The Elders

Guest blog
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Syria: papering over the cracks

“Ultimately there can be no humanitarian solution to a political problem.”

World Refugee Day 2013: with more than 1.5 million people driven out of Syria by the conflict, Jehangir Malik, UK Director of Islamic Relief, urges governments to step up the relief effort and – most importantly – to renew diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

It is fitting that in Refugee Week the Syrian conflict topped the agenda at the G8 Summit. It is also very welcome that the G8 leaders committed $1.5 billion in new funding for the humanitarian response, including £175 million from the UK.

It is profoundly disappointing, however, to see the lack of progress on peace talks to end the crisis. Ultimately there can be no humanitarian solution to a political problem, and it is vital not to allow mounting humanitarian challenges or the fierce debate about arming the rebels to deflect our leaders from working tirelessly to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

So far this conflict has cost nearly 100,000 lives, driven over 1.5 million people out of Syria as refugees and left more than seven million people in need of emergency aid. Behind each statistic is a story of suffering or human tragedy, as I saw for myself on a recent visit to Jordan and Lebanon.

Islamic relief helping Syrian refugees in Jordan

Islamic Relief is providing food vouchers to over 80,000 Syrian refugees in northern Jordan. Its local field coordinator Robeen Ahmed helps refugees with their queries and concerns as they gather to collect their vouchers.

The camps are full to overflowing, and host communities are stretched to breaking point. Because funding is limited, aid agencies are having to prioritise the most vulnerable and leave some to fend for themselves. It’s a situation no refugee should have to face, and a choice no aid worker should have to make.

One family of seven I met were living in an abandoned leather tanning factory because it was the only shelter they could find. The conditions were degrading and the smell was overpowering.

Another family were struggling to care for two young children with thalassaemia, without the regular blood transfusions and medicine they ultimately need to survive. The yellowing face of little Mustafa will live long in my memory – tired and frail because he was lacking specialist treatment.

Islamic Relief has provided assistance to 1.1 million people since this crisis began – 800,000 inside Syria and the rest in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. We are getting aid through, often to places that others cannot reach, but there are places where we are papering over the cracks in a huge wall of human need – and others that we cannot reach at all because of the fighting.

A lasting peace may take a long time. We need more countries to do as the UK has done, and pledge long-term support for the relief operation that goes beyond the UN’s six-month appeal cycle. We also agree with the Government that “unfettered access for UN bodies and NGOs remains an absolute priority”.

It is particularly important to support agencies like Islamic Relief that are operating across borders to get aid to hard-to-reach areas, and to work hard to negotiate ‘humanitarian corridors’ – specified distribution routes where aid can be delivered under limited ceasefires guaranteed by all sides.

Two years ago 260,000 people died needlessly in a famine in Somalia as arguments raged over access and food aid was stockpiled in Mogadishu. Islamic Relief had access then to some of the worst affected areas and we have it now in Syria. What we need is more resources and access to reach millions displaced inside Syria, but above all renewed diplomatic efforts to ease this ferocious conflict and bring it to an end.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

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