Berlin Conference on the Syrian Refugee Situation

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Photo Credit: V. Garau

 

By Erika Bozzato

For once, I will be talking about something that happened outside Lebanon, but that could greatly influence the refugee situation here and in neighbouring countries. On 28th October, in response to the request of Syria’s neighbouring countries and the UN, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Minister for Economic and Cooperation Gerd Müller and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres hosted a conference on the Syrian refugees. Representatives of around 40 countries and international organizations took part to the conference.

Aim of the conference was ‘to send a sign of solidarity to the region and to show that the refugee crisis remains a key concern of the international community’[1]. This means they basically discussed about funds, how to get donor countries to pledge more and how to use them in a better way. In Lebanon, out of a total appeal for 1.5 bn. of funded needed to cover basic needs of Syrian refugees, only 0.6 bn. has been received. We are only talked about basic needs, such as shelter, sanitation, winterization, primary education and so on, which are currently not covered. And winter is not mild in this part of Lebanon.

They also focused on the stability of the host countries and the region. Another crucial point, considering that only clashes in Tripoli last weekend between Islamic organized armed groups (affiliated to IS or Nusra Front) and the Lebanese army caused around 20 victims. The spillover of Syrian crisis finds fertile ground in Lebanon, already deeply divided in political factions.

At the same time they committed to strive for a political solution of the conflict in Syria which would open doors to a stable solution for refugees as well. Hopefully this is going to happen very soon, although the Syrian crisis lately has been intensifying rather than mitigating.

At the same time, some German NGOs organized the NGO consultation bringing together German and other international NGOs along with Syrian NGOs and national NGOs from the region. A common statement was drafted to be included among the conference document. These are the main points:

  1. The international community has to support hosting countries to abide by their obligations and provide protection and assistance to those seeking refuge. The principle of non-refoulement has to be guaranteed as well.
  2. Host countries are called on develop comprehensive policies grounded in refugee rights.
  3. Humanitarian response has to be fully funded on long-term basis, leaving humanitarian actors to be flexible to needs of the affected populations
  4. Linking relief and development, in order to give actions a wider perspective, encompassing refugees and host communities.
  5. Make funding more easily accessible to local NGOs.
  6. Give special consideration to especially vulnerable categories
  7. Resettlement: based on the principle of shared responsibility, NGOs call on for the resettlements outside the region of at least 180,000 refugees from Syrian (5% of refugee population) by 2016.

It is not a very strong statement. It does not indicate specific actions to be undertaken on the field, but is mainly based on general principles for improvement of humanitarian aid. However it could be considered a starting point to deal with the crisis in a different way. All the organization must be aware of the fact the mere emergency interventions are no longer enough. Actions ought to be planned on long-term perspective, and actions for refugees and hosting communities should be planned integrated together, either for social aspect, services or infrastructures. The last point is spot on as well, as it calls on wealthier countries to accept that the responsibility on refugees is to be shared. Which, at national level, would require mature internal debate and wise policy.

I also found an inspiring TED Talk on Refugees by Melissa Fleming, UNHCR Head of Communication: http://www.ted.com/talks/melissa_fleming_let_s_help_refugees_thrive_not_just_survive#t-36263

 

[1] http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/sid_D310EA173046557E51D958A41928B0CF/EN/Aussenpolitik/RegionaleSchwerpunkte/NaherMittlererOsten/syriarefugeeconference/141028_Flueko.html?nn=687154