More than four million people have now fled Syria and become refugees in neighboring countries, according to latest figures released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Neighboring countries are struggling to cope with this deluge of refugees and the international community has to do more than just promise help, says Carsten Hansen, Regional Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
In an exclusive interview with The Times Kuwait, Mr. Hansen said the terrible milestone of four million showed that the Syrian refugee situation is no longer just a regional problem. “It is a “regional crisis with a global impact,” said the Jordan-based director of the NRC.
The NRC, established in 1946 under the name ‘Aid to Europe’, was initially tasked with assisting refugees in Europe after World War II. Today, the NRC is an independent, humanitarian, non-profit, non-governmental organization providing assistance, protection and durable solutions to refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide.
“We have been engaged in assisting the internally displaced people in Syria, as well as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and the Kurdish areas of Iraq, right from the beginning. The condition of nearly eight million people displaced within Syria is increasingly becoming precarious and safe escape routes have almost all been sealed by ongoing fighting between various factions.
“Outside Syria, the plight of four million refugees is also becoming more difficult as neighboring countries are being challenged to find the resource needed to support this large influx of people. Especially vulnerable are the children, many of whom cannot receive the education they need to ensure the future of Syria. An entire generation without access to education is a terrible thing to contemplate.
In 2014 there were more than 59.5 million people displaced around the world. Not since the aftermath of World War II have more people been displaced. Most of these people have been displaced due to local conflicts blooming into proxy wars waged by countries with vested interest. The lack of political will to solve these global conflicts is only exacerbating the humanitarian consequences for people who are displaced.
“The international community has to do more, not only for the refugees but also for the host countries. Sadly, the international response has been less than adequate; of the US$4.3 billion needed for the Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, only 24 percent has so far been funded,” said Mr. Hansen.
The scale of the Syrian refugee crisis is such that without immediate intervention of the international community the situation could soon turn catastrophic. Political and bureaucratic hassles are impeding the absorption of more Syrian refugees into Europe.
While Europe needs to find willingness to accept more people into Europe, the global community has also got to show solidarity with the suffering of the Syrian people by helping to resettle them, noted the regional director of NRC.
“At NRC we have the highest appreciation for Kuwait and His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah for the humanitarian initiatives and generous support given to the Syrian people and we hope this assistance will continue in the future,” said Mr. Hansen in conclusion.
The NRC has been cooperating and collaborating with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations around the world, with more than 5,000 staff of NRC currently engaged in various projects in 25 countries. The organization focuses and specializes in five core competencies — Shelter, Food Security; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); Education, and Information Counseling and Legal Aid (ICLA).
“The grim figure of four million could easily have been even higher. Neighboring countries’ capacity is now stretched to the limit. As a consequence, they have increased their entry restrictions, making it impossible for many civilians to flee the brutal war,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the NRC at a recent media briefing in Oslo.
The resources of refugee-hosting countries are stretched to the limit. In Lebanon one out of four people is now a Syrian refugee and this has put enormous pressure on public infrastructure, like schools and hospitals.
“We need to significantly scale up the support to the neighboring countries, to ensure that they can keep their borders open and provide adequate living conditions for the refugees who are already there. Many families are already living in sub-standard shelters, many children are not able to go to school, many elderly are unable to get necessary medication”, said Egeland.
Last year, Syrians constituted the largest group of people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in a desperate attempt to get to Europe. “When desperate Syrians are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, it is a stark reminder of our failure to provide protection and hope in the region and the lack of sufficient numbers of resettlement places,” said Egeland.
— Staff report