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Donors pledge assistance to Syrian refugees, Concern chief draws parallel with Cambodia

Domiz Camp in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, is the temporary home to thousands of Kurdish Syrians, most of whom have arrived since September 2012. Photo: Jodi Hilton/IRIN.The Irish Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello T.D, today announced €1.65 million in funding to support thousands of Syrian families forced to flee their homes.

The funding, which is being provided to Irish NGOs, Concern, Goal and Oxfam, brings Ireland’s total support for communities afflicted by the conflict in Syria to almost €10 million. Announcing the funding today, World Refugee Day (June 20), Minister Costello said:

“Again Ireland is showing leadership in response to the worsening crisis in Syria, which has left almost seven million people in urgent need of assistance. This funding will enable Concern, Oxfam and Goal to provide clean water, sanitation, food and blankets to those who have been left homeless by the conflict both within Syria and in neighbouring countries.

“Countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have shown immense generosity in hosting such large numbers of Syrians seeking refuge, but have come under great strain as a result.”

The United Nations this month launched its largest ever appeal in response to the Syrian conflict, requesting $5.2 billion (€3.9 billion).

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has so far received 28% of the $3 billion (€2.3 billion) which it has appealed for.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama announced that the United States would give more than $300 million (€226 million) in humanitarian assistance to Syria, bringing its total contributions to the Syrian people to approximately $815 million ( €613 million). While the US is the biggest donor, it is not the biggest donor relative to the size of its economy or population.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron set out the largest single funding commitment the UK has ever made in response to a humanitarian disaster, as he announced a £175 million (€203 million) emergency package for the Syrian crisis, bringing its total funding to £348 million (€405 million).

Canada and Japan are among the other countries that have announced new aid this week. They announced assistance to Jordan to help it cope with the influx of Syrian refugees.

Resolving the crisis

The Irish Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, T.D., said Ireland is committed to assisting those affected by the conflict, while at the same time strongly supporting international efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.

“I very much welcome US and Russian efforts to convene a peace conference in Geneva in the coming weeks. Clearly the international community must do more to try and reduce the violence and persuade all sides in Syria to commit to peace talks and promoting a democratic transition.

“The efforts to convene the Geneva II conference will hopefully be considerably advanced by this week’s agreement by the G8 in Enniskillen on the urgent need for a political solution.”

Oxfam Ireland Executive Director Jim Clarken called on world leaders to work together and to rapidly deliver the funding that they have now pledged:

“Leaders at this G8 Summit have shown some unity by pledging their commitment to finding a political solution to the Syria crisis and making a strong call for greater humanitarian access to help the Syrian people. But there is still a mountain to climb. The international community must not let this momentum slip, or undermine it - the people of Syria cannot be left to suffer as the world argues over a solution to the conflict.

“It is essential that a timetable for the Geneva peace conference is put in place immediately. Full participation at the peace talks is needed from all sides of the conflict, as well as non-military representatives including the refugee community and women’s groups. The G8 leaders must act quickly to deliver the money they have pledged to help the eight million Syrians in need of aid.”

Concern Worldwide's new CEO Dominic MacSorley also criticised the failure of world leaders to take a more unified position. Ireland's largest humanitarian organisation, Concern marked World Refugee Day by warning of the longer-term humanitarian consequences of political side-taking in Syria.

Drawing on his own experience as a humanitarian worker in some of the worst refugee crises of the last thirty years, new Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley said:

“Since civil war broke out two years ago, 1.6 million Syrians are now refugees in neighbouring countries and a further 4.25 million people are displaced inside the country. As the conflicts rages on, fears grow that it will turn into an old style proxy war.

“I would like to see the G20 summit in Russia take the G8 agreement on Syria and move towards getting greater unity around a UN position. We need a coherent voice to end the suffering of the civilian population affected by this appalling situation.”

Mr MacSorley continued: “I have seen circumstances like this in Cambodia at the end of the 1970s where hundreds of thousands of people crossed over the border into Thailand seeking refuge and in desperate need of assistance. A US-China stand-off saw each back their own preferred factions, contributing to an entire generation of Cambodians being destined to grow up in refugee camps. Children and teenagers came to believe that rice came from the back of an aid truck. I see echoes of the geopolitical dilemmas from that time facing world leaders today.”

Concern’s warning comes as a new UNCHR report for 2012 shows that 45.2 million people around the world were in situations of displacement, more than at any point since 1994. Last year alone, 7.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution. These new numbers point to conflict in Syria as a major new factor in global displacement, a situation that is deteriorating by the day.

“Concern is currently responding to the crisis there,” said Mr MacSorley. “We have set up water, sanitation and hygiene programmes inside Syria and we have also committed our support to a partner who is already operational on the ground. It is in the mandate of Concern Worldwide and other humanitarian organisations to remain neutral in all circumstances. Our focus is to save lives and reduce suffering, so we deliver aid where it is needed most. We will support the people inside Syria and those who have been forced to flee.”

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