London Must Deliver a Comprehensive Response to Syrian Crisis | The Center for Victims of Torture

London Must Deliver a Comprehensive Response to Syrian Crisis

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Marie Soueid is CVT policy counsel.

With over 200,000 people killed in Syria, 4.6 million refugees, nearly 7 million internally displaced, and an estimated 13.5 million people inside Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, strong commitments from the international community to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East are more urgently needed than ever. This week brings a key opportunity for leaders to step up and make these commitments during the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference in London on the 4th of February.

As world leaders gather to pledge their support for a robust action for Syrians in need of aid, there can be no half-measures. A comprehensive humanitarian response must include opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives in dignity during their prolonged displacement. Therefore, the international community, led by conference hosts the UK, Germany, Kuwait and Norway, must make good on their goal to provide economic opportunity to displaced individuals. Countries hosting Syrian refugees must afford opportunities for refugees to work and provide for their families.

To support them in doing so, international aid should bolster the social services of host communities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where together nearly 4 million Syrian refugees currently reside. Services in these countries are struggling to support the massive influx, and the international community can and should do more to support those hosting the largest numbers of refugees.

The response must also go beyond merely providing basic necessities such as food, shelter, and water. Five years into the crisis, quality of life issues and respect for the dignity of the individuals must be addressed. Mental health services should be prioritized as part of the humanitarian response. With long waitlists for such services at CVT’s clinic in Amman, Jordan, the need throughout the region is much greater than the availability.

Released in January, CVT’s report, Reclaiming Hope, Dignity and Respect: Syrian and Iraqi Torture Survivors in Jordan, sheds light on the mental health consequences of torture and disappearances. Many children become withdrawn or isolated and have trouble concentrating in school. Parents struggling with their own traumatic experiences express frustration and inadequacy for their inability to carry out daily activities. Individuals most severely affected express suicidal thoughts or actions and take out anger and frustration on family members. High quality psychosocial support services can allow individuals suffering from torture or traumatic experiences to gain perspective and control over their lives and provide for their families.

Such interventions may be necessary for the host community as well. Some of the individuals profiled in the Reclaiming Hope report expressed their frustration at the tenuous relationship with the host community. One parent even explained that he had to pull his children out of school because of harassment from Jordanian peers and teachers. As the influx of refugees has taken a toll on Jordan’s social services and work opportunities, hopelessness and anger have set in among the host population. The tensions between host community and refugees can be addressed through psychosocial support programming as well as increased opportunities.

Without a robust humanitarian and development-oriented response thus far, increased hopelessness for a safe return to Syria has led many individuals to make the perilous journey to Europe while others seek resettlement as a last resort. However, resettlement will only be available to a fraction of the 4.6 million refugees, and thus far the international response has been wholly inadequate. At the end of 2015, less than 200,000 Syrian refugees had been resettled or offered other kinds of humanitarian admission worldwide. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 10 percent of the Syrian refugees in the region are vulnerable and in need of resettlement. The United States and other resettlement countries should significantly ramp up resettlement efforts in the region without sacrificing worldwide resettlement.

In addition to pledging monetary support to the Syrians and their host communities, the international community must prioritize addressing the underlying causes of displacement and finding a political solution to the war in Syria. Without the option for a safe, dignified return to Syria, the humanitarian crisis in the region will continue. It is well beyond time for a serious collective effort to end the ongoing suffering caused by multitude human rights abuses and war crimes in Syria and provide guarantees of non-repetition. The coinciding of a renewed push for peace negotiations and the London conference indicate that the international community is prepared to address the Syrian crisis in a comprehensive manner. Syrians, however, have five years of disappointment behind them.

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