For regional stability, help Syria's internally displaced
More than 5.75 million Syrians have been displaced in the two-year civil war. Some have fled to neighbor countries as refugees, but 4.25 million remain in Syria. Increased aid for these internally displaced is essential to managing the refugee crisis and maintaining regional stability.
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Of course, seeking refuge abroad must remain an option for all Syrians who need it. Increased international assistance within Syria is no substitute for asylum, and cannot compensate for the lack of physical security for those living within the country. At most, humanitarian aid for the internally displaced may modestly ease the demand for refuge across borders.Skip to next paragraph
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As Jordan’s refugee camps become hotbeds of discontent and a last, worst resort for desperate Syrians, increased support for the internally displaced may give over-stretched host communities and neighboring governments alike some more room to maneuver.
Undoubtedly, increasing assistance to the internally displaced is easier said than done. The Syrian government has imposed crippling restrictions on the movement of humanitarian actors. And the delivery of aid, particularly across borders, remains incredibly risky, as medical workers and other humanitarian actors have been subject to attacks. But with increased support, the courageous humanitarian groups working in Syria could do more for those in need within the country.
The UN reports that its last humanitarian response plan for assistance inside Syria, covering the period of January-June 2013, was only 66 percent funded. Earlier this month, the UN’s top humanitarian officials launched the next phase of its assistance program for Syria. In addition to more robust assistance for refugee-hosting communities, strengthened support for internally displaced persons should be a central plank of the implementation of this plan. And this UN plan should be fully and promptly funded.
Unfortunately, the UN will likely continue to face massive obstacles accessing rebel held areas. These obstacles include persistent insecurity and almost impenetrable red tape imposed by the Assad regime to restrict the movement of aid convoys, particularly to rebel-held areas the government wants to starve of support. Increased support is therefore needed for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society and for the nongovernmental organizations and emerging diaspora groups that are providing vital assistance to those in rebel-held territories starved of help by the government.
Given the restrictions “traditional” humanitarian actors face in Syria, ways to support the innovative efforts of Syrians inside the country and in the diaspora must be identified. Ultimately, an improved response to Syria’s 4.25 million internally displaced persons requires not only money, but better access for humanitarian actors, and increased security for the displaced and their neighbors.
Only a political solution to the conflict can defuse Syria’s displacement crisis. Yet these steps would improve conditions for those who have fled their homes but cannot or prefer not to flee their country. At the same time they would relieve some of the pressure on refugee-hosting countries whose tremendous hospitality is coming closer to the breaking point with the arrival of every family that has no choice but to leave Syria.
Megan Bradley is a fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.