On March 12, the United States Institute of Peace, along with Oxfam America, marked the third anniversary of the Syrian conflict by hosting “Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis and the International Response.” The event featured a keynote address by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and a discussion with Rajaa Altalli, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria, and Dr. Rim Turkmani, Founder and President of Madani.

High Commissioner Guterres began the program with an update on the most recent Syrian refugee statistics compiled by his office. He stated that there are now over 2.5 million registered Syrian refugees and that almost half of the country’s population is displaced. He called the ongoing conflict the worst and most escalating humanitarian crisis since Rwanda. Next, High Commissioner Guterres spoke about the high costs Syria’s neighbors—Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey—have paid to support Syrian refugees. Lebanon, for example, has taken in over 900,000 Syrian refugees, which represents a quarter of the country’s population. The high costs felt by these countries is unacceptable, according to the High Commissioner, and he said countries need to begin accepting more Syrian refugees, including the United States, which has only accepted approximately 45 refugees throughout the conflict.

The High Commissioner continued by stating that he believes a military or political solution in Syria is untenable and that the international community has lost the ability to broker peace. The High Commissioner followed these statements with three requests to the international community: (1) an increase in meaningful support that respects the rights of refugees; (2) massive financial solidarity for Jordan and Lebanon to support direct and structural aid; and (3) further opening of borders for Syrian refugees and the development of legal mechanisms to facilitate migration. The High Commissioner explained that his office is prioritizing aid that targets the most vulnerable populations and utilizes innovative, cost efficient technologies.

The program continued with a panel discussion from Rajaa Altalli and Dr. Rim Turkmani, moderated by Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser. Both Ms. Altalli and Dr. Turkmani lead Syrian civil society organizations, and were able to shed light on possible solutions to the conflict based upon their first-hand experiences and knowledge. Dr. Turkmani emphasized that the overwhelming majority of Syrians are looking to peace initiatives and that ninety-five percent of the population is not part of the armed conflict. She frequently repeated the need to remember that the origins of this conflict stem from the Syrian people seeking freedom and protecting their rights in non-violent methods. While a fourth anniversary of the Syrian conflict is undesired, Dr. Turkmani stated she would prefer a fourth anniversary if the conflict returns to its original goals and non-violent methods. Ms. Altalli echoed Dr. Turkmani’s statements and called for more support for Syrian civil society organizations, especially the development of more inclusive and consultative communication processes between groups and organizations. Ms. Altalli said these organizations are trying to “manage the unmanageable” and that Syrians are living dangerous, dramatic lives working in the country and providing humanitarian assistance.

Taken  from the following website: http://hrbrief.org/2014/03/unhcr-antonio-guterres-and-syrian-civil-society-organizations-address-the-ongoing-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/

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