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Three-step plan to address Syria humanitarian crisis

Andrew Mitchell writes for the Telegraph...

The horrific images from Syria of children and their families now suffering what is the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of a generation have struck us all.

There is no doubt: the daily pictures from across Syria and neighbouring countries are the results of war crimes. Crimes committed by a regime that has chosen to flout international law and gas its own people.

Leaders across the globe are now focusing on the response the world needs to take in the face of the Syrian Government wilfully breaking the taboo against the use of such weapons.

That is only right but it is vital that the world does not lose sight of the humanitarian crisis inside Syria. Children and their families are being killed in gruesome situations, but they are now also going sick and hungry – because they are not getting the aid that they need. They are also suffering untold psychological damage.

It is vital that the case is made for ways in which the world could and should deliver more life-saving aid. There is no argument, moral or in the national interest, that any Security Council member can muster against the need to get aid to all those who need it, wherever they are. The world has a responsibility to move quickly and the British Government should be praised for grasping the nettle and saying the UK will lead the effort in getting aid to where it is needed.

But here is the stark reality of this humanitarian catastrophe: there are now more than two million refugees, half of which are children. This is the largest movement of civilians across borders since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and neighbouring countries are buckling under this pressure. I saw the mounting humanitarian disaster developing in the early days as International Development Secretary. I visited the Zaatari camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border when it was in its infancy and pledged strong British support. Women and children arriving had been shot at by the Syrian Army as they crossed. That camp, strongly supported and funded by Britain, is now, in effect, the fourth biggest city in Jordan.

Today one in six people in Lebanon is from Syria; in Iraq’s Kurdistan, over 50,000 refugees have flooded through the border in three weeks. Such a huge influx of refugees is significantly increasing the instability of this tinderbox region.

Millions more remain trapped inside Syria, in desperate need because aid isn’t reaching them. NGO estimates are that in the North of Syria alone more than 10.5 million people are not getting enough aid. That is more people than live in Greater London going without the basic necessities for them to survive.

Sometimes the vast numbers under threat are hard to take in. What would one million frightened, hungry and traumatised children look like if stretched out in front of us in Hyde Park? Each person affected has a harrowing story to tell. Three year-old Siba fled her village with her family after the shops shut and food supplies dried up. Hungry, sick and desperate Siba and her family then came under continuous shelling and shooting. Fearing they would lose their children to war or hunger, Siba’s parents decided to leave everything behind and fled. They had no choice. Fortunately Siba’s father had access to aid through Save the Children’s cash-for-work programme and was able to pay off debts, buy food and blankets and provide safety and support for his family.

Siba and her family are the lucky ones. There are millions who are are not getting this help because the Assad government is severely limiting aid agencies’ access to the country. The few charity organisations that are working in Syria face huge bureaucratic obstacles. Aid is officially allowed in only through Damascus, and aid agencies movements from there into opposition areas are severely restricted, effectively meaning that these parts of the country are being starved of life saving support.

Between January and July this year just 21 UN convoys were able to complete their journeys to opposition-held areas. Without official access for aid agencies across borders and battle lines, the people in greatest need will not get the help necessary to survive.

Whatever happens with regards to military intervention, humanitarian need will continue, if not get worse.

It is another grave breach of international law to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilians who need it. The Security Council, divided for so long, has no excuse for division on acting to deliver life-saving aid.

The world community needs urgently to agree a three step plan to stem the suffering of Syria’s people: first, the Security Council must pass a resolution demanding that all parties to the conflict grant unfettered and immediate access to aid agencies to operate across borders and battle lines; second, the world’s richest countries must immediately make further pledges of support to ensure the current 40% funded refugee response is 100% funded; and third, immediately build on any agreement on humanitarian response with a push for a commitment to engage in a meaningful political negotiation to reach a
settlement to the conflict.

There has to be action against a Government that is willing to kill, maim and injure thousands. But there also has to be strong, determined and swift humanitarian action to help those trapped amid the fighting.

The fee for this article has been donated to Save the Children.

| Telegraph

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