For Immediate Release: August 23, 2013
Washington, D.C. – As Syria’s conflict continues to escalate, Human Rights First notes that it is critical for the United States to support countries along the Syrian border so that these nations are able to continue to host refugees. The refugee crisis is expected to worsen after Syrian government forces are alleged to have used poison gas during a Wednesday morning attack on the Damascus suburbs.
“There have been reports of thousands of residents fleeing Damascus into southern Syria and towards the Jordanian border since Wednesday’s attack,” said Human Rights First’s Duncan Breen. “There are already close to 2 million men, women, and children who have fled Syria’s atrocities. The nations hosting these refugees need the United States’ support to continue providing this essential refuge.”
Over the past week, following the opening of a new pontoon bridge, around 40,000 Syrians are estimated to have crossed into the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Nearly two million Syrians have registered as refugees in neighboring countries and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced today that one million Syrian children are now refugees, most of them under the age of 11.
Senior officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, and the intelligence community are reported to be considering military responses to Wednesday’s alleged chemical weapons attack. One option outlined last month in a letter to the Senate Committee on Armed Services from General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the establishment of “buffer zones” that opposition forces could use to train and organize. These could also be safe areas for the distribution of humanitarian assistance. General Dempsey’s letter recognizes that this option could result in more refugees being killed since the zones would serve a mixed humanitarian and military purpose. Such buffer zones should not become an alternative to people seeking safety in neighboring countries.
“As the United States determines its response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, U.S. officials must ensure that any proposed intervention would not limit the ability of civilians to seek protection in neighboring countries and further afield,” said Breen.
Most of Syria’s neighbors have at times closed border crossings or restricted the ability of people fleeing the Syrian crisis to cross into safety. The United States has a key role to play in supporting Syria’s neighbors to enable them to continue to keep their borders open and to host hundreds of thousands of refugees. The United States has provided nearly $510 million in humanitarian support to refugees since the start of the crisis and should continue to support aid agencies and neighboring countries with the costs of responding to the continued exodus.
“U.S. support continues to play a critical role in helping to meet some of the basic needs of refugees and of the host communities in neighboring countries. If people begin to flee Damascus in large numbers, then this support, in coordination with other donors, will be essential in making it possible for countries in the region to keep their borders open and to ensure an adequate level of assistance to refugees and host communities,” Breen concluded.
For more information or to speak with Breen, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at BowserSoderB@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.