Refugee crisis requires step change in international response

Syrian refugees receive non-food items at a distribution point in Dohuk in northern Iraq. A severe shortage of funds is hampering humanitarian and development assistance efforts to meet the needs of Syrian refugees and the local communities hosting them. Photo by: IOM Iraq / ECHO / CC BY-ND

The refugee crisis is not just defying the existing aid architecture — evidenced by the severe financial shortfall of the Syria regional response — but also our capacities to prevent and mitigate crises. The unprecedented refugee influx is a dramatic call to the development community to review existing crisis prevention frameworks and tools, to make resilience building a major force in preserving the lives and futures of generations, and to support institutions to cope, recover and transform to confront the crisis.

More than ever, a whole-of-government response is needed. Support is required to effectively address the simultaneous and overlapping security, development and humanitarian challenges in the subregion at once. As highlighted by the surge in refugees risking their lives to flee to Europe, the crisis knows no borders, and the time of financial and conceptual silos must come to an end.

When we launched the Regional Refugee and Resilience Response Plan, or 3RP, jointly with the five countries most affected by the Syria crisis, those five nations on the front lines of this emergency, we offered the international community a comprehensive and nationally owned response to an unprecedented demographic shock in the region. The rationale was to gather the capacities and resources of both humanitarian and development partners to save lives and build the resilience of peoples and systems.

Eight months after the launching of the 3RP, financial support has covered only 37 percent, and the Syria Response Plan is equally underfunded. Critical resilience-oriented sectors such as basic needs and sustainable livelihoods remain 97 percent and 94 percent unfunded. A step change is urgently required now.

A severe shortage of funds is hampering humanitarian and development assistance efforts to meet the needs of the over 4 million refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria, as well as the more than 20 million people in affected local communities hosting them in neighboring countries.

3RP partners are calling on the international community to act faster to deliver on their pledges of support to the $5.5 billion plan, around $1 billion of which fulfills critical host government requirements.

While pressures on host countries continue to grow, it is increasingly difficult for Syrians to find safety, including by seeking asylum. These difficulties have resulted in an increase in the number of Syrians seeking safety and refuge beyond the region, including by taking often dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean to try and reach Europe. Many have lost their lives as a result.

There exists both a moral and a practical imperative that the members of the international

community proactively defend these imperiled victims of circumstance, both by offering protection to those who plead for sanctuary at their borders and by working ceaselessly to alleviate the circumstances in the region that engendered their departure.

We are calling for a step change in how the international community supports governments in the region and beyond — a new global consensus on the responsibilities of nations to the most vulnerable of humanity, and on the most effective means by which those obligations might be fulfilled. The response needs to be commensurate with the massive challenges that are eroding the development gains of whole societies as well as the individual livelihoods of helpless millions. Not only must we support host communities and institutions in transforming to adapt to this crisis, but we must also recognize the dire need for a transformation in ourselves, our thinking and our actions in light of this unprecedented crisis.

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About the author

  • Gustavo Gonzalez

    For more than 20 years, Gustavo has been working in crisis and post-crisis settings, on behalf of a range of international and U.N. organizations. He was appointed UNDP subregional development coordinator, covering Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan in November 2013. He heads UNDP’s Sub-Regional Facility for the Development Response to the Syrian Crisis located in Amman.