Syria conflict five years on: Syrians from non-armed groups and local faith leaders need to be part of an inclusive peace process
11 March 2016
Syria marks the fifth anniversary [March 15] of a conflict which has cost a quarter of a million lives and driven more than 10 million people from their homes, but a fragile ceasefire has created an opportunity which Britain must seize.
That is the message of CAFOD, the Catholic overseas aid agency for England and Wales, which says that it could help many more Syrians if the sharp decline in hostilities holds. “It’s hoped this should bring an end to the sieges, and make it easier to get aid to people in the hardest to reach parts of the country”, says Alan Thomlinson, CAFOD’s Syria Crisis Manager.
“The conflict in Syria is now the world’s biggest and most urgent humanitarian crisis. The grind of five years of war has exhausted everyone. The economy is in tatters, the infrastructure, electricity and water systems have been badly damaged, or completely destroyed. The school and university system struggle to educate the next generation of Syrian children and young adults, as hundreds of thousands miss out on vital years of education.”
As a member of the UN Security Council as well as the G8 group of leading economies, Britain must not only use all its influence to bring about a political settlement of the conflict, says CAFOD, but must ensure that British foreign and domestic policy does not help to prolong it. This means that the international community should not set preconditions for peace talks, and those actively engaged in the conflict should not receive political or financial backing.
The UK Government also needs to ensure that Syrians from non-armed groups, including representatives of civil society, local faith leaders and community groups, are part of “a truly inclusive peace process”, says CAFOD. Bishop Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo and President of Caritas Syria, says: “The international community must support peace talks towards building a national unity government that comes from within Syria.
“We’re now a poor country. Everyone has become poor, both materially and morally, because of violence and religious extremism. Syria is not just defined by five years of war, but rather 3,000 years of civilisation, of living together and of co-operation between peoples of different backgrounds. Syria was in the past so strong and beautiful, and with that history we aspire to this beauty and force of life in the future.”
During the past five years CAFOD has helped more than 100,000 Syrians directly, both within Syria and in neighbouring countries, with food, medical care, hygiene and children’s education. Over 20,000 have been supported to find a safe place to live. Many more have been reached through Caritas International, the Catholic aid network of which CAFOD is a member. But Mr Thomlinson stresses that a durable ceasefire would enable the agency’s partners in Syria, who have to remain anonymous for their own safety, to scale up their support. “It would allow them to reach places and people cut off for many months,” he says.
CAFOD is calling for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to confirm that he will attend the first World Humanitarian Summit, due to be held shortly in Turkey, the country that has received the highest number of Syrian refugees. Along with other agencies, CAFOD is also urging the British Government to do everything it can to make sure 2016 is the year the Syrian conflict ends. They praise the UK’s efforts in hosting the Supporting Syria 2016 Conference and promising an extra £1.2bn in aid for Syria and the region, but warn that “humanitarian action cannot replace political solutions to crises”.
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