50 NGOs urge states at Berlin conference to protect civilians and refugees affected by the Syrian conflict
28 October 2014

A man distributes food aid at the storage centre in Aleppo. (JRS Aleppo)
Due to violence and insecurity, at least 4.7 million people residing in Syria do not have a reliable supply of humanitarian aid. Crossing a border is often the only way to survive; but these avenues to international protection are being cut off.
Rome, 28 October 2014 – Today, foreign ministers from 20 countries and senior officials from 10 international organisations will meet in Berlin to discuss options for managing what risks becoming a protracted refugee crisis, with millions of displaced persons living in Syria and neighbouring countries for years to come, even after an eventual end of the conflict.

In a statement released prior to the conference, chaired by the German government and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), a group of 50 national and international NGOs urged participant governments to take concrete efforts to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need in Syria, and to help neighbouring countries meet the challenges of hosting substantial refugees populations.

Consolidated NGO statement

Berlin Conference on the Syrian Refugee Situation
28 October 2014

Humanitarian actors in the region appreciate the solidarity demonstrated by the Berlin Conference and urge participants to take concrete and tangible actions. Neighbouring countries have shown great generosity towards refugees from Syria. With diminishing resources to assist the growing number in need, the situation is worsening for both those fleeing the conflict and vulnerable populations in host countries. Decision-makers must act now to address the suffering that humanitarian actors witness daily. But above all, the international community and influential states must prioritise forging a negotiated political solution to end the conflict in Syria.

Nowhere to go
Host countries in the region have shown immense generosity in providing a safe haven for refugees fleeing Syria. But their capacity to cope with the scale of the crisis is under immense strain and close to the breaking point.

We call on the international community to support host governments to abide by their obligations without discrimination to provide protection, safety and assistance for those seeking refuge from harm, and to ensure respect for their legal rights in line with the principle of non-refoulement.

With continuing constraints on humanitarian access within Syria and significant restrictions at the borders into neighbouring countries, most civilians attempting to flee the conflict, and especially the most vulnerable, have nowhere to go to be safe and to access humanitarian assistance.

Due to violence and insecurity, at least 4.7 million people residing in Syria do not have a reliable supply of humanitarian aid. Some organisations have been forced to temporarily curtail or suspend operations in certain areas due to increasing risks facing humanitarian workers. Humanitarian assistance inside Syria has not significantly increased with the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2165. Former safe havens inside Syria are no longer safe, and most internally displaced Syrians are displaced many times before attempting to cross an international border.

Crossing a border is often the only way to survive; but these avenues to international protection are being cut off. The flow of Syrian refugees crossing into Jordan has dramatically slowed due to the Jordanian government's tighter management of borders and increasingly restrictive registration process. With crisis levels of internal displacement in Iraq and large sways of its territory under the control of ISIL, including the Syrian border region, finding safety in Iraq is no longer a feasible alternative.

The borders in Lebanon are no longer open to those fleeing Syria. Turkey continues to receive refugees from Syria, but for many civilians, trying to reach Turkey involves having to cross through active conflict zones. More than half of Palestinian refugees from Syria have been internally displaced and face the greatest constraints in leaving Syria and gaining access to services in neighbouring countries. Palestinian Syrians are officially unable to enter Jordan and face virtual prohibition on entry into Egypt.

For the millions residing in neighbouring countries, we urge host governments to develop comprehensive policies firmly grounded in the respect of refugee rights, including their right to: gain access humanitarian aid and basic services, livelihoods, and freedom of movement. These refugee communities must be recognised as stakeholders. The Syrian people are willing and able to take responsibility for their future. Host governments must allow Syrians to register their humanitarian organisations formally so that they may also contribute to the improvement of their circumstances and those of the host communities.

Responsibility sharing

Even though the Berlin Conference is not a pledging event, participating countries must at least double their support to fund fully the humanitarian response, ensuring assistance is given to the most vulnerable and supporting host countries to offer services.

Despite the increasing needs of refugees, funding is inadequate even today. The 2014 response plans for Syria and neighbouring countries is only 47 percent funded. This is having stark consequences. For instance, the World Food Programme is dramatically cutting rations and reducing the number of people it assists. We are deeply concerned about the reduction in funding levels.

Failing to invest now in the capacity of host communities is having catastrophic consequences for the population of the whole region. There is an additional strain on resources, services and employment opportunities, contributing to a rise in tensions between host and refugee communities. We, therefore, welcome the stated intention of this conference to address these urgent needs.

Funding recommendations:

  • Fund fully the humanitarian response. More than this, we call on the donor community to provide funds on a long-term basis. Humanitarian actors must be able to decide flexibly on the implementation of these funds, in accordance with the evolving needs of affected populations.
  • Make greater efforts to connect better humanitarian and development funding instruments, to allow for efficient linkages from relief to development, and to maximise impact.
  • Make funding instruments more easily accessible for national NGOs to enhance ownership and strengthen local capacity.
  • Use increased development funds to improve infrastructure and basic services, which must be accessible to both host communities and refugees.
  • Better tailor public services and assistance programmes to the needs of vulnerable groups, with consideration for age, gender and disability. With predictable and reliable funding, NGOs would be able to prioritise much-needed investments in livelihoods, social cohesion and psychosocial support.
Funding alone, however, is not enough. It is essential to uphold the right of all civilians fleeing the conflict to seek international protection. The governments of countries neighbouring Syria should not be expected to shoulder this responsibility alone. Other countries should quickly establish and/or expand resettlement and humanitarian admissions programmes offering a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria. Only then will the commitment to share responsibility with the host countries be credible and meaningful.

Resettlement recommendations:

  • We welcome the example of the German government in resettling tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and encourage other countries outside the region to espouse similar policies.
  • Given the scale of the crisis, with over 3 million registered refugees residing in countries across the region, we call on countries outside of the immediate region to commit to resettle at least 180,000 vulnerable refugees from Syria by 2016 (five percent of the total projected refugee population).
We are committed to continue providing assistance and protecting the rights of populations affected by the Syrian crisis, and will remain engaged as active partners in following up with the conclusions of the Berlin Conference.

This statement has been prepared on behalf of over 50 national and international NGOs working to assist those affected by the Syria crisis, and following NGO consultations at national, regional and international levels facilitated by the Association of German Development NGOs (VENRO) and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA).

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