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Turkey Halts Mercy Corps, Charity That Aids Over 500,000 Syrians a Month

Mercy Corps, a leading American charity that uses Turkey as a base to aid hundreds of thousands of civilians upended by the war in neighboring Syria, was forced to curtail its work on Wednesday after the Turkish government abruptly revoked its registration to operate.

“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 in a statement.

It said Turkish officials had provided no explanation for the move, which forced Mercy Corps to “shut down our operations in Turkey, effective immediately.”

Mercy Corps, a global organization with programs in more than 40 countries, has run one of the largest humanitarian operations in the Syrian conflict. Since 2012, it has been delivering lifesaving assistance to as many as 500,000 civilians in Syria each month, much of it through Turkey. In 2016, the charity also provided emergency help to 100,000 Syrian and Turkish civilians on Turkey’s side of the border.

As of Wednesday night, the Turkish government had said nothing publicly about the Mercy Corps shutdown. Reuters quoted an unidentified Turkish official as saying that the revoked registration was “technical” and related to documentation requirements, but did not elaborate.

Christine Bragale, a Mercy Corps spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview that most of the charity’s expatriate staff members were leaving Turkey and that the group would be forced to lay off its 200 Turkish employees.

“In practical terms, we’re in a wind-down plan,” Ms. Bragale said. Despite having received no advance notice, Mercy Corps officials are proceeding “in an orderly and responsible fashion in order to comply,” she said.

Ms. Bragale also said that Mercy Corps officials were seeking a dialogue with the Turkish government in the hopes of resuming operations, but that “we recognize the next couple of weeks may be tough.”

The Mercy Corps statement said it would continue to provide assistance in Syria but acknowledged the challenge. “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,” it said. “Our sites in Turkey are closed.”

Turkey has become a leading conduit for providing charitable assistance to Syrian civilians and is the host to nearly three million registered Syrian refugees, more than in any other country.

It was not clear whether the Mercy Corps shutdown was an indicator that other foreign-based charitable groups operating out of Turkey might face the same risks. But Turkey has also been increasing its military presence in Syria, where the battlefield alliances have become increasingly complex.

On Tuesday, the top military officers from Turkey, Russia and the United States held an unusual meeting in Antalya, a Turkish city, as part of an effort to avoid unintended confrontations by the forces of all three nations, which are operating in proximity in northern Syria.

A spokesman for the American participant, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement that the meeting had been convened to discuss “the fight against all terrorist organizations in Syria” and “the importance of additional measures for de-conflicting operations.”

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