By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Yes, that’s how many citizens of various countries, enmeshed in varying degrees and types of armed conflicts, have been displaced thus far – either internally (within their homelands) or forced to seek asylum/refuge in other countries.
(In the Philippines, we’ve had numerous, repeated incidences of internal displacements since the Marcos dictatorship, the latest being the indigenous people refugees in Mindanao.)
With uncertain prospects of these armed conflicts ending anytime soon, the multi-dimensional tragedies that befall the displaced peoples are likely to continue, if not get worse. The swelling number of refugees has practically drained the resources of the United Nations agencies engaged in providing them food, medical care and shelter.
We’ll peek into the various aspects of the international refugee crisis, specifically those pertaining to the unresolved civil war in Syria, complicated by the direct and indirect involvements of the United States and its NATO and Arab-state allies, Russia and Iran.
International attention has been drawn in recent weeks to the situation in Europe, mainly involving Syrians confronted with problems, in many instances forced to deal with human smugglers as they struggle to get to Germany. The German government has offered to accept 800,000 refugees, but certain European states only reluctantly agreed to allow streams of people to enter or pass through their territories.
Positive action on the crisis was spurred by public reaction to two heart-rending photographs, published worldwide in mainstream media and going viral in social media: First, that of 71 refugees found dead of suffocation, crammed inside a sealed truck abandoned in Austria by presumed smugglers; then that of a three-year-old Syrian boy, whose lifeless body was found face down on a beach in Turkey.
Altogether, it’s estimated that 12 million Syrians have been displaced, more than half of the population before the war began in 2011. Over 4 million have fled Syria, mostly finding refuge in the nearby countries of Turkey (1.8 million), Lebanon (1.2 million), Jordan (628,427), Iraq (247,861), and Egypt (133,000).
The human avalanche has overwhelmed these receiving countries, They couldn’t cope with the demands for food, medical care and shelter. Consequently, the conditions in the refugee centers have rapidly deteriorated.
Although the United Nations relief agencies have pitched in, their capacities to respond have likewise been inadequate. Reason: these agencies have become “financially broke,” as bluntly admitted in July by Antonio Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees.
“Despite repeated appeals to member-states, the United Nations has received only $1.67 billion of the $4.6 billion it needs this year for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries,” an editorial of the International New York Times points out adding, “This is unconscionable.”
The following are some of the consequences of the funding shortfall:
• The World Food Program has cut the rations for 1.6 million Syrian refugees. Those in Lebanon now get only $13 a month, and last week the food aid for 200,000 of those in Jordan was totally cut off.
• Funding has run low for emergency medical care (such as treating bullet and shrapnel wounds) and even for treating preventable and other diseases.
• Only 30% of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are in school.
If the UN agencies can’t cope with the situation of the four million Syrian refugees in the four neighboring states, how much more can they minister to the needs of the rest of the 60 million displaced people worldwide?
Currently these refugee agencies receive only a small yearly subsidy from the UN regular budget for administrative costs. Along with other UN humanitarian programs, including Unicef, the agencies are dependent for their operations largely on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments.
Clearly this funding system is failing to measure up to the ever-growing requirements of the global refugee phenomenon. The INYT editorial urges that member-states be assessed for contributions to the UN’s major humanitarian agencies “in the same way they are now called upon to contribute to its regular budget.” Further, it suggests that rich countries – including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain) – immediately hike their donations to the UN.
Ironically, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have offered “zero resettlement places” according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Worse, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have collaborated with the United States in “funding and arming a constellation of rebel factions” fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Thus, they cannot escape responsibility for the refugee crisis along with the US and its NATO allies – and the Bashar al-Assad regime with its own backers, Russia and Iran.
Since 2011, the following countries have spent $16 billion to fuel the war in Syria:
US, $7.7 B; Russia, $3 B; Qatar, $3 B; European Union (Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands), $887 M; Canada, $718 M; Kuwait, $400 M; UAE, $215 M; and Saudi Arabia, $136 M. The US alone has spent at least $1 B yearly, plus $10 M daily on 6,550 air strikes targeted against the Islamic State, 37% of them in Syria. (Figures supplied by Paul Gottinger and C. Robert Gibson)
These funders of the Syria armed conflict should be made to donate to the UN equivalent amounts of what each has spent for the war. And the money must go to the refugees as reparation.
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Published in The Philippine Star
September 12, 2015