Nearly three years into the civil war that rages through Syria, millions of people continue to suffer both inside and outside the war-torn country.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR’s Turkey Representative Carol Batchelor has called on nations to open their borders and ease visa requirements to accommodate Syrian shelter-seekers, warning of a lost generation should they fail.
Refugee protection is an international responsibility, Batchelor told AA, describing plans to help regional host countries and ask for funds globally.
The number of Syrian refugees has exceeded 2.2 million, half of them children, as fighting in the war-torn Middle Eastern country approaches the third year mark.
“We are appealing to all states in the world, instead of looking at how to protect their borders, they should be looking at how to protect persons who need their support and assistance,” Batchelor said.
“The magnitude of the need inside Syria is really of enormous concern.”
The conflict between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its opponents began in March 2011 and quickly turned into an all-out civil war, killing well over 100,000 people and displacing millions.
“It is about 10 million people who have needs inside Syria, of whom 6.5 million are displaced,” Batchelor said. “When this conflict unfolded the population of Syria was just over 20 million people. So half the country now has needs.”
The most pressing issue is the state of children refugees, Batchelor insisted.
“This is the future of Syria, we are very very concerned that this does not become a lost generation,” she said.
“If these children are supported, protected, provided education and so on, when the conflict ends they will be able to return to their country, rebuild their homes and lives, latch onto a sense of purpose and commitment to reconstruct Syria.”
“If they become a lost generation, then it’s a risk for the future of Syria.”
World powers and international organizations such as the UN have been striving to bring an end to the violence that has torn the Middle Eastern nation. Now a new initiative is on the horizon after months of delay – another conference in Geneva.
The first Geneva conference brought international consensus on ending bloodshed, laying out an action plan which was aborted.
The second meeting, set for late January, is planned to be the first to bring the regime and opposition around the same table to work out some existing differences.
Batchelor suggests the biggest hope from the conference is a political solution.
“Far better than bringing assistance to people is that there is no more conflict,” she said. “They can have peace restored in their lives and those who are displaced and refugees can go back to their homes and to their country. Two and a half years into the conflict, when you speak with Syrian refugees, they all want to go home.”
Other efforts include a regional response plan (RRP) to launch in two weeks’ time, aiming to highlight the needs of the Syrians living in host countries and the difficulties faced by these nations in offering shelter.
The host nations are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Turkey accommodates over half a million Syrians, while in Lebanon, almost one in every four is from Syria.
Batchelor praised Turkey’s help by saying, “Turkey has been so generous, so consistent in the support and protection for Syrian refugees and we are very grateful for that. We have seen a remarkable undertaking by Turkey and Turkish people.”
Adding that the 2nd Pledging Conference would take place on January 15 in hopes of acquiring the financial backing of major powers, Batchelor expressed the UN’s hopes that 30,000 Syrians would go to third countries in early 2014, sharing some of the burden with Syria’s neighbors.
“Allow them entry, lawful stay and reunification with their families,” Batchelor urged nations. “This is what neighboring countries have been doing for the last 2.5 years every single day. All we are asking is all the countries in the world do exactly the same.”