For the first four years of the conflict, the international community viewed a negotiated resolution of the conflict as the way to protect Syria’s civilians. The failure of the Geneva II negotiations in early 2014 made clear, however, that the fighting is unlikely to end anytime soon and that Syrian civilians will continue to be at risk for some time to come.
A global coalition formed to combat IS fighters in Syria, but protecting 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 opposition-controlled and contested areas. 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. More than two-thirds of Syrian refugee children are unable to attend school, often because they are performing long, arduous, and even dangerous labor to support their families. The conditions they must cope with make them vulnerable to recruitment to engage in combat, terrorism, or criminal activities.
“While both a political solution and humanitarian assistance are imperative, no agreement to resolve the crisis will be sustainable if it does not prioritize civilian protection.”
UN agencies and the host governments of 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 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 imperative, no agreement to resolve the crisis will be sustainable if it does not prioritize civilian protection. Without this core commitment, mass violence by the Assad regime as well as extremist groups will continue to undermine the possibility of a lasting peace in Syria.