The largest movement of refugees across national borders since the 1994 Rwandan genocide is underway.
Two million refugees -- half of them children -- have managed to escape the carnage in Syria. Five thousand join them every DAY. There are twice as many internally displaced people stuck inside the country for a total of six million people in need of assistance. Homeless, hungry, desperate and under attack, many of the innocent people who have lost their homes and their hope in Syria are being cut off from desperately needed humanitarian aid.
It is not enough for U.S. and Russian diplomats to try to negotiate a way out of the threatened U.S. missile strike on Syria. As important as the goal of dismantling Assad's cache of chemical weapons is, negotiators must work to bring an end to the horrific and preventable suffering of millions of innocent children and their families by demanding access to life-saving humanitarian aid.
We need to demand that they do so.
The plight of the millions of Syrian refugees being denied life-saving aid was lost in the national debate over Congressional authorization of military strikes on Syrian government targets. Now that the pause button has been pushed on these strikes -- and authorization has, at least for now, been taken off of the table by Congress -- the voices of both sides of this intense debate need to be raised for those being denied the means to survive.
Americans, and their representatives in Congress, must make a clarion call for the lifting of the siege against innocent Syrian refugees. Secretary Kerry needs to make this a priority at the negotiating table in Geneva.
A report released this week by the UN Human Rights Council's Commission of Inquiry described the many obstacles that are preventing aid to getting to those who desperately need it:
"Despite rapidly growing humanitarian needs, access to people in conflict-affected areas remains severely hindered. Humanitarian workers face bureaucratic and operational obstacles.
Besides security risks, proliferation of Government and armed opposition-controlled checkpoints restricts cross-line humanitarian operations. Health care providers continue to be targeted by Government forces and members of some anti-Government armed groups."
The bottom line of U.S. strategy in Syria should be to end the broader conflict which has unleashed terrible violence against civilians. But immediate action is needed to address the humanitarian crisis. Negotiators in Geneva should be pushing for an agreement that will:
- Open humanitarian routes inside of Syria so that stalled convoys can safely deliver aid;
- A ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to get to the most desperate areas and allow for the evacuation of the sick and the wounded;
- The lifting of bureaucratic obstacles and restrictions by the Syrian government that are paralyzing aid convoys;
- Agreements to provide cross-border assistance; and
- An agreement by all combatants to protect humanitarian personnel, vehicles and equipment as they make their way to those in need.
United to End Genocide has launched a campaign to let the President and Members of Congress know that NOW is the time for the United States to provide leadership to address the humanitarian crises in Syria.
While there was division over the question of the launching of a military strike, there should be no debate over the need to lift the barriers that stand in the way of life-saving relief and the millions under siege who have lost everything in Syria.
The international community united and succeeded in getting chemical weapons inspectors on the ground in Syria. The same resolve is needed now for humanitarian access.