Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Blog

By Nora Chamma
Summer Intern, 2014

Last Wednesday, members of Congress gathered for a subcommittee hearing on the humanitarian situation in war-stricken Syria. The hearing featured a number of panelists representing medical and refugee relief agencies, Mercy Corps, CARE, and Global Communities to name a few, working both in and outside Syria.

All panelists expounded upon the horrors of what is being called the worst humanitarian crisis since the Rawandan genocide. According to Mercy Corps, over 100,000 Syrians have been killed and roughly 2.5 million have fled to neighboring countries. By the end of the year, the U.N. predicts that the number of registered refugees could rise to 4 million. A predicted 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced and over 10 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has requested 6.5 billion dollars for humanitarian aid. So far, the United States has allocated 1.7 billion dollars to meet those needs.

The panelists joined each other in urging Congress to do the following: increase humanitarian assistance funding that supports more strategic and long-term programs for relief and development; match FY2014 funding for the upcoming year for International Disaster Assistance (IDA), Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA), and Food for Peace; urge the administration to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 2139; and, prioritize programs that support long-term development of refugees, with a special focus on adolescents, to prevent what may well become a lost generation.

The panelists’ objective from the outset was clear: the United States needs to increase humanitarian aid funding and help increase access to civilians suffering all throughout Syria and in neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. However, in hearing some of the Representatives’ statements and questions regarding the humanitarian situation, it was painfully obvious that Washington partisan politics was present as well.

Instead of focusing exclusively on how and what needs to be done to alleviate the massive lack of sufficient humanitarian aid and obstructed access to especially deprived Syrian civilians, members like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) used the hearing as a means to attack the Obama administration for its past failures regarding U.S. military inaction in Syria and to advocate for a no-fly zone and potential military intervention.

The panelists reiterated several times, and rightly so, as stated by Ms. Andrea Koppel, Vice President of Global Engagement and Policy at Mercy Corps, that “it is incredibly important that we not politicize humanitarian assistance, and that we keep these channels [political vs. humanitarian] separate.” While a military strike would be a blow to the Syrian government, it may well have catastrophic repercussions and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis facing civilians.

Despite the obvious attempts to either get in their talking points (as it appeared so when Rep. Ted Deutch [FL-21] asked one of the panelists to define a barrel bomb to further his goal of condemning the Obama administration’s inaction), or to push a political agenda, some of the attending Representatives did ask what could and should be done on their part to alleviate the situation.

Back in January, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) held a hearing on the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, mentioning that coming up on the fourth year of this crisis, the U.S. has only resettled a meager 90 Syrian refugees. These two hearings serve as important catalysts for increased and focused dialogue on the Hill about the dire humanitarian crisis in Syria, and hopefully the House’s most recent hearing will be as impactful as its Senate predecessor, which lead to the administration’s new efforts to ease restrictions on Syrian refugees trying to settle in the United States.

The real question, though, lies in how effective these and future Capitol Hill hearings will be in bringing about any concrete change or support for humanitarian funding and eventually an effective political solution. The main concern should be ending the suffering for those who are losing the most: the Syrian people. 


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