NGOs call for peaceful Syria intervention

Protesters in Austin, Tx.
Protesters in Austin, Tx.
Elizabeth Brossa

US Senator John McCain is an unlikely ally for President Obama’s sales pitch to launch a military intervention in Syria. Congress has some time to decide what it will do before it reconvenes, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working in and around Syria are pushing for the US to do more, just not with its military.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a strong statement on Sunday condemning the spectre of US attacks in Syria calling such an intervention “largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.”

It will be impossible to reach an international consensus, even if there is definitive evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, says ICG. Much of that is due to the 2003 campaign to invade Iraq based on reported weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be false. More importantly, the group raises concerns that strikes will raise the level of violence and not prove to be an adequate deterrent to chemical weapon use.

“The Syrians we meet are crying out for peace,” agrees Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser. “Ultimately, there must be a political solution to the crisis. Military intervention should be an option of last resort.”

The number of refugees is now more than 2 million people, said the UN today. There will be a total of 3.5 million refugees by the year’s end, expects the UN. One million of the current refugees are children, estimates Save the Children.  The organization’s CEO Carolyn Miles also urged immediate action in and around Syria.

“This is not a crisis we can sit out; it is not going away. The refugee disaster the war in Syria has created is getting far worse, far faster than the world can cope with. It is now critically important world leaders secure humanitarian access across Syria,” she said.

An estimated 7,000 children have died during the three year conflict and two million are counted among the internally displaced. NGOs have ramped up their rhetoric as of late in regards to the burden on children in an attempt to make an appeal that hits at the heartstrings of leaders and Americas. World Vision, Save the Children and Oxfam are only a few of the more vocal NGOs.

“The international community has failed the children of Syria,” says an official statement from World Vision. “As the atrocities continue, we need leaders at the G20 and beyond to show they are prepared to push for peaceful and humanitarian responses, as a matter of urgency. World leaders need to come together to negotiate an immediate cease-fire.”

Zaatari refugee camp
Zaatari refugee camp – Jordan.
Oxfam

Then there are the 7 million people living in Syria who need humanitarian assistance. The international aid community has called for a range of support from Western governments to varying levels of success. Only 43% of the $1.4 billion requested for humanitarian assistance in Syria has been provided, says the latest update from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Increasing violence inside Syria is making it harder for humanitarian groups to gain access, says the report.

Neighboring countries are pitching in to help with the refugees, but they are feeling the burden as Syrians stream across the borders. Ministers from countries taking on the majority of Syrian refugees, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, will partake in meetings in Geneva tomorrow regarding raising funds for the refugee response.

“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history,” said UN refugees agency head Antonia Gutterres. “The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighboring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.”

ICG says that a resolution can be achieved diplomatically but it will require putting forth a compromise and reaching out to both Russia and Iran that will meet their interests as well as that of Syria and the US. For example, the US can make it clear that a leadership change is needed in Syria while remaining flexible in terms of the timeline. That includes not providing military support to the rebels, says Oxfam’s Offenheiser.

“In the absence of political solutions, such support seriously risks further fueling violence and human rights abuses in Syria and sparking an arms race with deadly consequences for people in the region,” he says

Ending the civil war in Syria must be done through diplomatic means to ensure that there is a swift resolution that is supported by the international community, concludes ICG.

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About Author

Aid/Development Beat Reporter Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom found and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.