The shape and sustainability of Turkey’s booming humanitarian assistance

Andrea Binder


What do we know about Turkey’s rapidly increasing humanitarian engagement? This article analyses the most important foreign and domestic policy issues and actors influencing Turkish humanitarian assistance. It questions the sustainability and scalability of current aid levels and calls for a more informed approach to working with various Turkish actors.

The paper draws on: 15 interviews and informal conversations in Turkey with representatives of the government, academics, NGOs, parliamentarians, and international humanitarian actors; a thorough analyses of newspaper articles in Turkish and English, international organisations’ commentaries, and on governmental and NGOs’ annual reports; and existing research into Turkey’s humanitarian assistance.

Key findings:

  • The discrepancy between Turkish humanitarian engagement and the country’s actual international weight calls into question the sustainability and scalability of Turkey’s current engagement in the long term.
  • The development of Turkey’s humanitarian engagement in the years to come depends on three central points: the availability of resources; the development of the Syrian refugee crisis; and the distribution of political power within Turkish society.
  •  An economic decline in Turkey would immediately affect the scope of their humanitarian donorship.
  • Turkish public provides a significant proportion of official humanitarian assistance. The government’s standing in international humanitarian affairs depends to a considerable degree on the willingness of the Turkish public to pay for any humanitarian engagement.
  • The development of the Syrian refugee crisis has a strong impact on the future level of Turkish humanitarian aid. It is unlikely that the Turkish government and society will put in a comparable effort with regards to a humanitarian crisis that is geographically and politically more distant.
  • The AKP-led government, the conservative business community and the Gülen Movement form a power triangle with the government as the most prominent pole. The disagreement between Erdogan and Gülen may strain effective coordination and collaboration, and further pressure is also to be expected should the AKP lose its absolute majority in the next national elections.
  • Since most of Turkey’s humanitarian assistance is not institutionalised, a change in government might lead to an even more fundamental change in the scope and conception of Turkish humanitarian assistance.


  • More established humanitarian actors — the United Nations, international humanitarian NGOs, and other donors — are well advised to start understanding the intricacies of Turkish domestic and foreign politics.
  • Areas for further research include: the quality and results of Turkey’s actual operations on the ground and the nature of Turkish, faith-based organisations


Binder, A. (2014). The shape and sustainability of Turkey’s booming humanitarian assistance. International Development Policy | Revue Internationale de Politique de Développement , 5.2