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UN calls for the West to pull its weight in humanitarian effort

16 November 20140 comments

The United Nations this month called on Western countries to open their borders and make good on donation pledges as the Syrian refugee crises worsened with almost 14 million people now displaced.

With winter approaching, millions of Syrians and Iraqis are taking shelter in mountainous areas facing months of freezing conditions and snow without adequate food or shelter, according the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

In many places the rainy season has begun and the nights are already getting cold. Many refugees, such as those from the besieged town of Kobane who are forced to sleep outdoors in public parks across the border in Turkey, are starting to struggle to keep their families warm and dry.

The 14 million displaced includes more than seven million displaced within Syria as well as more than three million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries or further afield, the UN says.

Almost two million people in Iraq have been displaced as militants from the Islamic State attack cities and towns through the north and west. Another 190,000 have left the country to seek safety, the UN says.

Most of the refugees Syria have gone to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq or Turkey.

“These nations are putting us all to shame with their support for homeless Syrian families,” said the UNHCR’s director for the Middle East and North Africa Amin Awad in Geneva this week.

“Other countries in the world, especially the Europeans and beyond, should open their borders and share the burden,” he said.

Makeshift shelters need to be weather-proofed and the provision of thermal blankets, stoves, fuel vouchers as well as cash to buy gas and other items are a priority for the winter, the UN says.

The World Food Program is poised to cut rations for 4.25 million people in dire need of aid due to a funding shortfall of $A376 million to cover Syria and the region for the rest of the year.

UN figures show that leading donors include the European Union, United States, Japan, Norway and some Gulf Arab countries.

The data indicates Russia and China – two countries who have used their veto power in the UN Security Council to block resolutions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – each provided just 0.1 per cent of the total humanitarian funding raised by donors this year for Syria.

Meanwhile, a proposal to “freeze” the Syrian conflict in the besieged northern city of Aleppo is gaining traction, the UN’s Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said.

Mr de Mistura said the freeze, if implemented, could form the basis of a wide-ranging peace proposal to end the three-and-a-half year civil war that has cost around 200,000 lives.

Speaking at a media briefing in the Syrian capital, Damascus, he described the proposal as concrete and realistic.

“It must focus on the real threat of terrorism as defined by the resolutions of the Security Council … reduce violence and through the reduction of violence, try to reach as many people as possible in Syria and outside Syria who have been suffering due to this ongoing conflict,” he said.

“The alternative is more tragedy,” Mr de Mistura warned.

But there is suspicion around such a plan amongst rebel groups fighting against the Assad regime, with many describing a similar cease-fire agreement in the city of Homs as a ‘surrender or starve’ deal.

Helen Matovu-Reed
AMES Staff Writer