We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the start of the civil war in Syria. A quarter of a million lives have been lost in one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of recent times. Eighteen million people in Syria and neighbouring countries are in a desperate situation. The international community must step up its efforts and act now to help them.
On February 4, the UK will co-host a conference, ‘Supporting Syria and the region 2016’, with Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations. We aim to agree to an ambitious new approach to provide longer term support for refugees: through concrete action on livelihoods and jobs and improved access to education – giving refugees the skills they need for the future and the best chance of a successful return home.
The London Conference will also seek to address the huge humanitarian challenges faced by the people of Syria and raise significant new funding to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected. The 2016 UN coordinated appeals for the Syria crisis call for $7.7 billion. An additional $1.2 billion in funding is required by affected regional governments hosting refugees.
The UK has been leading attempts to address the situation in Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron’s consistent focus has been on providing a comprehensive solution to the current refugee crisis, which deals with the root causes, rather than just responding to the consequences.
That means working with the international community to bring about an end to the brutal conflict in the country. The UK’s comprehensive strategy contains three strands, covering the political, military and humanitarian dimensions. Politically, the UK is deeply involved in the International Syria Support Group working towards a political transition to a peaceful future. Militarily, the UK contributes to the campaign in the region to defeat Daesh. And, as the second largest bilateral donor after the US, pledging over 1.1 billion so far to Syria and the region to provide support such as food, shelter, medical care and clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict, our humanitarian efforts have also been extensive.
Elsewhere, the generosity shown by neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon has undoubtedly saved many lives and allowed people to stay close to home, avoiding perilous journeys towards Europe.
Syria and its people need more funding, more protection and more opportunities for the future. The international community has a responsibility to help more than four million refugees in neighbouring countries along with more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. And the Syrian people, and those supporting them, need to know that the international community will support them beyond 2016.
The conference will bring together global leaders, NGOs, the private sector and civil society to address some of the most pressing issues caused by the crisis. It will seek to raise significant new funding to meet both the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected by the situation in Syria and to support neighbouring countries. It will maintain pressure on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and respect International Humanitarian Law. And it will identify ways to create jobs and provide education, offering all those who have been forced to flee their homes greater hope for the future.
This will help pave the way for a broader discussion about how the international community responds to protracted crises in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May.
This event alone cannot solve the complex problems facing Syria. A political solution remains necessary to end the conflict. But by shining a light on the abuse of innocent civilians caught up in the fighting, we will ensure the people of Syria are not forgotten.
The writer is the British high commissioner to Pakistan.