Having sat in the audience so many times, next to Dawn, or next to Pat, it’s very nice to be sitting up here in the front next to Dawn and Pat and to see so many friends in the room. And the ones of you whom I don’t know, I must say you all look very good today. You’re all looking very intelligent. And thanks to the men’s auxiliary of the Women’s Foreign Policy group for being here today. It’s nice to see you here.
So I purposefully did not write a statement to deliver, which is the normal State Department thing to do, especially on prickly issues. Instead I thought I would just talk to you directly in my own words about what’s going on and in part because I think the humanitarian piece of what’s happening in and around Syria is really interesting. And it’s very concerning. And the downside of talking just about the humanitarian piece though is it ’s just a piece. And so the situation is much more complex and there are other aspects of it that I’ll have to leave to others to address.
So I will focus in today to the responsibilities that my bureau, Population, Refugees, and Migration, of the State Department is concerned with, and also touch a little bit on our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development and their humanitarian piece are also focused on.
One of the things that I think it’s important to know, is that the crisis in Syria, related to displaced persons, has been an evolving crisis. People were moving in the beginning in response to violence, in their towns and cities. But they would flee from a city, and wait, and then they would go back home. I think, perhaps others have said this was kind of like ‘whack-a-mole.’ The Syrian military was against this city, and then this city. What has changed is that over the course of the summer, the violence spread and became much more intense and in some ways I think more indiscriminate. So the number of Syrians affected by the crisis inside Syria doubled over the summer. We saw major spike in the number of refugees fleeing to other countries. Then we saw these neighboring countries change the way in which they were responding. The U.S. is indeed helping; we have provided more than $130 million in humanitarian aid. There are factsheets on the websites that can go into all the particular pieces of that. The main recipients of that aid, however, are the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The aid is being channeled through international organizations that were created for these purposes. Inside Syria, this includes International Committee of the Red Cross, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Relief and Works Agency that works in the region with Palestinians, and, the U.S. Agency for International Developments takes the lead in working through the World Food Program.
For refugees, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is in the lead, so they’re really leading the response in the neighboring countries that surround Syria, although other UN agencies, like the World Food Program, UNICEF, UNRWA, are also very much involved.
Another chief point I want to make related to the refugee crisis, is that each of the four neighboring countries has handled the refugee influx differently and they’ve had to juggle different economic and domestic pressures in offering a temporary home to the refugees from Syria. The good news is that they’ve kept their borders open and Syrians have been able to cross borders to escape fighting.
A final theme I will touch on is that these countries were already major refugee-hosting countries. Palestinians live in “five areas” and this included Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. So today we see Palestinians caught in the crossfire and fleeing across borders to a very mixed welcome. Also, Syria and Jordan were serving as major safe havens for refugees from Iraq. So now these people are fleeing for the second time in a relatively short period. And some of them are making the very difficult decision to go back home to Iraq. Others have spread further.
So let’s start by looking inside Syria, and then we’ll look at the neighbors. A year and 1/2 after the onset of fighting, the humanitarian situation in Syria is dire and it’s continuing to worsen. Three million people in Syria have been affected by the crisis, 2.5 million of them are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 1.2 million are displaced, and more than 20,000 civilians have been killed. One of my frustrations is, because I have this marvelous can-do staff of colleagues, they set right to work trying to help the people who have survived this, but I think it’s always first to focus on the reasons they’re fleeing. That you have to focus and take stock of why are people being killed. They’re caught in the crossfire in terms of violence in the streets, they’re being assaulted from the air, from helicopter gunships, and from planes that are dropping bombs. They’re also unable to get the medical help they need or the life-saving pharmaceuticals on which they depend, so this is a very, very dangerous situation and of course, the number of civilians injured in attacks is also rising.
It is hard for relief workers to get to the places where they are needed inside Syria. Everybody is doing everything they can to do that and week by week more people get access, but it is very, very challenging. There are delays or blockages in the delivery of relief materials, because of fighting, because of road closures, because of the threat of kidnappings or actual kidnappings.
The Syrian regime is increasingly targeting doctors and medical facilities, which is one of the grim realities of the situation. Hospitals and clinics have been damaged by the ongoing conflict. Half of the doctors have fled, according to one study, and in part this because they were targeted. And regime forces have also targeted houses used to help evacuate injured Syrians. This is a very, very challenging situation in which to deliver aid.
So, then we look at current U.S. Government support, this $130 million in humanitarian assistance that is both for inside Syria and for the region. Now I’d like to turn what that is actually spent on inside Syria and then we’ll touch on the neighbors. So we believe international humanitarian organizations and NGOs are making a difference.
