By Charlie Dunmore in Beirut, Lebanon 

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has described the suffering of civilians in Eastern Ghouta as an appalling example of the human tragedy resulting from the conflict in Syria, which has now been raging for seven years.

“The choice of the people in Ghouta is either to get out – and they don’t know what’s happening when they get out of Ghouta – or to stay and be under the bombs,” he told a news conference in the Lebanese capital Beirut. “How much worse can it get for any human being? It is truly appalling, and a symbol of how catastrophic this conflict has become for the civilians.”

Grandi told reporters that aid from a UN and Red Cross convoy that was forced to leave Ghouta before it could unload completely had re-entered the besieged enclave on Friday to deliver the remaining supplies.

Seven years of conflict and insecurity have taken a profound toll on Syria’s people, economy and infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives and half of Syria’s pre-war population have fled their homes, with 6.1 million people displaced inside the country and a further 5.5 million living as refugees in the region.

Grandi blamed the continuing violence in Syria on a failure of political will by those in a position to end the fighting. “Because you need will. You need the countries who can make the decision to get together and say: ‘we’ll put an end to it’. In seven years, we haven’t seen it,” he said.

The High Commissioner was speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Lebanon, which hosts more refugees per capita than any country in the world. With close to a million registered refugees from the conflict next door, Syrians account for roughly a quarter of the country’s population.

Grandi paid tribute to Lebanon’s people and government for offering sanctuary and opening its schools, hospitals and services to Syrians for so many years. He acknowledged the strain that such an effort had put on the country’s economy and local communities, and called on international donors to do even more to support refugees and their hosts in the region.

Without a political solution in Syria, the ongoing violence and uncertainty meant it was premature to expect refugees to return home in large numbers. “Syrians are saying ‘we want to go back eventually to Syria, but almost all of them say not right now,” he said, adding: “We need to continue to prepare eventually for that return, and we’re doing a lot of work in Syria itself to prepare for that.”

Earlier in the day, Grandi met a Syrian refugee boy at a specialist school for deaf children in Beirut attended by Lebanese and Syrian pupils. Born within weeks of the start of the conflict, Mohammad lost his left hand in 2014 when his home was shelled, and now lives in Beirut with his family as refugees.

“To me that little boy was the symbol of the impact on the most innocent of this war, because what we are seeing also in Ghouta – but not just in Ghouta – is increasingly the direct impact, the direct targeting of the civilian people,” he said.

This story was originally published on unhcr.org

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