Conditions are not yet in place for the more than five million Syrians living as refugees in neighboring countries to return home.
After more than six years of one of the deadliest, most destructive conflicts in recent history, the Syrian people are understandably desperate to find some light at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel. Over the past year, fragile ceasefires have restored calm to some parts of the country, persuading large numbers of people displaced inside Syria and much smaller numbers of refugees to return home.
And yet, in other parts of the country, the conflict is far from over and the suffering of civilians has actually increased. Military operations against extremist groups in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor continue and a multitude of armed groups are still active. Much of the country is littered with mines and explosive hazards, waiting to maim or kill their next victim. In the first half of 2017 alone, 1.3 million Syrians were newly displaced, an average of 7,000 people per day forced to flee their homes.
While the international community is justifiably focused on the future of the peace process, the humanitarian situation inside Syria remains dire and conditions are not in place for the more than five million Syrians living as refugees in neighbouring countries to return home.
This continues to be the world’s largest refugee crisis and it cannot be shouldered by neighbouring countries alone. Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have welcomed and continue to support millions of Syrian refugees. They have shared their resources and provided access to their schools, hospitals and other services on a scale rarely seen before. But after six years of the crisis in Syria, these countries are understandably tired.
The international community has contributed substantial financial support to the Syrian refugee response, but it is still falling well short of the actual humanitarian needs. I am deeply worried that only 49 per cent of the funds required for refugee programmes in host countries has been received so far in 2017.
Funding commitments made in London in 2016 and repeated earlier this year in Brussels, were prompted by the refugee crisis that reached Europe’s shores in 2015 and 2016. As the visibility of that crisis recedes, I’m concerned that those commitments are being forgotten and neglected.
I welcome the announcement that the EU will host another funding conference in Brussels next spring, but in the meantime, there is an urgent need to ensure that programmes to support refugees in host countries are better funded.
Both host countries and the refugees they shelter need and deserve predictability.
For several years, the regional refugee and resilience plan has been combining efforts to address the basic needs of refugees with longer-term interventions aimed at building their resilience through access to livelihoods, education and services. It’s an innovative approach that, given time to come to fruition, can benefit refugees and their host countries. But without continued support from international donors, progress in implementing the plan risks stalling and the investments that have already been made will be wasted.
Both host countries and the refugees they shelter need and deserve predictability. Host countries need reassurances that pledges of financial support from the international community will be respected. Syrian refugees need to know that they will be assisted and protected not just this month, but for the foreseeable future.
The international community has a responsibility to spare no effort in bringing peace and stability to Syria so that conditions for voluntary, sustainable returns can be created. Meanwhile, it is critical that we all stay the course and support host governments by continuing to invest in refugee and host community programs, sharing responsibilities with those countries on the front-line.
This op-ed first appeared in The National on 16 October 2017.