Moving Beyond Emergency Assistance for Syrian Refugees

Today, nearly 80 donor governments and 40 aid agencies are gathering in Kuwait for the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria. The conference aims to raise much-needed funds for the Syria Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP)

The goals are ambitious: aid agencies are hoping to fund the largest ever UN appeal of $8.4 billion. That total is more than double the amount pledged in 2013 and 2014 combined (at $1.5 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively). While covering essential and life-saving programs of food, shelter, and medicine, the money will also support those communities that are attempting to cope with the ever-increasing influx of refugees. But since its launch in December, the appeal is only 8 percent funded. 

Now in its fifth year, the Syria crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The conflict continues to drag on and refugees continue to stream out of Syria. It’s clear the almost four million refugees in the region will not be returning to Syria anytime soon. As the nations in the region hosting the largest Syrian refugee populations, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon are increasingly feeling the strain on their resources. Recognizing this burden, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan “represents a strategic shift in the approach to delivering aid for the region,” according to UNHCR. The plan has a greater emphasis on including development actors, building livelihoods, and boosting economic opportunities, rather than on just emergency aid. 

When refugees cross a border, they often leave with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and may be dependent on humanitarian assistance for their immediate survival. But as time goes on, emergency assistance is not enough. Children must go to school, families must find work, and there must be a commitment to finding longer-term solutions. 

“We need to think beyond emergency assistance. We need longer-term prospects,” said my colleague Daryl Grisgraber. She has just returned from Turkey, where she saw first-hand the implications of an entire generation of Syrians out of school. My colleague Sarnata Reynolds traveled with her, and documented the challenges for Turkish schools, which are doing double and triple shifts trying to meet the needs of both Turkish and Syrian children.

We need to think beyond emergency assistance. We need longer-term prospects.

For the 1.7 million Syrians in Turkey, more humanitarian funding means more opportunities for their children. Currently, up to 70 percent of Syrian children in Turkey are not in school. Across the region, the UN estimates that half of Syrian refugee children are not in school. Aid organizations are trying to prevent “a lost generation,” and youth-specific programs are essential. More robust education funding, for example, can help prevent child labor and early marriage for young girls. From a security perspective, education programs create constructive opportunities for youth who need direction for their time and energy. There are an infinite number of benefits to supporting education programs. The problem for most schools, as my colleagues saw, is resources.

RI’s President Michel Gabaudan recently wrote in Huffington Post that changes will be small, but they can happen. More refugees can be resettled, national services in host countries can be bolstered, and more local Syrian groups can be supported in providing aid inside the country.

While we must continue providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, it’s time to move beyond emergency aid. This year’s UN appeal provides a path for millions of Syrians to begin to rebuild their lives. Short-term solutions are not enough. As donors gather today in Kuwait, they must keep in mind an entire generation’s future is at stake. 

Photo: Up to 70 percent of Syrian refugee children in Turkey are not in school.