Syrian Humanitarian Crisis Response Cannot Be Met by United States Alone, Other Nations Must Step Up, Says Ros-Lehtinen

Oct 27, 2015

Syrian Humanitarian Crisis Response Cannot Be Met by United States Alone, Other Nations Must Step Up, Says Ros-Lehtinen

“There can never be a solution to the refugee crisis until the underlying root causes are addressed, and that means finding an end to the fighting, an end to the terror, and the removal of Assad”

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement today at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Examining the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis from the Ground (Part II).” Statement by Ros-Lehtinen (as prepared for delivery):

“We’re in the fifth year of the Syrian humanitarian crisis. The United States has contributed over $4.5 billion in both direct assistance and through three UN crisis appeals, with nearly 75% going through the latter. Yet there still seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, with over 250,000 killed, 12.2 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance, nearly 8 million internally displaced persons inside Syria and another 4 million or so having fled already. Russia’s recent intervention is causing serious security concerns for not only the Syrian people, but the NGOs and aid workers on the ground trying to bring assistance to those in desperate need. The frontlines are shifting and the battle lines are fluid, causing uncertainty and making it increasingly dangerous to deliver aid to certain areas and making it increasingly dangerous for Syrians who remain in Syria. The situation has gotten so bad, we’re now seeing Europe struggle to deal with its greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War II, as many fleeing the Syrian conflict are trying to make their way into Europe.

But while the European crisis may be grabbing the headlines at the moment, let’s remember that this crisis was not created yesterday. For years, the Syrian refugee crisis has impacted countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt and yet many in the international community ignored their pleas for assistance. These countries are more vulnerable because they have less capacity and less resources to deal with the crisis. Let’s take Jordan for example: About 630,000 Syrians have been registered by UNHCR plus hundreds of thousands more that have already assimilated in Jordan – all of which plays a significant burden on the Kingdom to provide basic services to over a million new influx of people.

But with more and more refugees seeking to reach Europe from Syria and its neighbors, there will of course be those seeking to take advantage. We’re now seeing smuggling networks pop up in Turkey, Lebanon, Libya and elsewhere, turning trafficking in Syrian refugees into a billion-dollar industry, and also creating security concerns as we have no way of knowing who is being smuggled into Europe and elsewhere. And with President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will take in 10,000 Syrians, this also raises concerns for many in the U.S., especially in light of FBI Director’s testimony to Congress last week that the U.S. may not be able to properly vet all those seeking to come to the U.S. As a legislative body, this is something that we must take seriously. If we cannot guarantee the proper vetting of these refugees, it would be irresponsible for us to promote it. We must protect our country first and ensure that all security measures are in place to properly screen these individuals before they come into the U.S. We cannot compromise the wellbeing of the American people or our national security.

Unfortunately, it has taken Europe’s worst migration crisis to awaken the Europeans now that the Syrian conflict is knocking on their borders. The United States has been the largest single contributor to the Syrian humanitarian crisis response – dwarfing the contributions made by any other nation and by the European nations as a whole. There’s no way to tell how things may have turned out differently if other nations stepped up to the call like the U.S. did. Earlier this month, Committee staffers traveled to Geneva to meet with many of the organizations that receive our assistance for the Syria humanitarian crisis and from their trip, one thing was clear:  the response to the crisis has been dreadfully underfunded, with a nearly two-thirds funding gap. Of course the problems we need to address are many, and they are difficult. And it’s true that there can never be a solution to the refugee crisis until the underlying root causes are addressed, and that means finding an end to the fighting, an end to the terror, and the removal of Assad.

But we need to be less reactive and start being more proactive. We need to start thinking of ways to not just address the refugees’ most immediate needs, but the needs that they face in the years to come. And we can’t do it alone – we need to press our European friends and our partners in the Middle East and Asia to step up to do more. We need to do a lot more to ensure that the needs of the host communities in Syria’s neighbors are being met as well, because this has taken a very big toll on their resources and is leading to increased tension between the communities.

There is a pervasive feeling of hopelessness and despair and that will have a long-term impact on the region and beyond. Syrians for the most part want to eventually return home – according to some NGO implementing partners on the ground that have conducted surveys on this, some 90% of Syrian refugees reportedly state they have a desire to return home. But that desire may fade if the international community doesn’t step up and do more to ensure that there is a safe home for them to return to and demonstrate that we are working toward a better future for those who have been impacted by the Syrian conflict.”