60,000 people in Silopi, stored in eight temporary warehouses, as well as a larger 6,000 square ft facility. The material is comprised of tents, blankets, kitchen kits and mattresses, as well as 65 container toilets, each with a capacity of six people and 1,100 field toilets. Additionally, some 28 field kitchens are being stored in Silopi to be dispatched to possible refugee camps located along the border or inside Turkey.
Also stored are food stocks to provide assistance for up to 25,000 people for the duration of one month, with medical staff, under the facilitation of the Turkish Ministry of Health, on standby.
While no refugee camps have been established in Turkey, according to initial scenarios put forward by the government, a total of 16 campsites would be established should the need arise. Of these, eight would be along the border area inside Iraq, while another eight would be inside Turkey. Of the latter, initial sites proposed by the government included the sub districts of Samdinli, Curkurca, and Yuksekova in southeastern Hakkari province, as well as Ortabag, Habur and Silopi in southeastern Sirnak province.
"No camps have been established at this time. But we [The Turkish Red Crescent] can establish 16 camps during the initial three day period, each with a capacity of 6,000 people," Ergunay said, noting, however, the last two, Gurun in Sivas province and Pinarbasi in Kayseri province, located in the interior of the country, could have a larger capacity of 20,000.
According to the official, there was no need to establish camps in advance, nor choose their exact locations, maintaining: "Our focus is on preparedness as a team and to respond to where the needs are most," he said, adding: "Sites could be changed pending weather conditions and where the refugees are entering the country."
Asked how well prepared they were, he remarked: "If we were to face an influx, we are relatively well prepared in comparison to the events of 1991."
Over 200 Red Crescent staff have left
The Turkish Red Crescent has declared it is ready to use 50 percent of its relief capacity should a refugee crisis occur, noting the need to keep the other 50 percent in reserve.
"We must restore our existing relief capacity to our normal levels as soon as possible. To do this we are asking the international community to step forward," he said, citing an appeal made last month by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Meanwhile, the deputy director general noted that the Turkish Red Crescent was open to providing humanitarian assistance in both Northern Iraq, as well as the rest of the country, pending an invitation by the IFRC.
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