Three years ago, the world watched in shock as Syria slowly descended into bitter conflict. Once thriving communities have been utterly destroyed. Nine million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance, with their future looking perilous and uncertain.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis which results from a conflict of this kind can be overwhelming. But we cannot let ourselves forget its human face. The British Red Cross has supported its counterpart in Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, to provide life-saving assistance since the very beginning of the conflict. We know that three years on, far from the burden easing, it is growing each day.
However, it is important to remember that aid is still saving lives every day. We can and must continue to do all we can to assist those inside Syria and on the borders. As the conflict enters its fourth year, we should take the opportunity to step back and pay more attention to three key areas:
1) Access to humanitarian assistance: Inside Syria, the danger of working in some areas has been, and still is, the biggest challenge to reaching people in need. While the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is delivering aid to almost three million people inside Syria each month, with support from the ICRC, IFRC, and other partners, this still only represents a third of those in need of assistance. In doing so, volunteers face unimaginable challenges. Thirty-four have tragically lost their lives. All have put jobs, studies or aspirations on hold. They are incredibly dedicated. Abeer, a 28-year-old volunteer told us how she joined her family in Germany after they fled to safety. She stayed for a short period but, against their wishes, returned to Syria. In her own words "I did not accept the idea of working in any other place than with Syrian Red Crescent and humanitarian work, especially in light of the crisis in my country."
2) Relieving the burden on neighbouring countries: Syria's neighbours have been generous in hosting refugees and this cannot be taken for granted. In the words of one Jordanian, "You can have a friend to stay for three days or three weeks...but three years is too much." Eighty per cent of refugees in Jordan live not in camps but in informal settlements or in cities like Amman. Many have been given shelter in the homes of Jordanian families. Since the start of the conflict the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement has dedicated itself to supporting those who have been displaced by the conflict in Syria. We have provided relief to displaced communities both in neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon and to smaller numbers of refugees in the UK and other European countries. The pressure on Syria's neighbours, however, continues to grow - both Lebanon and Jordan are experiencing increasing demands on their public services and infrastructure, as their populations have increased significantly.
3) Psychological and emotional support: So many children and adults have witnessed untold traumas. These mental scars run deep and can stay with someone for their entire life. Some women arrive in neighbouring countries too afraid to tell anyone their name. Refugee children, when asked to draw, produce images of tanks and other children being shot, or dying. Others have trouble sleeping or are bedwetting. Psychologists from the Danish Red Cross, experts in this field, report that Syrian children are very affected by what they have seen as they have grown up unused to violence and conflict. Yet with the right support - play activities, drawing and singing are just some examples - some of these scars can be healed.
In Abeer's words, "I hope that my country returns to stability and security. I hope that the displaced people would return to their homes from inside and outside of Syria. I hope "love" returns to the heart of every Syrian. Let's go back to our memories in the past and see how we are all the children of one country."
I too hope this day comes soon. But until it does, we have the power to help Abeer and her colleagues at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent do all they can to assist the Syrian people. We cannot forget the brave work they are doing and must continue to stand by them.
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