By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
24 February 2014
The United States is delivering assistance to relieve the Syrian humanitarian crisis with “every means available,” according to a State Department official who outlined U.S. objectives to address the regional dilemma at a Washington forum February 21.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements described the region as a “highly insecure environment” where aid obstruction has occurred, assistance workers have been targeted and medical facilities attacked.
The U.N. Security Council voted February 22 to increase humanitarian aid access and demanded that Syrian authorities allow “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.” The resolution also called for a cessation of attacks on civilians and an end to the use of weapons in populated areas.
An estimated 9.3 million people in the region — 6.5 million still in Syria — are affected by the violence and need assistance, according to estimates compiled by international humanitarian agencies.
U.S. policymakers regard the Syrian civil war and the resulting impact on the region not just as a humanitarian crisis, but as a regional stability crisis in which economic output diminishes, people suffer and development progress regresses in some parts of the region. In Syria, notably, Clements said the nation’s development has lost 35 years of progress in three years of civil war.
“We’re really trying to bring all the spigots of U.S. government support” to the regional crisis, Clements said. Policymakers are also hoping to devise ways to help Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, the principal regional hosts of 2.4 million Syrians who have fled their homeland. Clements said they are looking for strategies to help ease impacts on health, education and employment with a focus on particularly affected populations, such as children and vulnerable women.
The U.S. government has invested more than $1.7 billion in relieving the Syrian humanitarian crisis since it began.
Antoine Chedid, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States, also participated in the discussion at the Brookings Institution where Clements spoke. Hosting more than 900,000 refugees in 1,600 communities, Lebanon has experienced a 30 percent population increase. The situation is becoming an “existential crisis” for a small country with pockets of extreme poverty of its own, he said.
“The impact is deep, dangerous and threatens to unravel the country economically, politically and socially,” Chedid said. While acknowledging the assistance Lebanon has already received from the United States, he said his nation must receive further international support to continue to provide haven for Syrian refugees.
Chedid further urged the international community to consider a proposal to house Syria’s displaced persons in facilities located in a Syrian safe zone.
Clements said the United States is working with the international community to devise long-term solutions for what is not a traditional humanitarian crisis. “Each host [country] has a different reality,” she said, and solutions must be targeted to their needs.
Clements spoke a day after she returned from discussions in Ankara about Turkey’s role as a host nation. More than 600,000 Syrians have found refuge there, welcomed by what Clements called “an exceptional government response.”