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UN chief stresses collective responsibility to resolve Syria conflict, end nightmare for millions

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014.
UNHCR/I. Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014.

UN chief stresses collective responsibility to resolve Syria conflict, end nightmare for millions

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed the need to bring to an end the conflict in Syria, which has been raging for four years, while United Nations humanitarian agencies urged greater support to help the millions of people caught up in a “nightmare of suffering.”

“The Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart,” Mr. Ban said in a statement. “They and their neighbours continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community, still divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction.”

He recalled that in March 2011, thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform. “This legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities. Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold.”

Today over 220,000 Syrians have been killed, and almost half of the country’s men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes. More than 4 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while a further 7.6 million are displaced within Syria.

Mr. Ban, who will later this month chair a pledging conference for Syria, stressed the need for everyone to work together to achieve a political solution to this “senseless conflict,” alleviate the suffering of those in need and build a better future for the people of Syria and the region.

“We cannot shirk this collective responsibility,” he stressed.

Both the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today appealed for funds to help “pull Syrians out of their nightmare of suffering.” They called the Syrian conflict the “worst humanitarian crisis of our era” and stressed that it “should be galvanizing a global outcry of support, but instead help is dwindling.”

UNICEF says more investment is needed to support the 14 million young adolescents across the region who have been suffering from the escalating conflict sweeping Syria and much of Iraq. The situation of more than 5.6 million children inside Syria remains especially desperate. That includes up to two million children who are living in areas largely cut off from humanitarian assistance due to fighting or other factors. Some 2.6 million Syrian children are still out of school.

“As the crisis enters its fifth year, this generation of young people is still in danger of being lost to a cycle of violence – replicating in the next generation what they suffered in their own,” UNICEF Director-General Anthony Lake said in a statement.

If fully funded, UNICEF’s programmes will aim to meet the needs of children and adolescents in the short term but also equip them with the necessary skills to build a more stable future, including through learning opportunities for children impacted by conflict, and psychosocial care for vulnerable children, including survivors of violence.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR said the most of the over 4 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries see no prospect of returning home in the near future, and have scant opportunity to restart their lives in exile as many of them live in insecure dwellings and in poverty.

“After years in exile, refugees’ savings are long depleted and growing numbers are resorting to begging, survival sex and child labour. Middle-class families with children are barely surviving on the streets: one father said life as a refugee was like being stuck in quicksand – every time you move, you sink down further,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said.

“With humanitarian appeals systematically underfunded, there just isn’t enough aid to meet the colossal needs – nor enough development support to the hosting countries creaking under the strain of so many refugees,” he added.

Faced with growing security concerns and insufficient international support, several of Syria’s neighbours have taken measures in recent months to stem the flow of refugees, from new border management regulations to more onerous and complex requirements to extend their stay. Many risk their lives to make it to Europe, and those who do face rising hostility.

To raise awareness on the dire situation facing Syrians, the UN has launched the #WhatDoesItTake social media campaign to give the public, Member States and the wider international community an opportunity to express their frustrations and urge support.

People can participation by posting a picture of themselves holding up the sign #WhatDoesItTake and then posting the picture to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag. All images will be captured on the campaign website a to create an online photo wall of solidarity.

Among those who have already signed up for the campaign are Mr. Ban and the heads of UN agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).