Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response *

Article excerpt

U.S. Assistance and Priorities

The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance and is part of the massive, international humanitarian operation in parts of Syria and in neighboring countries. Beginning in FY2012, through March 13, 2014, the United States has allocated more than $1.7 billion to meet humanitarian needs using existing funding from global humanitarian accounts and some reprogrammed funding. U.S. humanitarian policy is guided by concerns about humanitarian access and protection within Syria; the large refugee flows out of the country that strain the resources of neighboring countries (and could negatively impact the overall stability of the region); and a protracted and escalating humanitarian emergency. The Administration's FY2015 budget request seeks $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance for Syria and the region.

International Response

The international humanitarian response is massive and complex and struggles to keep pace with urgent developments that have escalated well beyond anticipated needs and continue to do so. Access within Syria is severely constrained by violence and restrictions imposed by the Syrian government on the operations of humanitarian organizations. In mid- December 2013, the United Nations launched two appeals-taken together its largest appeal in history-requesting $6.5 billion in contributions to meet the ongoing humanitarian needs in Syria and the region.

Ongoing Humanitarian Challenges of the Syria Crisis and U.S. Policy

As U.S. policy makers and the international community deliberate over what, if any, actions they can or should take on the Syria crisis, possible humanitarian policy issues for Congress include

* the immediate need for access within Syria by humanitarian organizations, which has been severely constrained by violence and restrictions imposed by the Syrian government;

* examining U.S. assistance and priorities in an ongoing humanitarian response;

* balancing the Syria response with domestic priorities and other humanitarian concerns worldwide;

* ensuring the ongoing willingness and cooperation of Syria's neighbors, which are receiving the vast majority of refugees from Syria, to keep borders open and to host refugees fleeing Syria;

* finding ways to alleviate the strain on civilians and those responding to the crisis as the situation worsens and becomes more protracted, including the support of initiatives, such as emergency development assistance, for communities within neighboring countries that are hosting refugees; and

* encouraging the participation of other countries to provide support through humanitarian admission, resettlement, facilitated visa procedures, and protection for those seeking asylum.

The United States has a critical voice regarding humanitarian access in Syria, the pace of humanitarian developments and contingency planning, support to neighboring countries that are hosting refugees, and burdensharing among donors.

OVERVIEW AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS1

Congress has demonstrated an ongoing interest in many different aspects of the three-year civil war in Syria. The humanitarian situation, in particular, has garnered significant bipartisan attention. Members have proposed and enacted legislation addressing the issue and have held hearings on the U.S. and international humanitarian response to the conflict. Although not discussed in this report, the use of chemical weapons in Syria on August 21, 2013, triggered an intense debate over possible U.S. military intervention.2 This debate created temporary momentum focused on the dire humanitarian situation within Syrian where humanitarian organizations remain severely constrained by the conflict, fighting, and restrictions imposed by the Syrian government.

Humanitarian assistance has traditionally been one of the least controversial types of foreign aid, and in the Syria context, it has so far been one avenue in which the United States has provided support to Syrian civilians absent a political solution. …

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