Syria: In societies shattered by conflict, civilians pay a high price for years
It takes years, sometimes decades, for societies shattered by conflict to recover.
The people of Syria know first-hand that wars start easily and end only after sustained and long-term efforts for peace and reconciliation, and with huge amounts of suffering along the way. The massive destruction seen in urban warfare and the pain of separated and missing family members are commonplace challenges across the globe’s conflicts.
Civilians pay the greatest price when wars are fought in violation of international humanitarian law. And then there are those displaced, people shuttled into camps or provisional shelters, who end up living their life in appallingly harsh conditions for years or even decades with little to no hope.
Al-Hol, one of the most challenging protection crises of our time, still holds more than 56,000 people, two-thirds of whom are children. In my third trip to the camp this week, I saw with regret that conditions are deteriorating. The children here have less food, clean water, health care and education than international standards call for. They are endlessly exposed to dangers, and their rights are ignored. A lack of attention is not an excuse to forget the women and children here.
We welcome the efforts that have been made to repatriate women and children back to their home countries. But this camp remains the shame of the international community. No one should be made stateless. Political will and sustainable solutions must be found before more lives are lost.
Across Syria, a declining economy due to the consequences of the crisis and sanctions dramatically reduces the population’s ability to address vital needs and access basic services. Humanitarian needs in the country remain massive; 90% of the population is living under the poverty line, and some 14.6 million people, out of 18 million, are still in need of humanitarian assistance. The extensive destruction and gradual deterioration of vital infrastructure – water, electricity and health care – are stretching the population’s ability to cope.
Eleven years of crisis, the shockwaves of Covid-19, now coupled with the Ukraine crisis, are having serious repercussions for the floundering economy, disrupting food and fuel imports and causing the Syrian pound to plummet at breakneck speed.
After a decade of visits to Syria as president of the ICRC, the people here are close to my heart. This has been one of the defining contexts of my presidency and of humanitarian operations worldwide.
It is a conflict where I have been moved by the suffering of people and impressed by their resilience, as I stood in the rubble of their homes and as I heard their appeals to find their missing family members. While the protracted conflict now confronts a new phase, it is evident that the support of the international community is needed to help a population in freefall.
It’s clear to me that the more humanitarian law and principles are respected during conflict, the better the chance for reconciliation and, ultimately, decreased suffering. We must pursue the humanitarian reflex to assist people without food, water and shelter, people without access to healthcare, those whose family members are separated or missing, and those in detention.
The long-term needs of Syrians are immense. A political solution is crucial to bring an end to the suffering of millions.Civilians continue to pay the price of the lack of a political breakthrough, but also of transactional approaches to humanitarian action by all the parties involved.
My visit comes at a moment when tragedy visits other parts of the world. Whether we talk about ICRC’s work to evacuate civilians from Aleppo in late 2016 or Mariupol, Ukraine more recently, I’m proud that the ICRC has been able to provide aid and protection to those who need it most, working to carry out neutral, impartial humanitarian action.