Thousands of Syrians stream across the border into Iraq in search of shelter. Photo: UNHCR/G. Gubaeva - Photo: 2013

UN’s Mission Impossible in Syria

By R Nastranis | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) – The United Nations is faced with a mission impossible in Syria. Not only to avert any “punitive action” that holds the risk of triggering a regional conflict in the Middle East, but also alleviating human suffering manifested by streams of refugees seeking safe havens in neighboring countries and a spate of internally displaced persons.

Intensive discussions about the use of military force to punish President Bashar Hafez al-Assad for allegedly approving deployment of chemical weapons reveal the widespread prevalence of a culture of war – as opposed to a culture of peace.

It remains to be seen in how far UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’ appeals will be heeded. But he has done well to stress on September 3 the need for finding a political solution. “I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons,” the UN chief said. “At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate a political resolution of the conflict,” he added.

As the UN News reported, Ban appealed that “any decision that is made is done so within the framework of the UN Charter”. The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and/or when the Security Council approves such action, said Ban.

He urged renewed efforts by regional and international actors to convene the Geneva conference – with participation from senior United States, Russian and UN officials – “as soon as possible”.

Refugees’ plight

Despite war drums beating louder, the international community is paying only marginal attention to the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons – underscoring the cynics’ view that there is always money to fund armed conflicts and often little to handle humanitarian calamities.

Precisely this has prompted the UN humanitarian agencies to draw attention to human suffering. The United Nations refugee agency announced on September 3 that an estimated 5,000 desperate Syrians are fleeing their homes every day and that the spiralling violence in the country has now created more than 2 million refugees, adding that there is no sign the “humanitarian calamity” will end anytime soon.

“The war is now well into its third year and Syria is haemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs,” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement released to mark the milestone. “This trend is nothing less than alarming, representing a jump of almost 1.8 million people in 12 months.”

One year ago, the number of Syrians registered as refugees or awaiting registration stood at about 230,670 people, the statement said.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said Syria had become “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.” He added that “the only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees” as figures clearly show.

Neighbouring countries hosting 97 percent

More than 97 per cent of Syria’s refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate surrounding region. End of August 2013, the number of Syrians registered as refugees or pending registration was 110,000 in Egypt, 168,000 in Iraq, 515,000 in Jordan, 716,000 in Lebanon and 460,000 in Turkey. Over half of them are children under 17 years of age, the UNHCR said.

It stressed that the refugee crisis has placed an overwhelming burden on the host countries’ infrastructures, economies and societies, and with an average of almost 5,000 Syrians fleeing into these countries every day, the need for international support has reached a critical stage.

“The world risks being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian disaster,” said UNHCR Special Envoy and renowned actress, Angelina Jolie. “The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications. If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate, the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighbouring countries could be brought to the point of collapse.”

Jolie added that the world was “tragically disunited” on how to end the Syria conflict. “But there should be no disagreement over the need to alleviate human suffering, and no doubt of the world’s responsibility to do more. We have to support the millions of innocent people ripped from their homes, and increase the ability of neighbouring countries to cope with the influx.”

The situation is confounded by the fact that a further 4.2 million people are displaced inside Syria. Taken together, these numbers –amounting to more than 6 million people – mean that more Syrians are now forcibly displaced than people from any other country.

With the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) increasing, the World Food Programme (WFP) appealed on September 3 for humanitarian access inside Syria to avoid a situation in which hunger becomes an additional factor pushing more people to flee the country. It pointed out that because of the deteriorating security situation, in August 2013, WFP was only able to dispatch food for 2.4 million people – short of its goal of feeding three million people a month.

The agency said it plans to further scale up its operations to reach 4 million during October, 2013 as recent assessments found that agricultural production will further decline over the next 12 months if the present conflict continues.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that it is supporting a major push to ensure that crisis-affected children in Syria could keep learning. Together with the Ministry of Education and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), UNICEF will in September 2013 launch a home-based self-learning programme that will enable over 400,000 children in conflict areas to continue following the national curriculum.

In a briefing to reporters in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said there are some 1.9 million students in grades one to nine that have dropped out of school over the last academic year. Over 3,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and more than 930 are now being used as shelters for the displaced.

UNICEF is also building prefabricated classrooms in governorates that have been significantly damaged and is procuring school bags with stationary supplies for up to a million children in all 14 governorates. In addition, thousands of teaching-learning kits, recreations supplies and early childhood education material are being delivered. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 3, 2013]

Photo: Thousands of Syrians stream across the border into Iraq in search of shelter. Photo: UNHCR/G. Gubaeva

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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