Wednesday, 30 April 2014

My article on Syria and how we get aid to the refugees, and what more the UN can do

The river Euphrates on the Syrian Turkish border should be a place of peace, calm and holiness. Instead, at the Nizip Syrian Refugee Camp, which lies on its banks, the consequences of the Syrian civil war are all around. On a visit there in January, I saw thousands of men, women, and particularly children, existing in giant compounds, waiting for the conflict to end so that they could go home.

The refugees in the Nizip camps, helped as they are by multiple charities and a supportive host country, are the lucky ones. The real crisis is the lack of humanitarian support to those caught up in the conflict within Syria – literally caught in a crossfire – and with the UN virtually unable to provide them with aid outside of the Damascus area.

The Syrian conflict is the problem that will not go away for Britain and the West. For my part I believe the United Nations must do more. Put simply it needs to add some bite to its bark. Having decided not to intervene in the Syrian conflict, or take sides, Britain and the UN have chosen to pursue diplomacy to resolve the conflict. But this has failed to prevent the killing, and with the war now in its fourth year, it is fragmenting into ever more complex disputes. At the same time the death toll has exceeded 150,000 and the number of displaced people is over 2.6 million and rising fast.

The reason the refugees increase is because the conflict is not stopping, and because the Syrian population is not receiving the outside world’s support. The aid convoys into Syria are not getting through.
It is right that we are very proud of the UK’s humanitarian support of £600 million in food, aid and support to the refugees from the Syrian conflict, and that we have accepted hundreds as part of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation programme. In the Nizip refugee camp I saw how British charitable and government help is making a difference to the lives of thousands of people.

The United Nations has begun to address the problem of the inability to deliver aid into Syria. The reality is that unless the UN aid convoys reach the population in Syria, more and more Syrians will leave the country. By allowing the failure of aid to reach the people, we are permitting Assad to cleanse the country of those he does not want there. And yet we have passed UN Security Council Resolution 2139. This “demands that all parties allow delivery of humanitarian assistance, cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable to their survival, and enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians who wish to leave”

The UN has done the right thing by passing 2139. But thus far Government, and some opposition forces, in Syria continue to block the aid convoys, and the sieges of cities such as Homs go on. I would like to see the UN use its considerable clout to enforce Security Council resolution 2139, to ensure the aid starts to reach those in need.
After all, what is the point of passing such resolutions if we are not going to act on them? UN failures to make Resolution 2139 happen is making Syrian civilians’ lives considerably worse, and exacerbating an already growing problem of refugees.