Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Respect for difference needs to be guaranteed in the new Syria
Beirut, Rome, Washington DC, 1 February 2013, 1 February 2013 – With the recent escalation of violence and ongoing shortages of food and other basic commodities, the Jesuit Refugee Service urges the international community to prioritise the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in Syria and neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon. It is absolutely essential that increased emergency support is directed towards organisations on the ground that both provide life sustaining aid to rising numbers of displaced persons and also promote cooperation across the ethnic and religious divide.
Wednesday, at a conference in Kuwait, international donors pledged 1.5 billion US dollars towards meeting humanitarian assistance needs of those affected by the political and military crisis in Syria. While it is excellent news that the total pledged exceeded the expected 1 billion US dollars cost of assistance from January to June, there is no guarantee that this money will arrive in a timely fashion, or in the full amounts pledged.
"Working in some of the most dangerous areas in Syria, we see the reality of daily life, and the extraordinary suffering of ordinary civilians. The failure of the international community to agree on an inclusive solution and its inability to respond to the plight of Syrians has served to deepen the crisis", said JRS Middle East and North Africa Director Nawras Sammour SJ.
"More than four million Syrians are now in need of urgent assistance. In addition, the onset of winter has brought heavy rainfall, flooding and snow, wreaking havoc on emergency relief efforts. Despite the efforts of many organisations and communities, greater support is needed", said Fr Sammour.
Food remains the most urgent need, especially in Syria where more than two and a half million people are displaced and there are acute food shortages. The need for shelter is growing for those who have become homeless due to the conflict’s destruction. Healthcare support is vital, especially for those with chronic or terminal diseases who need medication or treatment. The resources available to patients in hospitals are dwindling, yet the number of patients has overwhelming grown.
Syrians who have lost their documentation are unable to register as refugees in neighbouring countries. There are increasing reports of Syrians being detained and denied access to legal assistance in neighbouring countries. JRS insists that the International Committee of the Red Cross be allowed access to these prisoners.
Contrary to simplified government and media reports, the conflict is not sectarian in nature. In general, Christians have not been directly targeted in this conflict. Like the majority of Syrians, they have been victims of circumstances. If this sectarian perspective is given credence, it lessens the ability of organisations like the Jesuit Refugee Service to truly help those in need, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
However, the longer the conflict drags on and the more influential observers seek solutions within this ethnic-religious prism, the greater the risk of a slide towards tit-for-tat sectarianism. This approach only serves to provide short-term solutions that ultimately will not help the reconstruction of Syria as a multi-religious and pluralistic society. A solution considering all the underlying factors to the conflict, and work towards the best possible outcome for all, must be pursued.
For further information contact
- Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer; tel.: +961 712 73136; email@example.com; www.jrsmeana.org
- Christian Fuchs, JRS USA Communications Director; tel.: +1 202.629.5946; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.jrsusa.org
- James Stapleton, JRS International Communications Coordinator, tel.: +39 346 234 3841
Notes to the editor
JRS Middle East and North Africa has been present in the Middle East since 2008. With projects in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, JRS regionally serves the needs of diverse refugee and asylum seeker communities who come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somali, Iran and Syria.
As the region becomes engulfed by the humanitarian crisis arising from Syria’s conflict, JRS is responding with emergency relief in the form of blankets, mattresses, winter shoes and clothes, food baskets and hot meals, basic medicine, shelter where possible and educational and psychosocial support. Across the region, more than 50,000 families have received support from JRS in 2012. Emergency assistance is being conducted in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, whilst normal projects to existing refugee communities continue in Turkey and Jordan.
JRS works in more than 50 countries around the world. The organisation employs over 1,200 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Its services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.