It is now three years since the Syria conflict began and the humanitarian situation for millions of people across the country is catastrophic and only getting worse. Violence has continued across the country over the last month, notably in and around the northern city of Aleppo, where alarming levels of hostilities have resulted in mass displacement and many civilian casualties. Amid spiralling violence and fragile local ceasefire agreements, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is pushing for greater access to people in need and to be allowed to operate neutrally, impartially and independently.
The ICRC delegation in Damascus continues to work closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to deliver essential aid to hundreds of thousands of people. However, this is not enough given the scale of the crisis in Syria today. Relief is not reaching people in dire need, often because we are not granted access to them. Essential goods are running critically short for millions; particularly those people trapped in besieged areas and cut off from essential health services. Many have died because of the lack of medical supplies or because they could not get to medical facilities to be treated. In total, 34 SARC volunteers have lost their lives since the beginning of the conflict, all of them killed or captured while carrying out their humanitarian duties.
To bring about a meaningful improvement of the humanitarian situation, the parties need to allow the sick and the wounded to receive impartial medical care wherever they are and to permit food and medical supplies to be taken across front-lines and, in particular, into besieged areas. We at the ICRC are determined to help, and to expand our response, but we can only work when government forces and the armed opposition accept our humanitarian role. Without safe access, we cannot reach the people who are in greatest need.
Three years after the start of the conflict, the human tragedy is worsening and there is no end in sight. With most of the population directly or indirectly affected, the scale of the crisis is staggering and, for hundreds of thousands of civilians, leaving Syria has been the only option. Many have spent what little money they had left in order to escape, abandoning their education, jobs and homes and fleeing to neighbouring countries. At the Bustana assembly point on the Jordanian/Syrian border there are at least 550 Syrian refugees arriving per day. Among the men, women and children who have made the long journey to the temporary shelter is young refugee Wafta. The 8-year-old escaped Homs with her family after her father was killed and she herself was shot in the abdomen by a sniper’s bullet. Sharing her story with ICRC recently, Wafta’s words encapsulate the ongoing suffering of the Syrian people: “All I want is to be with my family in a safe place. It doesn’t matter if I’m in pain, I just want to be with them, and see them happy again… I am now 8 years old, and I will never forget that I spent half of my first eight years in this war. I want Syria back.”
Leonard Blazeby is Australia Head of Mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross.