As we approach the fifth anniversary of the civil war in Syria, the most urgent humanitarian catastrophe of our time continues. A quarter of a million lives have been lost. The international community must significantly step up its efforts and act now to support the 18 million people in Syria and neighbouring countries who are in desperate need of help.
Today, the United Kingdom will co-host a conference, ‘Supporting Syria and the region 2016’, with Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations. It will take an ambitious new approach to provide longer-term support for refugees: Through concrete action on livelihoods and jobs and improved access to education — giving refugees the skills they need for the future and the best chance of a successful return home.
The London conference will also seek to address the huge humanitarian challenges faced by the people of Syria and raise significant new funding to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected. The UN’s coordinated appeals in 2016 for the Syrian crisis call for $7.7 billion (Dh28.32 billion). The governments of Syria’s neighbours who host refugees need an additional $1.2 billion on top of that.
The United Kingdom has played a leading part in attempts to address the situation in Syria. British Prime Minister David Cameron has consistently focused on providing a comprehensive solution to the refugee crisis, which deals with the root causes as well as responding to the consequences.
That means working with the international community to bring about an end to the brutal conflict. The UK’s comprehensive strategy contains three strands, covering the political, military and humanitarian dimensions.
Politically, the UK is deeply involved in the International Syria Support Group, working towards a political transition to a peaceful future. With the United States and UAE, the UK also co-chairs the Strategic Communications Working Group of the counter-Daesh Coalition.
Militarily, the UK is contributing to the campaign in the region to defeat Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Sixteen of Britain’s fighter jets are striking Daesh positions in Iraq and Syria. There have been more than 500 strikes so far, with no reports of civilian casualties. British aircraft also continue to provide niche and highly advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the Coalition.
And as the second largest bilateral donor after the US, the UK has so far pledged more than £1.1 billion (Dh5.82 billion) to provide support such as food, shelter, medical care and clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict.
The UAE too has been playing crucial roles. Its planes have attacked Daesh positions in Syria and it has been a generous contributor of humanitarian aid: Dh2.2 billion by the end of last year, including the joint UAE-Jordan refugee camp and hospital, as well as funding for polio vaccinations for children in Syria. Its generous donations at the previous international pledging conferences in Kuwait set a strong example.
The generosity shown by neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon has saved many lives and allowed people to stay close to home, avoiding perilous journeys towards Europe.
But we all need to do more. We must act to make a safer Syria now, with an eye on reconstruction for the future. During an address to European Union ambassadors last month, Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister for International Cooperation and Development, rightly called for stronger partnerships and responses to humanitarian crises. That’s what the London Conference is about: Helping the people of Syria and establishing a blueprint for the international community’s response to humanitarian catastrophes.
Syria and its people need more funding, more protection and more opportunities for the future. The international community has a responsibility to help more than four million refugees in neighbouring countries, along with more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. And the Syrian people, and those supporting them, need to know that the international community will support them beyond 2016.
The conference in London will bring together global leaders, NGOs, the private sector and civil society to address some of the most pressing concerns raised by the crisis. It will seek to raise significant new funding to meet both immediate and longer-term needs of those affected by the situation in Syria, and to support neighbouring countries. It will maintain pressure on all parties in the conflict to protect civilians and respect International Humanitarian Law. And it will identify ways to create jobs and provide education to refugees and their children, offering all those who have been forced to flee their homes a greater hope for the future.
This will also help to pave the way for a broader discussion at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May about how the international community can respond more effectively to protracted crises.
This event alone cannot solve Syria’s complex problems. A just and sustainable political solution remains necessary to end the conflict. But, while we do all we can to achieve that, we must help the people of Syria now.
Philip Parham is the British Ambassador to the UAE.