Aid Groups Describe a Failed Response on Syria As Airstrikes Loom

PHOTO: A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.PlayReuters
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As the U.S. and its allies move towards strikes in Syria, aiming to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State, aid groups say the world has already failed in its response to the Syrian crisis. A new Oxfam report says that the international community has failed on three fronts: insufficient aid, meager resettlement offers for refugees and continued arms and ammunition transfers, fueling the fight.

A Fairer Deal for Syrians details how three years into the conflict, $7.7 billion worth of humanitarian appeals have only been 43.5 percent funded, while extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra undermine efforts to provide cross-border aid approved by the U.N. in July.

The report also posits that the crisis has posed serious risk to the security and stability of neighboring countries, namely the continuing destabilization of Iraq. The major challenge highlighted remains the mobilization of the international community.

"The sheer scale of this crisis demands increased commitments from members of the international community to help alleviate the suffering: to fully fund the aid response, to offer refugees resettlement, and to halt the transfer of arms and ammunition," says Daniel Gorevan, Oxfam's Syria policy lead and the author of the report. Here he shares what the humanitarian community says must be done.

Syria Deeply: What are specific commitments the international community should be taking in Syria?

Daniel Gorevan: Oxfam has developed three key indicators to help guide the level of commitment that each wealthy country should make in order to fairly alleviate the suffering of those affected by the Syria crisis. They are based on three principles: the level of funding each country makes available for the humanitarian response, relative to the size of its economy (based on gross national income); the number of Syrian refugees each country has helped to find safety through offers of resettlement or other forms of humanitarian protection, again based on the size of the economy; and each country’s commitment to taking practical action to end violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by halting transfers of arms and ammunition.

Syria Deeply: What is the current funding gap? What are the consequences of it?

Gorevan: The U.N. has launched its largest ever humanitarian appeal for Syria. The Oxfam analysis looked at the U.N. appeals, which, well over halfway through the year, are only 43.5 percent funded. This is a massive shortfall.

Not to mention that this is taking into account that the U.N. cut back its requests for funds from the international community midway through its cycle.

Other agencies like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have their own appeals, as do the governments of Jordan and Lebanon.

An aggregate of all of these appeals puts the total need at $7.7 billion.

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At a basic level, due to insufficient funds, humanitarian agencies have had to cut their aid programs, and towards the end of last year had to target assistance to those most in need. Oxfam has had to cut down a cash transfer program in Jordan because we weren’t able to secure funds for it. In October 2013 the World Food Program (WFP) in Lebanon had to cut 30 percent of beneficiaries from its food aid program.

The situation caused by the lack of funding is very worrying. Especially considering that refugees from Syria often brought their savings with them when they fled and these resources are increasingly being depleted.

"This combination of diminished savings and reduced assistance means that refugees will increasingly be forced to resort to risky, negative coping mechanisms, including child labor, survival sex, early marriage, skipping meals and begging," according to the Oxfam report.

Syria Deeply: How do aid pledges vary per country? How do you calculate their fair share?

Gorevan: Oxfam has calculated what would be a fair share, based on the size of the economy of each country, of level of funding for humanitarian response from each country.

The analysis includes members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and high-income non-DAC countries.

Oxfam’s fair share analysis demonstrates that, out of 26 DAC donors, only 11 have met over 50 percent of their fair share of funding for Syria so far in 2014. And some countries, such as Italy, Japan and France, have provided less than 35 percent of their fair share.

Based on the fair analysis scale, the U.S. is biggest donor in absolute terms in relation to the size of its economy, but the U.S is currently only providing 60 of its share.

There are a handful of countries that have been very generous in their donations.The U.K., Luxembourg, Norway and Denmark, along with Gulf donors such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and others have each provided 30 percent more than their fair share of funding for the humanitarian response.

Governments must provide humanitarian funding commensurate with the scale of need. We need to see them commit more money and turn their commitments towards aid on the ground.

Syria Deeply: The second indicator in your report looks at the number of Syrian refugees each country has helped to find safety through offers of resettlement or other forms of humanitarian protection, again based on the size of the economy. The U.N. predicts that there will be 3.59 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. How does this number relate to the number of refugees individual countries are resettling?

Gorevan: There are a lot of countries that haven’t committed to resettlement to any significant number of the refugees in neighboring countries. According to Oxfam’s research, rich and developed countries have pledged to host 1 percent of the total number of Syrian refugees registered in neighboring countries – only one-fifth of the 5 percent recommended by Oxfam.

Rich and developed countries, particularly those who have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and are committed to its principles, should do more to offer third-state international protection to refugees.The scale of the refugee crisis is posing serious risks to the stability of neighboring countries. This is particularly so in Lebanon. Lebanon is hosting 38 percent of those fleeing Syria, over 1.1 million refugees.

We are calling for five percent of the projected refugee population to be resettled or offered humanitarian admission to rich countries by the end of 2015. That would total about 180,000 refugees by next year. This number won’t solve the strain put on the resources and infrastructure of neighboring countries, but it will help the 180,00 vulnerable people who are struggling to survive with limited livelihood options.

The reason we are calling for 5%, and breaking it down by size of the countries' economies, is we see how much relative to each other could afford and should take over the next few years.

Syria Deeply: What are some of the challenges to mobilizing the international community to respond effectively and fairly? What are some of the risks to non-compliance?

Gorevan: There will be very little scope for Western countries to encourage Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to abide by their international obligations to allow people to flee conflict, if they are not willing to take what is actually a relatively small number of refugees, even if it is just temporarily. Similarly, we will be challenged if we can’t fund the aid response, while expecting neighboring countries to cope with the stresses on their resources and infrastructures. The real worry is that the Syrian crisis has slipped underneath the agenda of world crisis, and that the world’s attention is on crisis in Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere.

Long held predictions of the conflict destabilizing the region are coming true. The Syria conflict is also now intimately linked to the crisis unfolding in Iraq, but it’s not only Iraq. Just over the weekend we saw increasing anti-refugee rhetoric and sectarian tensions in Lebanon.