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Turkey Forces Aid Group Mercy Corps To Cease Operations


Millions of people caught in Syria's civil war depend on relief organizations to stay alive. Mercy Corps is one of the biggest aid groups in the region. From a base in southern Turkey it delivers food, medicine and other emergency supplies across the border to Syrian civilians. Now the group says Turkey's government has revoked the registration that lets Mercy Corps operate from that base. Christine Bragale of Mercy Corps joins us now from the Turkish capital of Ankara. Welcome to the program.


SHAPIRO: Your organization says it is suspending operations in Turkey effective immediately. What's the impact of this on your work?

BRAGALE: Well, the biggest impact will be on our Syria operations. The biggest work from Turkey for us is humanitarian deliveries across the Turkish border into Syria that benefit about 350,000 people a month. So what we have to do now is work with our donors and our partners to find an equally efficient way of reaching those same beneficiaries. We have hubs across the region, but it certainly adds another level of logistical complexity.

SHAPIRO: The big question is why did the Turkish government suspend the group's registration? They haven't given a clear answer yet. What's your current understanding?

BRAGALE: As you said, Ari, we have not received an official answer from the Turkish government. And we are very eager to have a dialogue to understand. We did see some news reports today that indicated that this may be a technical issue related to our paperwork. We are very encouraged to see a possible reason. We are incredibly committed to continue our work here and to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

SHAPIRO: The border area between Turkey and Syria is politically complicated, to say the least. Some of the Syrian civilians that Mercy Corps helps are Kurds - they are part of the coalition that has been fighting ISIS with American support - while Turkey considers the Kurds to be terrorists. Could that be part of the problem from the perspective of the Turkish government?

BRAGALE: I can't speak for the perspective of the Turkish government, but what I can tell you is that we are a humanitarian organization. And as aid workers, our mandate is to find innocent civilians who need emergency assistance and to deliver that assistance to them. We do that in a completely impartial way, and we do that no matter who they are or where they live.

SHAPIRO: State Department spokesman Mark Toner told The Washington Post that the U.S. has expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey. Do you expect that will have any impact?

BRAGALE: Well, we hope certainly that that will have some influence over the decision. As you probably know and many of your listeners know, the U.S. government funds a lot of our work here and has been a big champion of impartial humanitarian assistance around the world. And so we are really committed to continuing that work as best we can.

SHAPIRO: Even if you do find another route to deliver aid, how much more difficult does that make it to get the food, water, medicines, lifesaving supplies that people need to these civilians that are in dire situations?

BRAGALE: Well, it certainly makes it logistically more complicated than it already is. And obviously, in any conflict zone, in any war zone, there are a lot of considerations when you're making your deliveries and helping people. But as I said, we have hubs across the region. And we also have hubs inside Syria. So really it's a question of setting up the right system so that our - we can deliver our assistance in a safe manner not just for our team members, but also for the beneficiaries that are receiving that support.

SHAPIRO: That's Christine Bragale, director of media relations for Mercy Corps, speaking with us from Ankara, Turkey. Thank you.

BRAGALE: Thank you, Ari. I really appreciate this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.