First off, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is a major actor inside Syria. And early on there were a lot of questions raised about could they work in a humanitarian fashion, meaning helping people on all sides of the battle lines, to the extent there are battle lines. They have worked with the ICRC and we’re finding that they’ve been able to deliver food to more than a million people and more than 1.1 million people were able to get clean water because infrastructures were repaired or clean water has been trucked in. They’re also, the ICRC, is also delivering enough medicines and medical supplies to treat thousands of the wounded and sick. They’re also distributing things people need, not just food parcels, but also household supplies. The World Food Program takes the lead in delivering food to all 14 governorates in Syria. And in September, food rations for more than 1.2 million people were handed out.
Thousands are finding shelter including in schools and other buildings that are the school buildings that UNRWA has set up. And so they also have been providing cash and food assistance to the estimated 225,000 Palestinians in Syria who have been affected by the conflict. And then UNHCR was already in Syria because they were helping the Iraqi refugees. And so they’ve stayed in order to provide, to play a role and to provide help. And they aim to assist half a million people this year.
The UN operation is currently centralized in Damascus but they’re trying to open regional offices, which will expand the area of operations. And then USAID is also working with other partners to get aid in to places where it is needed.
Then, we look at the neighboring countries and we see that over 300,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. First, as a United States government official, I should say that the United States appreciates Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey’s efforts to keep borders open to those fleeing the violence in Syria.
In Turkey, the total number of Syrians helped is over 96,000. I think they’re making plans to host as many as 130,000 in the near future. They have 14 camps to house the Syrian refugees. Plans are underway to open four additional camps. You may hear from time to time that Syrians are waiting at the border to come in to Turkey. It’s not because the borders aren’t open. It’s because they are making them wait until they have a camp ready to receive them. I did go visit the camps – a camp – and also a warehouse. And conditions in the camp are excellent. In fact, they’re way above the standards of most refugee camps anywhere else on earth. This is a blessing – for the refugees themselves. It’s a problem, in that the Turks are now finding that more camps than they started out with, and for a longer period of time than they may have anticipated, is proving to be quite an expensive proposition. I should also mentions there’s tens of thousands of displaced Syrians in Turkey living outside the camps.
Turkey has been clear that it will lead its own relief effort. And that sets it apart from some of the other neighbors. And so it has built these camps and it has furnished these camps and it is funneling aid to the refugees. But after the large numbers crossed the border this summer, it asked for help from the international community, sending a request to NATO, sending a request to other capitals, looking for cash contributions or in-kind donations.
So I’ve already said that our aid is going through international organizations, so in some ways, there’s a mismatch of what Turkey would like to get and the conduit through which we are providing the aid. So we have been able to establish that UNHCR will provide certain services. They have been providing some relief items, such as tents and blankets. They’ve been helping those Syrians who want to go back into Syria. They have a process to make sure they understand the risks before they go that was worked out with the Turkish government and the Turkish Red Crescent. We also support UNHCR in providing other technical assistance, which so far has been in a limited way, but it’s in experts in logistics, distribution of supplies, things like that. We’d like to see an emphasis on registrations so there can be a better understanding of who’s there and how people are traveling. But there’s also support we’ve provided through the International Organization for Migration to provide primary health care, psychosocial support and supplies in the camps through the Turkish Red Crescent.
And in meeting with the Turks, they also said they were getting contributions from very wealthy private individuals in the Middle East and Gulf States area. So I visited September 9th-15th and saw the Boynuyogun camp and I also visited a nearby warehouse. And I was traveling with Nancy Lindborg, who’s my counterpart at USAID.
If we go and take a look at Jordan, they at first did not move to set up camps at all. Until this summer, they were using a system called ‘bailing out’, meaning that refugees who came across, were met in reception centers and relatives or friends could come to the center and for a small sum could vouch for them, get them released and take them into their homes. In some ways, this is a much more normal way to live, than living in a camp. You know, you can work on the local economy, you can live in a normal house, but the large numbers coming across in the summer changed all that. And so the Jordanians opened up the al-Za’atri camp, which is now hosting close to 25,000 Syrians.
Also where the Turkish Red Crescent has really been in the lead in some ways in Turkey, working with the government, I would say in Jordan, the key actors are the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Planning and International Cooperation, also called MOPIC, early in the response. And Jordanian charities are also active.
