THE BLOG
14/09/2015 12:21 BST | Updated 14/09/2016 06:12 BST

Syrian Refugees Must One Day Have the Chance to Return Home

If we are to tackle the root cause of the refugee crisis hitting Europe, it is time for Western leaders and the international community to face up to their responsibilities in Syria and the Middle East.

For four years the world has been failing to find a way to stop the war in Syria. We cannot let it continue. We must now launch a new effort to end this conflict. It is estimated that over 200,000 people have now died in Syria alone since the start of this civil war. An astonishing six million of Syria's 22million people are now refugees; a number that is sadly only likely to increase.

These statistics are shocking, but the reality is, this brutal civil war is nowhere near a conclusion. Islamist rebels continue to have a number of successes in Syria, last week seizing control of a key airbase in the north-western province of Idlib, after a two-year siege. Meanwhile, despite military action by the US and its allies for many years, Da'esh and other Islamist groups continue their brutal rampage across the region, executing genocide on Europe's doorstep with impunity. The picture of little Aylan Kurdi, dead on a beach in Bodrum, is the manifestation of the world's failure to stop this. For the sake of humanity, we have a duty to act now to help end this conflict and bring some stability to the wider region.

If we are to achieve a lasting settlement, the EU, the US, Russia and China must be central to it. Russia's military activity in Syria seems to be intensifying. This includes reported sightings of Russian jets and claims housing was being erected to pave the way for a major military presence. Putin knows what we know, but what we are afraid to face up to; that the current conflict in this region is both intolerable and unsustainable for the international community in the long term. By escalating his involvement further now, he is ensuring he will be central to the negotiation of any settlement. It's impossible to imagine a solution to the Syrian conflict without the direct involvement of Russia.

Likewise, China will need to be convinced that this status quo is no longer in its economic interest. It's time for the European Union to build on the success of the recent Iran deal and jointly lead a campaign for a settlement in the broader region. Just two months ago, the international community in the form of P5+1, framed by the UN Security Council and led by the EU, concluded an unprecedented agreement with Iran. Federica Mogherini , the EU HRVP, should now use the experience and the momentum created by this deal to come up with an initiative to develop, within an international framework, a vision for the stabilisation of Syria and the broader region.

This means initiating now a United Nations effort to find a political solution that could bring an end to a four years conflict in Syria and a much more serious effort by the anti-Daesh coalition to stop the spread of Islamist coalition forces. It's clear the US -led international coalition against Da'esh is not only failing to eradicate their forces, it is even unable to stop the jihadis' expansion within Iraq and Syria. These failures are not only because of a lack of military commitment, but most importantly they are because this coalition lacks a shared vision and shared solution for the region.

Developing such a shared vision will not be easy and will not come without controversy. It will require talking to Putin. It means engaging with Iran to help change its behaviour in the region and to help ensure it becomes part of a constructive regional solution. We must also increase support not only to moderate and democratic opposition in Syria, but also to the Free Syrian Army.

We know that even members of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition have differing priorities, as Syria has become a battleground for regional proxy-wars. But it must be attempted. For the west, there are no good options, only less bad options. But without a broad diplomatic effort to find a common vision for the region, it seems likely that existing options will narrow further, while the humanitarian disaster on Europe's doorstep continues.

The framework which has proven itself in the Iran talks, the UNSC plus Germany, chaired by the EU, could be the framework for engaging regional players and developing such a vision. Any settlement must of course be mindful of our historical failures in this region and guarantee the rights of Sunnis, Shias, Alevites, Kurds and other religious and ethnical groups. It is time the EU seizes this initiative.

The world must give the Syrian refugees who have managed to escape the hope that one day they may be able to return home. This is a challenge far greater than even the faltering Middle East peace process, or the Iran deal, but the consequences of our continued failure will be devastating for Europe, the region and the world. Those who continue to pretend that the war in Syria, bombing campaigns of Assad against civilians and the genocide inflicted by Da'esh are far away and do not concern us, or will somehow solve themselves, need to wake up now.

Guy Verhofstadt is the leader of the Liberal and Democrat group in the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Belgium

Catherine Bearder is the Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England