x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

G20 group has failed the Syrian people

Helping Syria's refugees has been forgotten in G20 debate about chemical weapons

Many Syrians believe the world has failed them. After two and a half years of bloodshed and heartache, a brutal regime steadfastly clings to power. Meanwhile, the nation over which Bashar Al Assad presides is in tatters and refugees continue to head for Syria's borders.

Last week, the G20 group of nations met in Russia to discuss a wide variety of global issues, but were unable to reach agreement on the biggest of them all: what to do about Syria.

As The National reported yesterday, 11 members of the G20, including Saudi Arabia, called for strong action against the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its own people. Other members, including China and Brazil, rejected any form of military intervention.

That they could not find agreement is, perhaps, understandable considering the complexity of what is at stake. Even those who agree that limited missile strikes will provide the strongest possible rebuke to Mr Al Assad's use of chemical weapons, cannot be sure such retaliatory actions will be enough to break his will.

But if one puts aside the rights and wrongs of military intervention, the G20 group has failed every one of the growing number of Syrian refugees. The United Nations said on Thursday that the number of refugees is now more than two million, including more than one million children. At least 500,000 Syrian children no longer have any access to education. Around 5,000 more Syrians flee their homes every day. This is a "lost generation" of Syrian souls in the darkest sense of those words.

The United Nations said last week that it expects the number of refugees to reach 3.5m by the end of 2013. It also said it needs a further Dh12bn to appropriately fund its response to this humanitarian crisis in the next four months.

What then was the response to those estimates from the world's premier forum for financial cooperation?

The United Kingdom, largely sidelined in St Petersburg, pledged Dh298m of aid, but this will only plug a very small part of a very large hole. There was silence from the rest.

The burden of aid should not always sit with Syria's neighbours. If Russia and China reject intervention in Syria, it is still high time they joined the international community and together provided appropriate aid and assistance to those who need it most: Syria's ever growing number of refugees.