CAFOD response to G8 statement on Syria
CAFOD welcomes the generosity and timeliness of the UK government’s commitment to more than double its current humanitarian aid to Syria. £348 million is the largest total sum the UK has ever committed in response to a single humanitarian crisis.
Mike Noyes, CAFOD’s Head of Humanitarian Programmes, said: “The Syria crisis is now the largest international humanitarian aid response of the 21st century. Beyond the immediate needs, one third of all homes in Syria have now been damaged or destroyed, many Syrians can no longer earn a living, and the country’s health and education systems have collapsed.
“By the end of this year, half of Syria’s population is expected to need humanitarian aid. And in neighbouring Lebanon one in five people is a Syrian refugee. The country is currently hosting more than one million Syrians who are living in makeshift community shelters, in the shells of half-built houses, or in squalid camps. The UK government’s response to the crisis is impressive and urgently needed.”
Local Syrian aid organisations are struggling to respond, and need support from the wider international humanitarian community. However, this support must not be a ‘cloak’ for sending arms to any parties to the conflict.
The provision of any form of military support could push Syria and the wider region into an even more bloody escalation of the conflict, with mounting casualties, increasing humanitarian needs and the continued influx of refugees to neighbouring countries.
“There are no easy solutions to the catastrophic situation in Syria,” said Mike Noyes. “None of the local aid workers we work with on the ground in Syria or in neighbouring countries think supplying weapons to either government or opposition forces will make the situation any better. In fact, it could be disastrous, fuelling the conflict and creating an arms race that would put Syrian civilians in even greater danger.”
The influx of Syrian refugees into neighbouring countries continues at an alarming rate: on average, 8,000 people are fleeing across the borders every day. Fr. Simon Faddoul, President of Caritas Lebanon, describes the humanitarian situation in Lebanon as “desperate”: according to the Lebanese government, more than one million Syrians have sought safety in the tiny country. The regional overspill is threatening the stability of neighbouring countries and creating economic, political and sectarian tensions.
Mike Noyes said: “The burden that neighbouring countries are shouldering is heavy and should not be borne alone – their resources are stretched to the limit, risking a spread of instability even further. We hope the UK’s new funding will also support initiatives that would help relieve the strain on the communities hosting those who have fled Syria.”
Meeting in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, the G8 leaders’ Lough Erne Declaration affirmed their continued commitment to achieving a political solution to the crisis. CAFOD believes that the Geneva peace talks need to be held without the threat of new weapons to escalate the conflict if they fail.
The economic cost of the conflict has reached $48 billion, which is over 80 per cent of Syria’s GDP. The costs of reconstruction are likely to be huge, and will need a coordinated international effort, along the lines of the post-World War 2 Marshall Plan. It is crucial that the international community starts to plan for this now as well as pushing for a ceasefire to be brokered and a peace agreement to be put in place.
The promised Geneva peace conference offers a small but important glimmer of hope. But CAFOD warns that no peace process can achieve true progress unless all sections of Syrian society are represented.
Mike Noyes said: “Hope for a meaningful peace process is the only way to bring an end to the suffering. What will be crucial is ensuring that all members of Syrian society are represented around the table, including refugee communities, women’s groups and independent civil society voices.”