By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
30 September 2013
Burns has joined the executive committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in an annual meeting where the Middle East dominated the opening discussion.
Seven million Syrians have run from the violence in their neighborhoods; 2 million of them are refugees in neighboring countries, Burns said, while unknown thousands more seek safety wherever it can be found.
The United States has contributed more than $1.3 billion to this crisis since 2012, the leading donor in the international community. Burns called on representatives of 86 other nations serving on the UNHCR executive committee to increase humanitarian assistance inside Syria, while also pushing for diplomatic action.
“It is high time for the [U.N.] Security Council to speak with one voice to demand unfettered humanitarian access,” Burns said. Combatants in the Syrian conflict are reportedly blocking attempts to move assistance across lines of control. Direct attacks on humanitarian and rescue workers have been documented, while many hospitals and clinics in Syria have closed amid the violence.
The United Nations has sought $3 billion from the international community to help refugees and an additional $1.4 billion for displaced persons inside Syria, according to an article by the U.N. Refugee Agency.
U.N. High Commissioner António Guterres commended the neighboring nations that have taken in the refugees, but said “the immense number of Syrian refugees fleeing the war is threatening those countries’ social and economic fabric.”
Burns agreed that Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt need additional support to cope with the “protracted crisis” of displaced Syrians. “United Nations relief efforts must be expanded and linked to economic development and stabilization undertaken by international financial institutions and development agencies,” Burns said.
Guterres told the executive committee that the hosting nations need emergency development assistance for health, education, housing, water and energy. These sectors are being strained by the influx of additional people — 726,000 in Lebanon, 525,000 in Jordan and 490,000 in Turkey, according to UNHCR’s count.
A refugee agency article says job markets, salaries and prices have all been affected by the violence and its ripple effect through the region, leaving refugees and other families unable to sustain themselves. One forecast sees increasing unemployment in Lebanon, with potentially tens of thousands more people pushed into poverty as the months without resolution wear on.
Burns also called on the UNHCR executive committee to extend more comprehensive protection to the most vulnerable: women, children and refugees living outside of camps. The instability in the region also creates conditions where human trafficking, gender-based violence or forced marriage might occur, Burns said. The United States is backing nongovernmental organizations working to impede such outcomes, with further investments in information campaigns and safe shelter.
At the U.N. General Assembly last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced another initiative to address the threats to women and girls in humanitarian emergencies. “Safe from the Start” will coordinate efforts of relief agencies to take action as a crisis begins, to discourage gender-based violence and victimization.
Children in the midst of displacement and turmoil also are at risk of long-term trauma and developmental problems. Burns urged a greater emphasis on creating safe spaces for children to play, learn and begin to heal from the disruption of their lives.
Even in the face of tremendous unmet need, Burns praised the helpful spirit already demonstrated in the region. “The way in which the governments and peoples across the region have so generously opened their homes, schools and communities to millions of Syrian refugees has inspired us all,” he said.