Syria - IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing today concluded a three-day visit to Syria calling for humanitarian access to all areas of conflict, while expressing hope that the international community will deliver on aid promises.
“The international community wants to help them to do so, as soon as conditions allow,” he added, after meeting the UN’s Syria peace envoy Staffan de Mistura in Damascus, ahead of a new round of talks between the government and the armed opposition.
Swing also met with senior Syrian government officials and discussed with them the need for more access on humanitarian grounds for IOM and its partners. He said that he was pleased with the support shown by the Syrian authorities.
Reconstruction, which will need to be on a vast scale, will only get under way in earnest when peace talks lead to political solutions and an end to the conflict, he noted.
During his three day trip, Swing travelled to Homs, the country’s third largest city, much of which was destroyed by fighting and the subsequent siege which was lifted in May 2014 with a negotiated withdrawal of armed opposition fighters.
Swing saw first-hand the intense suffering of those displaced by fighting in Homs and toured some of the wide areas of the city left uninhabitable by fighting. He also visited rural Damascus and saw first-hand IOM projects, as well as the civilians displaced by the conflict. In many instances, Swing was particularly moved by the resilience of the Syrian population.
For now IOM’s focus is on protecting the civilian population by assisting those millions who have suffered from the conflict.
Throughout the five years of the crisis, IOM has maintained a presence across the lines of conflict in all Syrian governorates, delivering humanitarian aid to all parts of the country, including besieged and hard to reach areas.
Syria’s humanitarian needs remain vast, however. “IOM’s aid and that of our partners is dwarfed by the scale of the need and much more help is needed,” said Swing.
The current cessation of hostilities has brought welcome relief to civilians, who are once again going to parks and thronging streets. Swing was hopeful that in areas not under the cessation of hostilities, civilians will also be protected and will receive aid.
The cessation of hostilities has raised the hopes of ordinary people that there can be a negotiated end to the conflict, which has left 13.5 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Of these 6.5 million people are internally displaced and are living in precarious circumstances with little or no aid. Over 4 million Syrians are living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries or have made their way to Europe and across the globe.
Conditions inside Syria are particularly grim: three in four Syrians live in poverty; regular access to safe drinking water has fallen 70 percent; 1.2 million houses have been damaged or reduced to rubble by fighting and there is at least 60 percent unemployment.
IOM Syria, with a staff of 205, has delivered aid to 3.84 million individuals in all governorates. Much of IOM’s work has focused on delivering core relief packages (including non-food items); providing access to safe water; delivering health and psychosocial support for those traumatized by fighting; and supporting an extensive Syrian NGO network.
Delivering aid across lines of conflict, including hard to reach and besieged areas is another priority for IOM and its partners. Swing discussed with the authorities his priority to have such access.
“Maintaining the humanitarian principle of neutrality and reinforcing the resilience of the Syrian population on all sides of the conflict is fundamental to our work,” Swing said, with the conflict now entering its sixth year.
The sudden upsurge of Syrian migrants to Europe last year reflected the desperation of those displaced inside Syria, as well as those living in refugee camps of neighbouring countries, who saw food rations cut, an absence of health care and no education for their children.
“When hope disappears, people get up and move, not always to a safer place,” Swing added, noting that the pathways to Europe are now much reduced for Syrian migrants seeking to escape hopelessness and grinding poverty.
By listening to the needs of displaced people and the communities hosting them, it has become clear to IOM that the self-reliance of people to cope with circumstances beyond their control is crucial to reducing long term fallout from conflict.
Numerous projects are underway to support internally displaced people and their hosting communities. Among these is a transitional shelter project, where IOM will shortly start to build over 150 houses, following an offer by the authorities of land during Swing’s visit. The project will engage the displaced and host communities and will provide sustainable work, which will also build up community cohesion.
Swing also toured a prosthetics-fitting centre, which is being set up by IOM together with local authorities in the Jorit al-Shyah neighbourhood of Homs city. The project will support a large number of civilians maimed during the conflict.
“IOM is able to deliver aid to vulnerable people without fear or favor, thanks to the dedication and bravery our field staff,” Swing said, adding that the support of a network of partners, including the Syrian Red Crescent is essential.
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