Moment of Truth: Call to action ahead of Syria peace talks, and beyond

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The horrifying chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 led to ill-advised plans for a US military intervention and a flurry of diplomatic activity. Ultimately it prompted international leadership on the Syria crisis that had been sorely lacking for so long. With long-awaited peace talks due to resume in Geneva in November, this new momentum has the potential to turn into a breakthrough only if urgent and immediate action is taken on aid and efforts are made to stop the bloodshed. This paper details Oxfam
  OXFAM BRIEFING NOTE 22 OCTOBER 2013  Limar is the first child of Syrian refugees Liqaa and Bassel. Her first home has been the Zaatari camp in Jordan. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam Intermón  MOMENT OF TRUTH Call to action ahead of Syria peace talks, and beyond The horrifying chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 led to ill-advised plans for a US military intervention and a flurry of diplomatic activity. Ultimately it prompted international leadership on the Syria crisis that has been sorely lacking for so long. With long-awaited peace talks due to resume in Geneva this November, this new momentum has the potential to turn into a breakthrough only if urgent and immediate action is taken on aid and efforts are made to stop the bloodshed. Governments must provide aid that is commensurate with the scale of the crisis. They must put concerted pressure on the Government of Syria, opposition groups, and neighbouring countries to ensure that those in need can access assistance. And they must back up their calls for a political solution to the crisis by insisting on an immediate cessation of hostilities and agreeing to halt the supply of arms and ammunition to all sides.  2 INTRODUCTION   The world was rightly appalled by the use of chemical weapons in Damascus on 21 August 2013. If the recent diplomatic initiatives by the USA and Russia mean that these weapons are never again used, it would be a great achievement . But it won‟t be enough . The reality on the ground in Syria is that the crisis remains out of control. It has already caused more than 100,000 deaths, most from shelling, gunfire and other conventional weapons, and forced more than 7 million people to flee their homes, including 2 million who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  According to recent reports, civilian deaths may account for 36 per cent of the fatalities, 2  with children accounting for 7 per cent. 3  Three in five Syrian workers are now unemployed. Conflict has affected 60 per cent of all hospitals, with nearly 40 per cent completely out of service. 4  There is continued disregard for civilian life, particularly with the increased use of explosive weapons in towns and cities. 5  There are reports of men of fighting age being singled out during massacres and for extrajudicial execution. 6  Women are increasingly at risk of sexual violence; many cite this as a primary reason for fleeing the country. 7  The violence, displacement, and related economic and social upheaval have profoundly impacted the traditional roles of Syrian men and women, creating new tensions and stresses for refugees. 8   In Oxfam‟s long exper  ience, this brutality creates its own logic of escalation. During the past year, the conflict has also spread to neighbouring countries. In recent months there have been bombings and cross-border clashes in Turkey; intervention by the Lebanon-based armed group/political party Hezbollah; bombings, shelling, and rocket attacks inside Lebanon; links between opposition armed groups inside Syria and those in Iraq; deployment of Iranian troops to fight alongside government forces; and air strikes by Israel. 9  With the conflict continuing to intensify on the ground, fuelled by supplies of arms and ammunition from abroad, 10   there remains the real „ possibility of violence consuming the region ‟. 11  Undoubtedly, making progress towards a solution to a crisis of this scale will not be an easy task. After years of division, however, recent weeks have shown that the international community can unite to take effective action. It now has the opportunity to build on this progress to change the situation for Syrian women, men and children by prioritising an aid response to alleviate the humanitarian situation and by backing up calls for a political resolution of the crisis by creating conditions for its success. These two priorities could be mutually reinforcing, and must guide the actions of the international community in the crucial weeks and months ahead  –  in the run up to the Geneva talks due to resume in November, and beyond. They must be pursued with the same urgency as the response to the use of chemical weapons. Oxfam, as a humanitarian agency, seeks to ensure that those affected by crisis can access life-saving assistance and be free from violence. It also calls for an end to the policies that fan the flames of conflict and drive humanitarian crises. This paper details Oxfam‟s calls for action from the international community on, first, aid, and then on the fundamental imperative to stop the bloodshed and take steps towards a just, sustainable peace in Syria. ‘T  he most important thing for us to ask for is for the outside world to help end the fighting in Syria, for the conflict to end. For the world to see our situation and feel our suffering with us; to support us .’    Najah, 38, mother of seven, Mafraq, Jordan ‘  We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide .’     António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 16 July 2013 1     3 HALF MEASURES ON AID  A crisis on the scale being witnessed in Syria requires a massive humanitarian response. The UN has launched its largest ever humanitarian appeal, for $5bn. By the end of March 2014, Oxfam aims to reach 650,000 people affected by the crisis, both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries where refugees have fled. The response to the crisis is the organisation‟s top priority. 