Turkey forces aid group Mercy Corps to shut down its operations

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Mercy Corps provides aid to around 500,000 people inside Syria each month Credit: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Turkey’s government has abruptly forced a major international aid organisation to stop working to help Syrian refugees in Turkish territory.

Mercy Corps, one of the world’s largest humanitarian groups, was informed by the Turkish interior ministry that it no longer had permission to work in Turkey and must shut down its operations.

The aid group said Turkey gave no reason for the sudden halt and that it had been working from Turkey in close cooperation with the government since 2012.

“Our hearts are broken by this turn of events, which comes after five years of cooperation with the government of Turkey and other local partners,” Mercy Corps said.

Turkey has taken in around 3 million Syrians since 2011 Credit: Sam Tarling/Telegraph

Turkey’s government has shut down hundreds of NGOs since a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016, often claiming that the groups had links to terror groups.

Critics of Mr Erdoğan say he has used the coup as an excuse to crack down on civil society and stifle dissenting voices.

The Turkish press has carried allegations against Mercy Corps and other international groups in recent months, claiming that the NGOs were supporting armed groups against Turkey’s government.

Mercy Corps strongly denies the charges and says it is a strictly non-political group.

“We have every confidence in the impartiality and the integrity of our operations. We’re not a political organisation and our reason for being is to deliver assistance to civilians who need it the most,” said Christine Nyirjesy Bragale, the group’s director of media relations.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Istanbul Credit: AP

Turkey’s government has not commented publicly on the closure.

Mercy Corps said the decision would not stop it from delivering aid to civilians inside Syria but would prevent it from helping the roughly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The group receives funding from the US, UK and EU and says it spent $34 million (£28 million) in Turkey in 2016.

“Our priority right now is to limit any adverse effects our departure from Turkey may have on the innocent men, women and children who depend on our assistance,” the group said.

The decision has forced Mercy Corps to lay off its Turkish staff and send its international staff home. The group said it was hopeful to open “a dialogue” with Turkey and receive permission to resume its operations soon.

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