So there are in addition about 1,500 Palestinian refugees who have fled from Syria to Jordan. And we keep a special eye on those folks. I met some myself when I visited in May, to ensure that they get the help they need.
And moving to Lebanon, again there are no camps in Lebanon. But they’re not a bailing out system either. Instead people head to villages and not every village takes in refugees. But certain villages do. A lot of it is based on ties, cultural ties, religious ties, family ties. And so, many Syrians are staying with host families or in shelters such as abandoned buildings. Some occupied schools over the summer but are no longer able to stay there now that the school year has begun.
There are a lot of concerns about the number of vulnerable people fleeing Syria into Lebanon, and so our Ambassador has been working with the government to enhance cooperation with UNHCR and other actors. You know there’s a very complex governmental structure in Lebanon and that adds a complexity and domestic pressures too.
If we look at Iraq, we have two flows heading in there. More than 38,000 Syrian refugees have fled into Iraq, with Kurdistan now hosting more than 30,000 persons. There are two primary facilities hosting Syrians: Domiz camp in Kurdistan accommodates approximately 14,000 persons, and the Al-Qaim camp in Anbar. The al-Qaim border crossing was closed for about a month between August until September. Again, a reaction to the large numbers coming across. And that has been partially re-opened since September 18. Our diplomats felt that a lot of their intercessions helped to get it re-opened, although the High Commissioner credits Angelina Jolie’s visit, which was just before then, as having made the difference. So right now, access to Kurdistan remains fully open.
There are now altogether nearly 43,000 Iraqi refugees who have also crossed back since mid-July. And many of these are in need of assistance, too. So we have those two streams going, the Syrians fleeing to Iraq and the Iraqis going home to Iraq. And having worked so much on Iraqi refugee issues before, I know how, what a risk they’re taking, some of them, they had very good reasons for fleeing, by going back.
So what are our priorities today?
And I’m sorry I’ve droned on and on. Because these different neighboring countries have a different approach, I just think you can’t just describe it as one picture of refugees.
But some of our priorities are sort of the same across this area. With the approaching change of seasons, the UN is focused on increasing stockpiles in preparation for winter. In the region, winter temperatures can drop to below freezing.
What are winterization measures and supplies? Building of foundations, winterized tents and blankets, plastic sheeting, safe heaters, high energy biscuits, cash in some places, in cities. We are working with partners to help identify ways in which we can help, as well as encourage others in the donor community to contribute.
We think registration through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is essential. I say this a lot and people look like, ‘What, are you a bureaucrat, born and bred, you care so much about it?” But we find that when UNHCR can register, it can identify vulnerable groups. It can have a better handle on what the actual needs are and a better count of who’s there. So this kind of data can be very helpful in linking up goods and services with the people who need it.
We’re look at measures to prevent violence against women and children, and in general, protect children. This is very much so in the forefront of our mind in meeting with NGOs. They have raised this with me several times now. And we’re working with UNHCR to assess the need for resettlement of Syrian refugees out of the region into the United States and other countries. That’s not at the moment a big operation. It may not need to have to become a big operation. One of the things that I’ve been impressed by Syrians, is how much they have tried not to become refugees. How many were displaced as we talked at the beginning but did not leave the country for so long. So my wish is that at some point they’ll be able to return home and not turn into long-time refugees or long-time camp residents or need to find safe haven in our country or other countries. But certainly if there is someone who has special needs, we would be very open to resettling them in the United States.
In terms of international coordination there are monthly Syrian Humanitarian Forum meetings that take place in Geneva. These are different from the Friends of the Syrian People, which is more of the diplomatic/political-type track. It’s us and the Europeans and other major donors coming together and comparing notes. And we’ve been not surprised, but disappointed that appeals put out by the UN have not received more funding. The U.S. leads in the response to these appeals, but it’s a tough year.
We’re finding it’s a very tough year to get contributions to international crises. And part of it is the world’s economic situation. Part of it is traditional donors looking to emerging donors to give more. And emerging donors not really materializing yet. Part of it is so many crises emerging at one time.
We were talking, Dawn and I, that I’ll be going to Africa before the end of the month, going to look at Sudanese who have fled to South Sudan and Somalis who have fled to Kenya, and so these other crises, including the situation in the Sahel, they compete for attention with the Syrian refugee crisis. So the one that gets in the newspapers, the one that grabs the headlines, is the Syrian one. And that gets a lot of attention in Washington, but these other crises also involve real people who have real needs. And so working through this in international architecture we are trying to be as responsive as possible and then bring others along and bring other countries to the table to respond.
I’ll stop there and we’ll take questions.