David Miliband warns of dangers of normalising plight of Syrian refugees

International Rescue Committee chief says traditional aid funding pots are overstretched by a succession of global emergencies

UK's David Miliband urges more regional support for Syrian refugee crisis

UK's David Miliband urges more regional support for Syrian refugee crisis
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There are too many humanitarian emergencies happening globally for the “traditional funding pot” to support parts of the world in desperate need of aid, David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee tells The National.

The top aid figure and former British foreign minister also warned that it was “dangerous” that the plight of millions of displaced Syrians had effectively become normalised.

He was speaking to The National from Lebanon, a country embroiled in an economic crisis and host to about a 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have suffered from aid cuts and increased clampdowns by Lebanese authorities.

Mr Milliband acknowledged the need for an international appeal for aid to be sustained but called on wealthy regional countries to raise their support and “for the region to heal its own injured”.

The civil war in neighbouring Syria has rumbled on for more than 12 years, with hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced.

“The notion that there is ongoing trauma for six million refugees, never mind seven million internally displaced – that has become normalised. And I think that's dangerous,” he said in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

“It's a real problem that people have almost come to believe that the Syrian crisis will always be with us. That's dangerous for the region, dangerous for the people concerned.”

Mr Miliband said it was important to “recognise quite what an extraordinary effort Lebanon and Jordan have made” in accommodating millions of Syrian refugees, adding that they “have not been properly compensated for it … they've borne the burden.”

“Many of the refugees themselves would like to go home but don't think they can. They fear that they are going to be conscripted. They are in touch with their families in Syria and they don't see a path back; they feel that they are in limbo.”

He said three things had critically changed in Lebanon especially, but also in Jordan in the last four years with regards to the status of Syrian refugees.

Firstly, it is ever more clear that this is a deeply protracted conflict and displacement crisis.

“There are children being born to Syrian parents who are born in Lebanon. That's a whole kind of challenge,” he said.

Secondly, there is the deep economic crisis that Beirut is battling and also the effects of the war in Ukraine and impact of Covid-19 that have hit Lebanon and Jordan.

The third is that traditional North American and European aid donors have their focus dragged elsewhere.

He pointed to the crisis in Sudan, near famine in East Africa, the fallout from Afghanistan and, of course, the “sucking sound that comes from Ukraine”.

“It seems to me that in the real world, there are going to be Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan for a long time to come.”

In the UN Security Council, there is deadlock over the status of a crucial border crossing from Turkey to north-west, rebel-held Syria.

The crossing is crucial for the provision of vital aid deliveries to the more than four million people there.

Residents of the area already lived in punishing, grim conditions before a deadly earthquake struck earlier this year.

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, vetoed a proposal earlier this month to keep the Bab Al Hawa crossing open for nine months.

Moscow's own proposal, which seeks to expand the Syrian government's control over aid delivery into the rebel held areas, did not garner enough support.

“We argued very strongly for it to be renewed. We think it is the most direct and efficient way of reaching people in north-west Syria,” Mr Milliband said.

“Any interference in aid flows is a harm that should be avoided. The gridlock in the Security Council with the Russian veto is to be deplored, I think. It is a very telling symptom of political dysfunction that the most basic humanitarian needs can't be met with Security Council support.”

Updated: July 28, 2023, 11:04 AM