'We're not the richest country but the most generous'

Turkey is not the richest country in the world but it is the most generous, and it aims to help 31 million needy and oppressed people around the world this year, said Turkish Red Crescent head Kerem Kinik on Thursday.

In an interview, Kinik reviewed the group's work in 2017 and plans for the year to come.

"2017 was a very successful year for the Turkish Red Crescent. We helped 18.6 million oppressed people in Turkey and abroad," Kinik told Anadolu Agency at Red Crescent headquarters in the capital Ankara.

"We had a 3.2 billion Turkish lira [$850 million] budget for 2017. We used almost over 80 percent of it-nearly 2.6 billion lira ($700 million)-for humanitarian aid purposes. In 2017, the Turkish Red Crescent provided aid to 13 million needy people in 46 countries around the world."

The Turkish aid agency aims to deliver humanitarian aid to over 31 million people next year with budget of 5.5 billion Turkish liras ($1.5 billion).

Blood donations and Kizilay Card

"Nearly 2.5 million people donated blood to the Red Crescent in 2017, and we reached our goal for last year," Kinik said.

"We also got nearly 274,000 stem cell donations. We did over 500 transplants. Over 2,000 matches were made. We aim to reach over 2.5 million blood donations this year," he added.

One of the Red Crescent's most respected programs is the Kizilay Card, a special debit cards for refugees. It's a role model for the world.

"We have 1.3 million Kizilay Card holders. Most of the card holders -- almost 95 percent -- are Syrian migrants, but there are various nationalities from among 65 different countries. It gives more dignity and more freedom to people to decide what they want to buy," Kinik said.

The debit cards enable refugees to shop via Turkish Halkbank point-of-sale machines and withdraw money from ATMs.

"We signed a €650 million deal with European officials to finance the Kizilay Card in 2018 and 2019," he added.

Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. The country has spent more than €20 billion from its own national resources to help and shelter refugees since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

2018 projects

"The Turkish Red Crescent will continue to help needy and oppressed people around the world in 2018," Kinik said.

"One of our main goals in 2018 is to reach 10 million Turkish citizens and provide them with education programs," he added.

Kinik said that in 2018, together with Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD), they plan to build prefabricated houses in Bangladesh for 125,000 Rohingya Muslims, one of the world's most oppressed groups, who have fled a campaign of violence and oppression in Myanmar.

"We are also building the largest disaster and humanitarian aid center in Gaza, Palestine," Kinik added.

Afrin

"We are doing multi-dimensional work to meet humanitarian needs as much as we can. New refugee camps were constructed for migration waves flowing from Afrin into Azaz and Idlib [Syria] in coordination with AFAD.

"We're providing food and shelter. We constructed schools and prayer rooms. We deliver healthcare services," Kinik said.

"As a part of Operation Olive Branch, we call on the [terrorist] YPG and Syrian regime to evacuate almost 320,000 civilians from Afrin. We repeat and raise the call.

"Civilians must be allowed to move to Aleppo, Tel Rifat, Azaz, and Idlib. If this is not done, we worry about a greater loss of civilian lives," he added.

The Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch seeks to snuff out the threat of the terrorist PYD/PKK from across the border in Afrin, Syria, while taking the utmost care to avoid harming any civilians, according to the Turkish General Staff.

International Red Cross/Crescent and papal visit

"In Antalya last November I was elected vice president responsible for the European region of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). We got 116 votes out of 189, while the other candidate, Germany's Volkmar Schon, got 60 votes. I will be responsible for 53 countries in the European zone," Kinik said.

"With this new duty, we will have the opportunity to carry Turkey and the Red Crescent's approaches to Europe. We will do our best to strengthen this movement and prevent human suffering," he added.

Kinik said that as IFRC vice president, he visited some European capitals over the last two months.

"We were received by Pope Francis on Jan. 28 at the Vatican with IFRC President Francesco Rocca, and one other vice president. Meeting with Pope Francis was highly important in times of growing global polarization," he said.

"Before the visit I asked my followers on Twitter that what kind of gift I should present to one of the world's very important leaders. They replied with numerous gift ideas such as Turkish delight, an Ottoman carpet, apricots, Piri Reis map, etc. Later on we reached a consensus to give him an Ottoman Civilization Clock," he said.

"I presented the pope with an Ottoman-era Civilization Clock which symbolizes truth, unity, knowledge, enlightenment, intelligence, wisdom, humanity, action, justice, morality, civilization, and peace. He was so pleased with our gift and thanked us for it. As an Argentinian, he understands poverty and migration very well," he added.

Turkey's aid agencies as 'soft power'

"We try to raise the voice of the silent masses and to become their representatives. We're serving with a purely humanistic and law-abiding spirit.

"I believe that our efforts will make contributions to the interests of society, conflict resolution, protecting the dignity of the people. We're not the richest country but thank God, we are the most generous country in the world. That's our difference," he said.

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