x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Plight of Syrian refugees needs more focus

The stalemate in Syria raises the potential to create safe havens within the country for its refugees

While the world’s attention is focused on the political stalemate in Syria, refugees from the country continue to cross borders in staggering numbers, looking for a safe haven. Their suffering is made worse by the failure of the international community to help neighbouring countries accommodate and pay the associated costs of the new arrivals.

It is time that countries also focus on the plight of Syrian refugees, rather than solely on the continuing political and military deadlock. The number of Syrian refugees reached two million at the beginning of this month, according to the UN refugee agency. Since the agency only records registered refugees, the real number is likely to be much higher, perhaps double the official statistics. Many of these people cross Syria’s borders with no more than the clothes on their back. And the pressure on resources for host countries is increasing every day, at a rate that these nations might soon find unsustainable.

And yet the world seems to be content that the difficulty of resolving the crisis somehow absolves them from the responsibility to help deal with the worsening humanitarian crisis. The humanitarian issue simply cannot continue to take a back seat.

Several countries that put the most emphasis on arming Syria’s warring sides are noticeably lagging in their humanitarian aid to refugees, according to a report by the international aid agency Oxfam. And the United Nations said that its appeal has received less than half of its US$5.2 billion (Dh19.1bn) target.

Any measure that can potentially help refugees is worth exploring. On Tuesday, Lebanon called for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria to accommodate the refugees.

Many of Syria’s refugees have returned to their country to avoid the humiliation, exploitation and harassment they face abroad. Some Syrian charity organisations have been focusing on providing clean water or electricity in Syrian cities to encourage refugees to return. Such efforts deserve support.

Another key issue is education for refugee children. Schools in opposition areas have been ransacked and teachers are reluctant to go back due to the lack of resources.

Helping the refugees is something all parties, regardless of their political stances, can surely agree on. Perhaps working together on this issue would open doors for talks that can eventually lead to an accommodation on the political front.