Two years after the start of the uprising in Syria, Handicap International condemns the international community’s lamentable record of inaction
London, 15th March 2013. Handicap International has been aiding victims of the Syrian conflict for ten months. After launching a relief effort for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, it has extended its work into Syria itself, where working conditions are extremely harsh. Although 15th March marks the second anniversary of the start of the Syrian uprising, the organisation - which provides assistance to the most vulnerable individuals - has condemned the inaction of the international community, which has failed in its duty to protect civilians or to give them equal access to humanitarian aid.
Two years after the first demonstrators hit the streets of Syria, the country is locked in a bloody civil war that has already claimed the lives of nearly 70,000 people and forced nearly 4 million others to take refuge abroad or inside Syria itself. This incredibly violent crisis, in which civilians have been taken hostage by two years of continuous fighting, claims more and more victims. Children, men and women continue to be killed by bullets or bombs, severely wounded or burned, and traumatised by the hell of their everyday lives.
Handicap International began supplying aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon in May 2012, before extending its operations into Syria itself. More than 160 Handicap International staff now work in these three countries to case-manage the conflict’s victims. At the end of June, almost 37,000 people will have benefited from the organisation’s direct assistance, while 9,000 people have already taken part in weapons/explosive remnants of war risk education sessions. Few organisations operate in the north of Syria. Handicap International is the only one providing post-surgery emergency rehabilitation care to injured people - many of them children. It is far from rare for us to provide rehabilitation care and orthopaedic devices to people who have lost both legs or a leg and an arm.
Given the conditions of extreme hardship to which the people of Syria are now exposed, over recent months Handicap International has taken representatives of the international community to task for their failure to apply the civilian protection principle and for their lack of action.
“It is clear that diplomatic pressure on all sides of the conflict has not prevented civilians from being deliberately targeted, in contravention of international humanitarian law, and sometimes with indescribable cruelty,” says Jean-Baptiste Richardier, executive director of Handicap International. Despite advances in obtaining authorisation from the Syrian authorities to move around within government areas and beyond, the north of Syria remains appallingly isolated. The force and long-term future of international humanitarian law are at stake, as is the international community’s ability to keep faith with its own actions.
“This conflict has been allowed to go on behind closed doors,” continues Jean-Baptiste Richardier. “Humanitarian organisations - who are ready and willing to intervene – are not being given the resources to supply humanitarian assistance that matches, a little more, the scale of needs in the field. As a result of this wait-and-see policy, a growing number of Syrians have had to flee their country, with one million refugees already registered in neighbouring countries. There will also be dramatic and long-term consequences for everyone left without adequate care and who could develop disabilities as a result. The discourse about the accessibility of the north of Syria to aid passing through government areas should not hide the serious lack of relief getting through to this region. Any other conclusion would be a lie, and the international community should not be satisfied with the little progress made so far.”
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About Handicap International
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an international aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Handicap International is a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition. www.handicap-international.org.uk