UNHCR Special Envoy urges action to solve Syria crisis
AMMAN, Jordan – During a three-day visit to meet with Syrian refugees in Jordan, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt urged the international community to do more to solve the country’s crisis which is now in its sixth year, noting that “the gulf between our responsibilities and our actions has never been so wide.”
Now in its sixth year, the brutal conflict in Syria has forced more than 4.8 million people to seek safety in neighbouring countries. Jordan currently hosts more than 655,000 registered Syrian refugees, who live in two main camps at Za’atari and Azraq and in towns and cities across the country.
On Friday the Special Envoy met with refugees in Azraq, a remote camp in Jordan’s barren north-eastern desert currently home to around 37,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency. They described to her the horror of daily life in Syria, and living in perpetual fear.
“We were always scared when we heard the sounds of the explosions, and sometimes we fled to the shelters underground,” Nizar, a 13-year-old boy from Homs scarred by shrapnel from a barrel bomb.
“I met a family this morning, who fled Daesh in Raqqa, and then moved 20 times, trying to find safety inside Syria. In that time, the mother suffered repeated miscarriages, and her two brothers and one sister were killed in an airstrike,” Ms Jolie Pitt told a news conference at the camp following her visit.
“There are children here who remember no life other than this harsh desert environment and barbed wire fences,” she added.
Earlier, the Special Envoy met Um Ahlam, a mother to eight daughters from Palmyra, who arrived in Azraq earlier this year after spending six months at an informal camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border. Um Ahlam described the hardship of spending a bitter winter in the middle of the desert, her family sheltered in a tiny tent, with the roof collapsing under each rainfall, and the uncertainty as to when they would finally reach safety.
Up to 75,000 people – mostly women and children – remain camped at the border in dire conditions, with limited access to food, healthcare and other essentials. The Special Envoy called on the international community to do more to assist them, saying “They have had no food since early August. There is next to no humanitarian access. There is no mechanism for evacuating the war wounded. None of the basic protections under international humanitarian law are being applied.”
On Saturday, the final day of her visit, Ms Jolie Pitt met with war-wounded Syrian refugees in Amman, including another 13-year-old boy, Selim, who was severely burned along with his brother when their home in Raqqa was hit by a barrel bomb. Selim has undergone 18 plastic surgery operations of the face, and still under treatment, “Like any parent, it is impossible for me not to imagine what it would be like for my own children in this situation,” the Special Envoy said.
Ms Jolie Pitt met with His Excellency, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Judeh and expressed her appreciation for Jordan’s efforts in hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the start of the crisis in 2011. “This is not a problem of Jordan’s making, or that Jordan should be left to bear alone,” she said. “They have been warning for years that they would reach a point where they on their own could do no more.”
Jordan will co-host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on 20 September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. That event will be preceded by a high-level UN summit on refugees and migration on 19 September, with the aim of finding new solutions to the current record levels of global displacement.
Ms Jolie Pitt called on governments to use the events to focus on finding a political solution.
“My message to world leaders, as they prepare to gather at the UN General Assembly in 10 days is to ask the fundamental question of what are the root causes of the Syria conflict, and what will it take to end it, and please put that at the centre of your discussion,” she said.
During her mission, the Special Envoy spent time with war-wounded refugees, including children that are in treatment at the MSF Hospital in Amman, Jordan. She also heard from survivors of sexual violence, and met with a group of inspiring young refugees, among them a future pharmacist, civil engineers and an English graduate, who are focused on rebuilding their futures, and that of Syria.
This was Ms Jolie Pitt’s fourth visit to Jordan since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.