Aid groups call for changes in approach to Syria crisis

Humanitarian aid groups on Thursday called for sustained access to areas in Syria, a focus on long-term aid and US leadership in the Syrian refugee crisis.

Representatives of three humanitarian aid groups actively working to deliver aid to Syria spoke at a news conference in Washington to discuss what should happen next to rebuild Syria and assist communities there.

"We are calling for protection of civilians, health care and increasing humanitarian assistance to Syrians and also access to areas under siege - sustained access, not just every few years or months," said Dr Zaher Sahloul, Senior Advisor of the Syrian American Medical Society.

Humanitarian aid groups are calling for long-term access to places where people are suffering the most in Syria in order to bring them health care, food, other resources and long-term aid.

Neal Keny-Guyer, chief executive of Mercy Corps, called for long-term relief and assistance to children, parents and communities in order to help them build strong foundations and ties.

Keny-Guyer also called the agreement to suspend hostilities in Syria, "imperfect," but said it "represents important progress and we should seize every opportunity to make it work on all fronts."

The ceasefire went into effect across large parts of Syria a week ago after major rebel factions, the government and the largest Kurdish militia agreed to adhere to a cessation of hostilities.

The deal was brokered by the United States and Russia and excludes Islamic State, al-Qaeda's affiliate al-Nusra Front and other UN-designated terrorist groups.

Despite the agreement, reports say airstrikes continue in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Fighting and shelling has also been reported in Aleppo and at the border with Turkey.

Humanitarian aid groups also discussed the importance of assisting Syrian's neighbouring countries while they take in and continue to support Syrian refugees.

Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, said Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey were among the countries that need investment to help Syrian refugees.

Lebanon has closed its borders to Syrian refugees, and all current refugees in Lebanon are banned from working in order to keep jobs open for residents. Lebanon and Jordan have felt a strain on their education and health care systems after taking in large numbers of Syrian refugees.

Since taking in refugees, some Turkish towns have seen their populations double. This large population increase has impacted social services, real estate markets, living costs in these cities, he said.

Syrian refugees who do work are often children working illegally for very low wages in poor working conditions.

"Syrian refugees need to be able to work and live without fear of getting arrested," said Offenheiser. "If they are allowed to work, they can be contributing to society. This is something that needs consideration." 

Aid groups also agree that the United States needs to show leadership during the crisis in Syria. They believe the reason in the lack of movement is what they said was a toxic mood Americans have about Syrian refugees.

Offenheiser said the US needs to change the conversation about its role in the situation and its responsibilities to the entire world.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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