12   Governments and the public have, in many cases, given generously, but it is not enough to meet the massive needs. In fact, the UN‟s appeal s are only 51 per cent funded at the time of writing.  According to Oxfam‟s  latest „ fair share ‟  analysis 13  for key donors to the UN appeals, in September, some countries had already given over and above what they could have been expected to; these include Denmark, Kuwait, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, more than half of the members of the OECD‟ s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and Gulf countries analysed in September 2013 had reported giving less than 50 per cent of what would be expected, including a number of G20 and regional governments such as Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The announcement of a donor pledging conference in January 2014 is welcome news. As well as increasing their funding commitments, donors must show greater flexibility and impose minimal bureaucratic restrictions on aid agencies, given the complexity of humanitarian operations inside Syria. Funding should be given through a variety of channels including UN, governments, international NGOs and local organisations to ensure that assistance reaches as many people as possible. Donors must also ensure that aid is delivered in a co-ordinated and transparent way to reach those most in need. This means sharing information on where and to whom funding is given, to avoid duplication of effort, and ensure that assistance does not create localised conflict either within camps or between refugees and host communities. Humanitarian access and an impartial response Recent months have seen the increased use of siege warfare and other tactics which have made it extremely difficult for people to access water, food, medical and other supplies. 14  In an entrenched, politicised and bitter conflict such as this, a well-funded and co-ordinated humanitarian response is only part of the issue. In addition, those in need must be able to access aid, as the recent UN Security Council Presidential Statement highlights. 15  Therefore, it is critical that the Syrian Government and opposition groups 16  immediately halt tactics of warfare that deny civilians their right to assistance; they should remove bureaucratic obstacles, ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, and allow unhindered access for humanitarian organisations and aid to all areas of Syria where people are in need of assistance. They must also allow civilians to flee areas of active conflict. All states must exert whatever influence they have over the warring parties to these ends. ‘Assistance isn’t reaching the people who really need it back in Syria. There are  people there who can’t get out  …  No one is helping them. ’     Amany Mohammad, aged 27, refugee in Lebanon, May 2013  4 Support to neighbouring countries, and the right to seek asylum The countries bordering Syria have shown extraordinary generosity in hosting those who have fled the conflict  –  now numbering more than 2 million people. 17  Turkey alone has spent approximately $2bn on its refugee response. In recent months, however, there have been increasing reports of restrictions on the movement of refugees across borders, particularly in Jordan, Iraq (with the exception of flows into Kurdish areas in August 2013) and Turkey, as the governments of these countries become more concerned about security and the economic and social impact of hosting so many refugees. 18  Oxfam is calling on international donors to support host countries with funds, both for the immediate humanitarian response and in the longer term. But crucially, neighbouring countries must keep their borders open for those fleeing the violence in Syria, and ensure that the rights of refugees under international law are respected. Governments beyond the region must also significantly increase the number of refugees they are willing to host or resettle to ease the pressure on Syria‟s neighbouring countries. 19   A different scale of aid effort needed Humanitarian aid can only go so far in meeting the enormous needs created by the crisis, as Oxfam, along with other agencies and the UN, 20  has consistently highlighted. The crisis in Syria is now the dominant political, security and economic issue facing neighbouring countries (see Box 1: The cost of war), and there must be a review of international donor policies to take account of this new reality. At a minimum, this must include a review of policies which risk exacerbating economic instability or undermining social cohesion in light of the refugee crisis. For example, UNHCR in Jordan has found that „ economic reforms encouraged by the international financial institutions, such as the withdrawal of electricity and fuel subsidies, have made life even more difficult for the people of Jordan and have helped to fuel resentment towards the presence of refugees‟. 21   Box 1: The cost of war  Although the total cost of the conflict in Syria is almost impossible to measure with accuracy given the continuing fighting and scale of destruction, it is clear the crisis has had a devastating economic impact. Nearly one in five Syrians is now food insecure (4 million people). Syria‟s 2013 wheat crop is estimated at 40 per cent below that of 2010  – 2011. Food and fuel price inflation means that the prices of staple commodities such as wheat flour, bread and sugar have risen by over 100 per cent compared with pre-crisis levels in some parts of the country, including the major cities of Aleppo and Damascus. 22 The price of diesel rose 200 per cent in January 2013 after the Government ended subsidies. 23  The crisis has also created enormous challenges for neighbouring countries. Lebanon is hosting close to 1 million refugees  –  equivalent to nearly one-quarter of its own population (4.2 million). 24  While refugees have the potential to contribute to the Lebanese economy, the crisis in Syria may have cost the country $7.5bn by the end of 2014. 25  In Jordan,   officials have estimated that the country needs a $6bn investment in infrastructure as it struggles to cope with an 11 per cent increase in its population owing to the influx of Syrian refugees. 26  
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