For the first few years of the conflict, the international community viewed a negotiated resolution of the conflict as the way to protect Syria’s civilians. Attempts to negotiate peace have repeatedly failed, and Syrian civilians remain at risk. The Syrian government, with Russia's support, continues to take control of territory held by anti-Government groups. Armed hostilities are largely focused in areas which the Government has not yet seized—notably in the northwest of Syria—putting civilians there in grave danger. Reports continue to emerge concerning the mass incarceration and torture in Syrian government detention, as well as the abduction and disappearance of Syrian refugees returning home.
While a global coalition formed to combat the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria, the protection of Syrian civilians has not been a central goal of this effort. Syrian government forces continue to bombard civilians, target medical infrastructure, and restrict crucial assistance to besieged areas controlled by opposition forces. A number of Syrian civil society organizations have been established to save lives and provide basic services, but these organizations have also been labeled terrorists and targeted by the regime and its allies.
In addition to protecting civilians, there is also a critical need for assistance to the more than five million Syrians seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
UN agencies and the governments of countries where Syrian refugees are living—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq—continue to deliver significant assistance to Syrian refugees. The US has also contributed more than $4.5 billion to assist Syrian refugees. However, these efforts are nowhere near the level needed to enable refugees to lead healthy, peaceful, and productive lives.
In addition to providing aid for the direct support of refugees, the international community should also help these host countries deal with the enormous strains they are experiencing on their economy, infrastructure, and security, as well as provide resettlement opportunities for refugees.
While both a political solution and humanitarian assistance are crucial, no agreement to resolve the crisis will last if it does not prioritize civilian protection. Without this core commitment, mass atrocities by the Assad regime as well as extremist groups will continue to undermine the possibility of a lasting peace in Syria.