Thursday, January 24, 2013
More than 60,000 innocent civilians have been slaughtered in President Bashar al-Assad’s desperate bid to retain power in Syria. In the two-year reign of terror, he has also forced staggering numbers of Syrians to relocate within the country or flee across the border, creating a disaster that is threatening to destabilize the region. The international community has an obligation to do more to ease the suffering.
Some 650,000 Syrians are nowregistered as refugees by the United Nations or awaiting registration, an increase of almost 100,000 in the past month alone. That includes about 155,000 in Turkey, 148,000 in Lebanon, 142,000 in Jordan, 73,000 in Iraq and 14,000 in Egypt. Thousands more are not registered. The total could reach one million this year. Many Syrians have fled because of bombings by army troops, still others because of sexual violence. According to theInternational Rescue Committee, refugees identified rape — including gang rapes in front of family members — as a “primary reason” for fleeing.
Women and children still face sexual and other violence in the camps, and a lack of medical care and counseling to help them recover. Neighboring countries have opened borders and set up camps, clinics and schools. But the need is bigger than any host government can handle. The situation has been made worse by a harsh winter.
Complicating matters, the vast majority of refugees have settled not in camps but in towns and cities. A few have been taken in by families but most live in “wretched conditions,” packed in small rented rooms and dilapidated apartments, says the I.R.C. Most international aid goes to the camps.
The main task facing the international community is to assist the countries that have welcomed the refugees and now confront political and economic pressures as a result. It is in no one’s interest to see these countries destabilized by this humanitarian emergency. The United Nations’ refugee agency has requested $1 billion from the international community to meet the needs of refugees and $500 million more to aid Syrians inside the country. Pledges have been slow.
The United States and the 27-member European Union have been the two top donors so far, with Washington giving $210 million and the E.U. giving $477 million. The laggards have been the wealthy Persian Gulf states, which have a direct interest in regional stability but whose scattershot contributions totaling $155 million have sometimes bypassed the United Nations and other agencies seeking to coordinate the response. More is also required of Russia and China, which have enabled Mr. Assad in his brutal war but done little to help his victims.
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