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US Increases Financial and Regional Efforts to Help Syrian Refugees
Published in AL HAYAT on 31 - 07 - 2012

As the fighting rages in Syria and more civilians look for ways to flee their homes, the international community faces a growing humanitarian challenge in addressing the flow of refugees. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population and Refugees, Kelly Clements, spoke to Al-Hayat about Washington's efforts with organizations on the ground and its increasing cooperation with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to coordinate support programs.
Following is the Q and A:
-What is the magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis today, and how is it being contained regionally?
In total, we have around 125 thousands refugees, out of which 44 thousand have fled Turkey, 39 thousand to Jordan, 33. 5 thousand to Lebanon, and 10 thousand to Iraq. We also have over a million internally displaced Syrian, and another estimated 1.5 million who are in need for some kind of support.
The numbers are constant and steady into Turkey but there has been an uptick recently. Into Jordan, we saw 3000 flee in the last week, and in Lebanon there have been reports of significant temporary increase (people came in and then left) between 18000 and 33000. Of the people in need, three to four thousand have remained in Lebanon, so the over all figure might have climbed to 40 thousand. The numbers we have are of those registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
-Is this the most pressing refugee crisis for the US at the moment?
It is one of them. It is definitely the most pressing in the Middle East and Asia region; however we have other pressing refugee issues in places like Mali, Sudan and in Congo.
-Who decides where the Syrian refugees go and what are the demographics of those leaving?
It is a purely personal decision; some people decide to stay in Syria, while others choose to leave to a neighboring country.
The demographics have varied during this long and getting longer crisis. There were times when we saw more men crossing the border with no families, and then we saw families without men. Now we see big groups that include families with the heads of the household. Normally in these crises, it's 75 percent women and children, and that's not much different in this case.
-What kind of assistance is the US contributing on the ground?
The US government has provided so far 64 million dollars of humanitarian assistance (up from 52 million in June, and 40 million in May) distributed as such: 27.5 million to the World Food Program (WFP); 15.1 million to non-governmental organizations (NGOs); 8.5 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; 8 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); 3 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); 750,000 to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); 500,000 to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and 300,000 to the UN Department of Safety and Security for support of humanitarian operations.
-How do you assess the work of these organizations thus far?
One of the reasons we have been quite fortunate - if I can put it in that way- in this emergency, is because of the extensive network of IGOs and NGOs that exist in the region to address the need for the Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, such as UNRWA and others. There are also a large number of responders inside Syria, as well as humanitarian hubs for support and material across the region.
-Has the Syrian regime been granting access to those who are in need inside Syria?
The biggest challenge in terms of access has been the ongoing violence. The Syrian government produced a response plan to address the humanitarian need back in early June and has actually committed to providing additional support to organizations in terms of their own reach beyond Damascus like Idlib, Aleppo, and Homs etc. They also have been facilitating visas to NGos and IGOs staff to supplement efforts inside. Access however is far from perfect and violence has been a big challenge. Five volunteer aid workers have been killed in line of duty, and the ability of the organizations to continue to work has been severely challenged by the violence.
-What measures are you taking to adjust to the increasing level of violence and flow of refugees?
We have urged other governments to support these organizations, because the funding is far from complete. Even if the access is granted through out the country today, it will still be difficult for organization staffers to deploy. Violence is increasing and so is displacement. In terms of continuing operations inside country, these organizations are extraordinary; they expand and contract very quickly, take advantage of access, and change plans accordingly.
-Is establishing Safe havens or humanitarian corridors on the table? If such concept materializes politically, would it help absorb/protect refugees?
There are inherent challenges to creating buffer zones or humanitarian corridors. The situation on the ground is evolving, and it appears the opposition is increasingly gaining territory. It is difficult at this time to assess how that would affect humanitarian assistance or protection of civilians.
-How is the cooperation with Lebanon?
I just returned from Lebanon, and things there are changing rapidly. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the response of the Lebanese government, and the fact that the borders are open. There aren't camps in Lebanon so the refugees are mostly hosted by families, and there is a common recognition that they need help. All in all, our cooperation with the government (in Beirut) has been excellent. We also appreciate efforts taken by the governments of Jordan and Turkey.
-How do u make sure that the refugee centers don't get armed? Lebanon, for example, has a bitter experience with the Palestinian refugee camps that have armed groups today.
Our role is limited to the humanitarian side, and that's why our cooperation with the host governments is important. Border security is the responsibility of those governments to which those refugees might be fleeing. Obviously, the humanitarian agencies pay great care in terms of protection and making sure that the civilians and the combatants are separated, and that those women, children, and young people are not mixed with military elements. But that's something which falls within the responsibility of the host countries and we look to them to support.
-How is the international support on this issue? Are the divisions at the UN Security Council spilling over to the refugee crisis?
Our international meetings are pretty regular, they happen every few weeks, and are chaired by the UN. The Syrian government is invited as well as UNSC members including Russia and China. On the humanitarian issues, yes they (Russia and China) are helpful, in wanting to insure that civilians are protected, and that violence is kept to a minimum.

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