The paradox could not be starker. The world’s attention is focused on Syria – did President Bashar al-Assad use chemical weapons? Should outside powers use military force? Yet states are not offering enough aid to stem the suffering of the millions of Syrians caught in the conflict.
Today the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) announced a horrible statistic: officials have tallied two million Syrian refugees. The country is “hemorrhaging women, children and men,” UNHCR said.
Syria is now the world’s second largest producer of refugees, after Afghanistan. On average, 5,000 people flee the country every day. Another 4.25 million Syrians are internally displaced.
The strong words from Washington, Paris, and Brussels should translate into adequate levels of humanitarian aid. But they do not. UNHCR has received only 47 percent of the funds necessary to meet Syrian refugees’ basic needs.
The United States has given the most to UNHCR – about $228 million. Second is Kuwait, which has given $112 million. The European Union comes a distant third, with a contribution of $50 million.
More shamefully, Russia has given UNHCR a meager $10 million and China just $1 million. Add this to these countries’ support for the Assad government, including Moscow selling the Syrian government millions of dollars in weapons.
Giving to UNHCR is, of course, not the only way to help. The UK recently committed $540 million for food, medical care and relief items to a variety of agencies, and the US says it has given more than $1 billion since the conflict began to the UN, international and nongovernmental organizations, and local Syrian groups. But aid agencies are still “worryingly underfunded,” UNHCR said.
Bearing the burden of the refugee flow, the countries that border Syria – Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq – also need help. Ministers from these countries are meeting with UNHCR on September 4 to mobilize international support, which they need to ease the strain and minimize instability, especially in Lebanon.
States can also do more to support the expansion of cross-border operations by humanitarian organizations, while UN agencies should assist those efforts and consider conducting cross-border operations of their own. This is the best way to get aid to the opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria where people are struggling to get the most basic assistance.
If governments care about easing the crisis in Syria, they can show it by helping the civilians in need.