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Beheadings, kidnappings and refugees: The horror of Syria is entering its fifth year

‘The world is jaded by the war in Syria; it sees no end and no possibility that the fighting can be brought to a halt,’ writes Trócaire’s Executive Director, Éamonn Meehan.

Éamonn Meehan

SYRIA HAS BECOME a by-word for suffering. The very mention of this country instantly brings to mind appalling images of beheadings, kidnappings and refugee camps; of bombings from the sky and terror from the ground.

Today sees the Syrian conflict enter its fifth year. It was on this day in 2011 that anti-government protests took place in the south of the country. The protests were in direct response to the arrest of children who had written anti-government slogans in the city of Dar’a, but they had their roots in decades of political repression and the silencing of opposition voices.

Within days the crack-down began. Today, over 12 million Syrians – more than twice the population of Ireland – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

The inhumanity that we have become accustomed to seeing from our television screens has led to complete political paralysis. The world is jaded by the war in Syria; it sees no end and no possibility that the fighting can be brought to a halt.

Turkey Syria Refugees Source: AP/Press Association Images

Scratch your head from afar

Rather than scratch our heads from afar, there are three very clear paths that the international community must take in order to bring to an end the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a generation.

The first step we must take is also the easiest because it requires nothing but our minds. Before we can imagine a way out of this nightmare, we must first remember how and why Syria was plunged into darkness.

We must remind ourselves that this appalling conflict has its roots in a peaceful movement which took to the streets to demand freedom of speech and democracy. The various factions who continue to murder and terrorise do not represent the Syrian people. Those fanatics have succeeded in dehumanising this conflict – we must humanise the Syrian people once again and remind ourselves that behind the statistics there are innocent people.

Ordinary Syrian people continue to risk their lives, both from the repression of the Syrian government and the extremist groups, to educate, to protect, to reform, all in the name of creating a new Syria based on equality and dignity for all. The voices of moderation and peace must not be drowned out.

Turkey Syria Refugees Source: AP/Press Association Images

The second step we must take is to continue to support the people caught in the conflict. The UN Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan for 2014 was just 48 per cent funded. A lack of funding has forced the World Food Programme to reduce food rations by 30 per cent.

Response simply not good enough

This simply is not good enough. At the upcoming donor conference in Kuwait later this month, the EU in particular needs to step up and commit itself to adequately funding the humanitarian response, including resettlement of refugees in order to ease the burden on Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

It is worth remembering that Syria’s immediate neighbours are bearing the weight of this crisis. Lebanon and Jordan are hosting over two million refugees between them – a completely unsustainable number for such small countries. It is in Europe’s own interests to support countries such as Lebanon and Jordan to prevent them from imploding under the pressure.

The third step is the most difficult. This is the step that sees the international community fully commit itself to efforts to bring this horror to an end.

Turkey Syria Refugees A Syrian refugee boy who fled violence in Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab or Kobani seen outside his tent in Turkey. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Syrian war is complex but that does not mean it cannot be stopped. There is a myriad of armed groups involved, many of which are being funded by outside players. While a national ceasefire may be some way off given the number of groups involved, an international effort could secure regional ceasefires and would at least bring an end to the conflict at localised level.

The growth of extremist groups in Syria has been in part driven by desperation. Supporting civil society groups who are working to give young people options would help tackle the hopelessness that is driving much of the extremism.

As this conflict enters its fifth year, we must not allow ourselves to be overcome with hopelessness when faced with such a massive humanitarian and political crisis.

The challenge is enormous but it is not insurmountable. It is a historic reality that all wars come to an end, and so too will this one. It will take brave, tireless and urgent diplomacy to ensure this happens as soon as possible.

The Syrian people must not be forced to suffer another year of the unspeakable tragedy that their lives have become.

Éamonn Meehan is the Executive Director of Trócaire

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Éamonn Meehan

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