As war enters 7th year, UNHCR warns Syria is ‘at a crossroads’
While there are some hopes for peace, the needs and suffering of millions of Syrians continue unabated; Syrian war is a ‘collective failure.’
Children cycle past the rubble of destroyed houses in Qara, where fighting erupted in 2014, dragging the town into the brutal Syrian conflict. ; In peacetime, residents of the remote mountain town of Qara lived off the cherry orchards that blossomed here. Six years into the conflict, their livelihoods savings and hope are all but gone. Halfway between Damascus and Homs, Qara sits a few kilometres from the Lebanese border. Once home to 23,000 people, the streets of the ancient town now lie empty and shops are closed. Qara was dragged into the war when clashes between government and rebel groups erupted in 2014, driving residents to flee to nearby villages or over the border. When some returned, they found their cherry orchards seized and their trade with Lebanon cut off. In winter, temperatures drop well below freezing and once proud villagers burn garbage to keep warm. This once self-reliant community is now dependent on humanitarian aid.
GENEVA – As the world prepares to mark yet another tragic milestone in the brutal Syrian conflict, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urges the international community to redouble its generous support to help offset the continued, intense suffering of millions of innocent civilians in the country and the region.
“Syria is at a crossroads,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Unless drastic measures are taken to shore up peace and security for Syria, the situation will worsen.”
In Syria, 13.5 million need humanitarian aid; 6.3 million are displaced internally; hundreds of thousands have made perilous sea voyages seeking sanctuary; nearly 3 million Syrians under 5 have grown up knowing nothing but conflict; and 4.9 million – the majority women and children – are refugees in neighbouring states, placing host communities under huge strain as they shoulder the social, economic and political fallout.
“Ultimately, Syria’s conflict isn’t about numbers – it’s about people,” Grandi added. “Families have been torn apart, innocent civilians killed, houses destroyed, businesses and livelihoods shattered. It’s a collective failure.”
This year and beyond, UNHCR will continue to provide aid and protection to the victims, in Syria and the region. UNHCR, with partners, has been providing life-saving help for millions. In 2016, over 1 million Syrians received winter assistance – essentials to help keep people alive in sub-zero temperatures.
Syria’s conflict isn’t about numbers – it’s about people.
Last year, over 4 million people within Syria received basic relief items – like food, medicine, bedding, and utensils. Over 2 million benefitted from UNHCR’s network of community centers in Syria, providing services including child protection, education, and health.
Within the region, over 3 million displaced Syrians and refugees received assistance to help survive a bitterly cold winter. UNHCR and partners have helped nearly five million Syrian refugees and those hosting them with a range of protection and assistance – including education, healthcare, and shelter in the five major refugee-hosting countries in the region.
As vulnerabilities increase over time, funding is, unfortunately, lagging behind needs. A conference in Brussels in early April will assess the country’s future, including humanitarian funding requirements. The UN is requesting $8 billion this year to meet Syrians’ needs at home and in exile. This follows important commitments made at the 2016 London Conference, especially on education and livelihoods, and it is essential that these efforts are sustained.
“We urge donors to maintain adequate, flexible funding to allow us to respond to the enormous needs,” Grandi said. “Funding won’t end the suffering. But it is one thing we can do as poverty and misery intensify. The resources currently available simply don’t come close to meeting all the challenges.”
UNHCR hopes that the recent peace initiatives will pave the way to a lasting and sustainable resolution. “Peace talks alone won’t create the conditions on the ground for refugees to be able to return,” Grandi added.
“But once the basic elements for durable peace and security are in place, we should anticipate the largest reconstruction effort in a generation. In the meantime, it’s essential that the lifeline provided by humanitarian aid is maintained, and humanitarian access expanded to enable life-saving support for all those in need.”