With the Syrian conflict now in its eighth year, it is easy to lose sight of the colossal human tragedy unfolding there. Reports of scores of civilian deaths in Eastern Ghouta, where tens of thousands of desperate people were trapped for years, underscore the cruel trajectory of the violence. For many Syrian children, all they have known is death, destruction and displacement.
Inside Syria, the conditions faced by civilians are worse than ever, with more than 13 million people in need, including six million displaced across the country. In many parts of Syria – most recently in Douma, Ghouta, Idlib and Afrin – fighting not only continues but is escalating. New confrontations fuel the steady exodus and further complicate a conflict already testing the ability of the international community to untangle and end. The United Nations continues to call on all parties to facilitate unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need throughout the country.
For the nearly 5.5 million who managed to escape their own country, more than 90 per cent live outside refugee camps, often in substandard conditions, where they have exhausted their resources and struggle to secure food, housing, health care and basic needs. The vast majority of Syrian refugees find themselves living below the poverty line. Survival has become an aching daily burden.
Since war does not discriminate, children have borne the brunt of displacement. More than 40 per cent of about 2.5 million Syrian refugee children do not attend school. Their futures are on indefinite hold.
In response to the refugee influx, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have for years shown tremendous generosity in receiving Syrians and allowing them access to safety and services. In Lebanon, where nearly one million Syrian refugees live, the government implemented a double school shift system to help provide education for refugee children. Jordan, which hosts over 655,000 Syrian refugees, announced it will issue work permits, ensuring breadwinners can provide for their families and that refugees’ skills and know-how are utilised.
While the search for a political solution continues, even amid fresh, horrific violence, it is imperative, more than ever before, that we sustain our support for the host governments and communities who have demonstrated remarkable resilience as first-line responders.
The Brussels conference beginning today will look into funding opportunities for the Syria humanitarian situation. The Regional Refugee Resilience Plan is the umbrella under which the UN and 270 partners are seeking $4.45 billion this year to assist 5.5 million refugees people and 4m people in host communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The humanitarian actors also need more than $3.5bn to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to 13.1m Syrians inside Syria, of whom 5.6m are in acute need of assistance. We urge donors to stay the course, as funding shortages dramatically impact humanitarian operations.
Syrians deserve a better future. The Syrian refugee emergency remains the largest in the world. For the vast majority of Syrian refugees – mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, families no different to yours or mine – the only solutions available are temporary, a far cry from the hope of one day going home. We must continue collectively to do more to alleviate the pain of Syria’s refugees, support their hosts and ensure the survival of hope for a better tomorrow.
Amin Awad is regional refugee coordinator for Syria and Iraq and director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)