By Yusuf Kanli
Can it be possible to end the Syrian quagmire through some sort of a proxy war against a ruthless dictator by a coalition of not-so-clean democratic performance or an imperialist, hegemonic “coalition of the willing” aspiring, apart from some other comparatively less important strategic interests, to oust Russians from the Middle East?
Convening and collecting pledges of billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance ought to be praised of course, but could it be possible to terminate the immense human suffering of the displaced in Syria and millions of refugees who fled the war to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt?
The problem at hand is definitely one that must be addressed through humanitarian means. The international community must at least demonstrate to the Syrian people they have not been forgotten and the community of nations cares about their plight, working in any way possible to bring about a resolution. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Kuwait III pledging conference held at the Bayan Palace March 30 that he was grateful for the $3.9 billion in pledges made over the first two conferences, also held in Kuwait City in 2013 and 2014, because the Syrians need more than just sympathy; they need commitments. The secretary-general said more of last year’s pledges have since come through, up to about 90 percent of what was pledged. Compared to the bleak picture and the gloomy atmosphere created last week by a Security Council statement which said an appeal for $2.9 billion for Syria’s Response Plan generated only about nine percent of its total funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for $4.5 billion was so far only six percent funded, Kuwait must be congratulated for not only gathering the international humanitarian pledging conferences for Syria but also of working very hard behind the scenes to make sure the pledges made in Kuwait are indeed realized.
The $500 million pledged by the Kuwaiti sheikh at this year’s conference and the overall generous pledges made by the international community reflected a commitment by the international community to not leave displaced or refugee Syrians “out in the cold.” Not only on the sidelines of the conference, Bülent Yıldırım, the head of Turkey’s private Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) - which made the highest pledge among NGOs with $100 million - but many of the speakers at the Kuwait III conference underlined the need to find a way to reach “blockaded areas” in both regions controlled by the Bashar al-Assad government, Syrian rebels or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Yıldırım went to the extreme of demanding a comprehensive ban on military flights over Syria. Indeed, Syrian people needed to be reached, inside and outside.
When the first Kuwait donor’s conference gathered in 2013, there were some 700,000 Syrian refugees. Since then, the civil war has grown exponentially, with over 3.9 million refugees now living in camps across Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and over 220,000 people killed as a result of the conflict. Some 1.7 million people are in Turkish camps and with some 500,000 to 600,000 unregistered “guests,” the conflict has become an enormous burden on Turkey’s treasury. So far, according to Turkish Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz, the cost of the refugees on Turkey has exceeded $5.6 billion. Yılmaz complained of international burden sharing.
Still, Yılmaz, as well as most other delegates taking the rostrum at the Kuwait III conference, reiterated a policy principle which grossly failed over the past five years of civil war in Syria: A resolution without al-Assad. In private discussions with the media envoys of countries critical of military assistance for anti-al-Assad rebels in Syria underlined a readiness to contribute to a “political resolution.” Yılmaz shared the need to have a political resolution but ruled out such a possibility with al-Assad in office.
With Syria’s domestic infrastructure eradicated almost completely and experts estimating the probable cost of reconstruction at around $200 billion, even if a magical formula to end this quagmire is found, many more conferences will have to be convened to help the Syrian people rebuild their country from scratch.
The conflict has now entered its fifth year with the prospects of a political resolution dimmer than ever. However, the past five years must have proven to everyone that irrespective of how slight the chances of success might be exploring avenues of peaceful resolution must be a humanitarian duty for the millions of people who have perished in this war.