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Syria: Getting Ready For The Long-Term

25/01/2017 13:28

At the start of February we mark the first anniversary of the London "Supporting Syria and the Region" Conference. While the succession of international conferences on Syria easily blur in the memory and too often feel disconnected from - and sometimes irrelevant too - the bloody events unfolding on the ground, London 2016 was genuinely different.

With leadership from Germany and the UK in particular, the London Conference was the first time the major international donor governments clearly and collectively called out an evident truth: that there won't be a quick fix. Such is the massive fallout from this most savage of wars that short-term humanitarian funding - while vital - cannot be sufficient to meet the scale and duration of need in the neighbouring countries where the vast majority of Syrian refugees are living.

Instead, the donors gathered in London accepted the need to switch gears and to make a serious, long-term commitment to the region - to get refugee adults into work and refugee children into school and to ease the burden on Syria's extraordinarily generous neighbours.

Mid East countries are bearing the burden

Let us not forget the numbers. There are almost 5 million Syrian refugees, more than the entire population of Ireland, New Zealand or Norway. Jordan hosts 655,833 of these, roughly one in six of its total population. As of last December there were 2,814,631 Syrians living under temporary protection in Turkey, more than 90% of whom are living outside the 26 state-run refugee camps.

In Lebanon the country's new Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, explained in January that "five years ago, our population was 4.5 million and today we are at 6 million. The international community has to help because we have less electricity, less water, less infrastructure, fewer schools and fewer hospital beds".

Behind each of these statistics is a story; a tale of flight from one's home and one's country, a life left behind and a future whose contours are defined by uncertainty, exclusion and vulnerability. Meanwhile wealthy countries have offered homes to fewer than 3% of Syria's refugees and show no inclination to step up and take more.

There is a humanitarian imperative to meet the basic needs of these people. There is also a moral imperative to find ways to offer them some hope for their futures. And there is a social and political imperative not to pretend that the refugee crisis created by the war in Syria will somehow, magically, go away any time soon. Leaving millions of refugees to live precarious existences for years on end, out of school and out of work in one of the most volatile parts of the world, isn't in anyone's interests - except, perhaps, for those who have a stake in fomenting even more violence and instability.

The difference between hope and despair

A new era of collaboration, solidarity and responsibility-sharing is needed. In practice this means making sure Syrian refugees in the region have the right to legal stay, education and to access decent work and economic opportunities, and that the governments hosting them have the funding they need to make this happen.

Access to education is particularly critical. In Jordan almost 91,000 Syrian children registered with UNHCR remain out of formal education. The equivalent figure in Lebanon is more than 200,000 and in Turkey, according to Human Rights Watch, it is more than 400,000. This is a fixable problem, requiring only funding and political will. And of course educating Syria's children today is the only way to ensure a viable Syria tomorrow.

On Tuesday, a conference in Helsinki launched the latest Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, the so-called "3RP" which brings together more than 240 partners in a coordinated, region-wide response to the crisis. This will be followed in April by a pledging conference in Brussels. These conferences may lack the media attention that follow peace talks such as those scheduled to start next week in Astana, yet for millions of vulnerable people - people who have suffered more than most of us can even imagine - they can mean the difference between hope and despair, between life and death.

As Syrian refugees endure their sixth bitter winter since this dreadful war began we must redouble our efforts to give them hope for a warmer, brighter future.

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