On 15 March, the world marks six years of conflict in Syria. Six years of death and destruction, of siege and starvation, of hospitals destroyed, schools closed, livelihoods lost, and family members disappeared.
The Syrian government and its allies, as well as armed opposition and militant groups, bear the primary and direct responsibility for the horrific reality that Syria’s civilians face on this grim anniversary. But they are not alone. The international community’s collective failure to help end the conflict is unacceptable. The global community, primarily through the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has passed numerous resolutions aimed at protecting civilians, providing for humanitarian access to hard-to-reach and besieged areas, and calling for a diplomatic solution to end the conflict in Syria. World leaders have spoken out forcefully in the UN and other international fora on these issues. However, without action, their words are empty.
This April, in Brussels, world leaders will meet once again to discuss Syria and possible ways forward out of this quagmire that has enveloped a nation and impacted countries beyond. Discussion will focus on a diplomatic solution to the conflict, while addressing urgent issues of protecting civilians who continue to face attack and besiegement in Syria. Refugees in neighboring countries, some in their sixth year away from home, struggle to provide for themselves and their families with limited access to work. The words spoken in Brussels must be followed with action.
Last year, a conference in London led to a number of compacts, or agreements, between the European Union and neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. These should provide increased economic opportunities for refugees and support for host communities. We understand the hosts of the Brussels Conference, including the EU, Germany, and the UK want to come away with a ‘political declaration.’ However to declare something is one thing, to act upon it is something else. The nearly five million refugees and equal number of internally displaced Syrians have grown tired of resolutions and declarations. Daily, Syrian boys miss school in order to seek work to support their families, while an increasing number of teenage girls enter early marriages, pushed by parents wishing to better protect their daughters during war. Fathers and mothers desperately seek any avenue that will offer a better life for their children. These are the families that CARE encounters in its programs across the region, in Syria, but among the almost five million refugees in neighboring countries, too.
I met Khaled in Jordan. A Syrian teenager seeking only his survival, Khaled had escaped the ravages of war, coming to Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. He was an energetic and optimistic young man. His soccer team had won the camp championship. He was teaching himself English. But caught in a refugee camp and limited by opportunity, he had no access to university, and few chances to earn an income. Khaled was eager for a new life – either at home, in a peaceful Syria, or abroad, as a new citizen in a welcoming country. As I spoke with Khaled I could not help but feel anger that he could not just enjoy “being a teenager” with all it entails- playing sports with friends, going to school, and yes, even getting in trouble as I did my fair share of in my teenage years, all while feeling secure.
There are many Khaleds in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Some 95 percent of Syrian refugees are spread across countries neighboring Syria. All Syrian youths, including Khaled, deserve the chance I had to “be a teenager.”
Dozens of United Nations resolutions are passed and key statements on Syria made by leaders of the international community addressing key issues: the protection of civilians, humanitarian access, a political solution, civic participation, and support for refugees, like Khaled.
However, despite the resolutions and speeches, civilians continue to be killed, areas remain besieged, and the future of refugees, like Khaled, is stalled. A diplomatic solution remains elusive.
For the three million Syrian children born after 2011 who have known only war, we must make words matter. For the single mother seeking refuge for her family, her husband missing, for families living under siege and others without shelter and seeking refuge, we must make these words matter. CARE is calling on the international community to take decisive action, and turn words into action. Six years is too long! We can and must re-commit ourselves to the change Syrians deserve to see.
Civilians, including humanitarian aid workers, must be protected inside Syria, sieges must end to allow for unhindered humanitarian access, Syrian civil society, including women, must play a central role in a diplomatic solution to the crisis, as well as post-conflict governing of Syria. And the international community, particularly developed nations, must do their fair share in terms of supporting refugees, including providing opportunities for resettlement and humanitarian admission.
Until the global community acts, United Nations resolutions will remain only words on paper; their statements, the hollow words of officials.
This month, you can help make words matter by calling your elected representatives ensuring your leaders are representing Syrian interests in Brussels in April, and going forward. Consider supporting refugee resettlement initiatives in your country, foreign assistance for refugees in neighboring countries with the highest number of Syrian refugees, and for protection programs and resilience building inside Syria. Without action, resolutions will remain unenforced, and statements unfulfilled. To the people of Syria they are merely empty words.
Blake Selzer is CARE’s senior advocacy coordinator for the Regional Syria Response.
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