Five international organizations working on the Syria crisis – Oxfam, CARE International, International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children - have called for more international action as world leaders met in Brussels at a conference to discuss the Syria crisis. Ministers, international organizations, and humanitarian workers discussed supporting Syrians inside the country and those who have crossed the border to become refugees.
Yesterday’s appalling attack on civilians in Idlib shows the ongoing horror for people inside Syria and lays bare the mirage of the nominal ‘ceasefire’. People in Syria need more than the words of concern and condemnation which we heard today – there must now be an immediate impartial investigation into the attack, and parties responsible must be held to account. The long line of atrocities against civilians in Syria must be brought to an end. The attack is an urgent wake-up call that shows why talk of returning refugees to Syria is at best premature, and in fact outright dangerous.
Last year in London, governments made unprecedented pledges to support refugees and Syria’s neighboring countries, and provided additional and multiyear funding to deal with the crisis. The follow up at Brussels has not matched this yet, and we expect pledges to be significantly lower than last year.
Governments had the opportunity today to build on the commitments at London, to provide the legal protections refugees need, better education opportunities, and decent work for millions in neighboring countries, as well as increase humanitarian and development funding to help make this a reality. Rich countries had the opportunity to show solidarity and share responsibility for refugees by increasing resettlement and other admissions. Practically, none of these opportunities were taken.
London was an important first step, at Brussels the international community stood still.
On participation of Syrian and national organizations:
Syrians and Syrian organizations deliver the bulk of the assistance inside the country, often at great risk to themselves and their families. Yet they have to a large extent been prevented from meaningfully contributing to the conference preparation and deliberations. The EU’s new Syria strategy announced recently recognizes the importance of an increasingly threatened Syrian civil society for the future of the country. But the EU needs to practice what it preaches, and this conference was a major missed opportunity.
After years of heavy bombardment and deadly clashes, Syria will need massive support for reconstruction, so the international community is right to be thinking to the future. How this happens, and when, is of critical importance. International support should be conditional on a political solution being agreed, respect for human rights and protection of an independent civil society. Absent these conditions, a move towards reconstruction assistance risks doing more harm than good.