x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Refugee crisis is human face of the Syrian war

So much of the attention in Syria has been on the killing and the political chess match. Now it's time to focus on the millions of Syrians who have been made refugees.

The conflict in Syria has dragged on for two long years. In that time, the reporting of the crisis has mainly focused on the callous brutality with which the Assad regime has killed its own people, or on the political chess game of the opposition and the international community. Only occasionally has the spotlight been turned on the refugees - the millions of Syrians who have fled abroad and within Syria, to save themselves and their families from the destruction and danger and from the brutal ethnic killings of the Assad militias, the shabbiha.

But as The National's interview today with Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi shows, it is the refugees who are the human face of the conflict, a face rarely seen. Sheikha Jawaher, the wife of the ruler of Sharjah, has been appointed an Eminent Advocate at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN's refugee agency, and has seen first hand the devastating human toll of life in the refugee camps.

"I am trying to find the best ways to help the Syrian refugees and secure the right paths to reach the public and get them engaged in this massive humanitarian crisis that will just keep on getting worse as the conflict continues," she told our correspondent Rym Ghazal.

The spillover of the refugee crisis from Syria has severely tested neighbouring countries, especially Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, which have taken in many hundreds of thousands - at least 1.5 million by the UN's count. As the conflict has continued, these refugees now need to start creating lives in their refuge, educating their children and surviving.

Sheikha Jawaher highlights the similarity with the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. In the same way as the Palestinians in 1948 and 1967 hoped that their exile from their homelands would be temporary - and had those hopes cruelly dashed - so the refugees from Syria may have once hoped that their return would be swift. But as the conflict enters a new, uncertain stage, it becomes increasingly unlikely that a resolution will come any time soon.

Syrians, tragically, will need to start adjusting to a reality of displacement, in which their refuge may become an adopted homeland, while the world dithers on finding an answer, and their fellow countrymen fight bravely to defend their homelands. And the world will need to adjust to this reality as well.

As Sheikha Jawaher rightly points out, this is a universal humanitarian crisis but the Arab world, and individual Arabs, have a special responsibility to help the people of one of our greatest nations.