Chobani founder donates $2M to Mideast refugees

Chobani Yogurt photography, Wednesday, April 27, 2011. (Photos by Heather Ainsworth)

The founder of Chobani, the manufacturer of Greek yogurt in Chenango County, has personally pledged $2 million to help refugees escaping violence along the Iraqi and Syrian borders of Turkey.

Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish Turk who immigrated to the United States in the 1990s, is making donations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Rescue Committee, according to a media release dated Oct. 9. Both organizations have longstanding, large-scale humanitarian relief operations in that overseas region, the release said.

Extremists have been trying to take over the Syrian border town of Kobani, the Associated Press reported Thursday, and fighting has forced at least 200,000 town residents and villagers to flee across the border into Turkey.

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq are in urgent need of relief, particularly winter supplies, according to Ulukaya’s release.

“We all have a moral responsibility to help innocent victims of violence, wherever they are and however we can,” said Ulukaya said in a prepared statement.

“These refugees have seen the darkest side of humanity and we must open our hearts as they look to rebuild their lives,” Ulukaya said. “As a citizen of the world, I believe we must unite together to bring awareness, attention and relief for victims of human tragedy.”

Ulukaya wasn’t available Thursday for an interview, according to his public relations firm.

Founded in 2005, Chobani has operations in New Berlin, officials said. As the leading producer of Greek yogurt, Chobani’s 2013 revenues exceeded $1 billion.

Anne-Marie Grey, chief executive officer of USA for UNHCR, the United States fundraising partner of UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said that private philanthropists like Ulukaya provide leadership to one of the most critical current issues facing humanity.

“His gift will bring desperately needed supplies for thousands of refugees immediately,” she said in the release. “We stand ready to work with him and others in bringing hope and dignity to the world humanitarian crises.”

According to a UNHCR media release Sept. 25, an airlift had begun to deliver aid for refugees fleeing from northern Syria into Turkey, with the first plane landing in the southern Turkish city of Adana that date.

More than 144,000 Syrian refugees, mainly Kurds, had sought refuge in southern Turkey’s Sanilurfa province since Sept. 19, fleeing conflict and ISIS advances on towns and villages near Kobani in northern Syria, the UNHCR release said.

Altogether, eight flights were expected to deliver more than 130,000 sleeping mats, 107,500 blankets, 15,000 sets of cooking utensils, 13,500 plastic sheets and five prefabricated warehouses in eight days, the release said.

This week, David Miliband, president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee, said Ulukaya’s contribution will provide relief for tens of thousands of people fleeing violence.

“The IRC helps civilians in need, no matter their race or creed, and with donors like Hamdi, we can help preserve dignity and life for those in great need,” he said in Ulukaya’s release.

Ulukaya also plans to identify other innovative nongovernmental organizations and support their on-the-ground relief work, including long-term recovery and economic stabilization efforts, his release said.

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