x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Syrian refugees need more than UN bickering

There seems to be no urgency from the international community to address what could very quickly turn into another humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations has been almost entirely limited to empty statements and platitudes regarding the Syrian conflict. Regardless of how this civil war ends, history will not judge kindly the international community's endless bickering as Syrian civilians continue to be killed and forced from their homes.

On Friday, the General Assembly voted to condemn the regime's shelling of neighbourhoods and, indeed, deplored the impotence of the Security Council that has achieved so little. The day before, the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan resigned. Diplomacy, for the time being, is dead.

At a news conference in Geneva on Thursday, Mr Annan also blamed the Security Council for "finger pointing and name calling", spreading the blame evenly between western countries that never gave diplomacy a chance, and Russia and China, which have blocked Security Council resolutions at almost every step. Mr Annan achieved next to nothing in his mission, but he did stick to a thankless task for as long as he could.

What comes next? Outside intervention still remains unlikely for the time being given Syria's robust air force and surface-to-air defences. There are two possible scenarios: prolonged civil war, which everyone fears, that might spill over into neighbouring countries; or an acceleration of defections by generals and Assad loyalists tipping the balance. Neither scenario ends well for President Bashar Al Assad.

In the near future, however, it is ordinary Syrians who suffer. An almost irreversible harm has befallen many Syrian communities. Many are still caught in conflict zones in Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere, while many thousands more flee across the country's borders. More than 140,000 refugees are living in makeshift camps inside Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The number will undoubtedly rise in the coming weeks.

But there seems no corresponding urgency from the international community to address what could very quickly turn into another humanitarian crisis. Lebanon and Jordan are under extreme strain with this influx of refugees. Camps that were built to house a few hundred have received thousands; already there are shortages of food, water and medicine.

For a year and a half, the international community has struggled and failed to find a political solution to this crisis. In hindsight, Mr Annan's failed mission shows how difficult that would have been. A similar failure in this refugee crisis would be unforgivable.