A political solution is the only way to end Syria's humanitarian crisis, says Caabu director Chris at Labour party conference

Posted by Caabu on 25 Sep 2013

Speaking at a New Statesman/Islamic Relief panel on Syria at the Labour party conference, Caabu's director Chris Doyle said that only a political solution could end Syria's humanitarian crisis. You can listen to the discussion in full here. Chris Doyle said:

"To understand where to go forward we have to understand the conflict in Syria. Is it just a crisis, a civil war, it's also a political conflict, a sectarian war, an ethnic war, and it's also a proxy war with regional actors, proxy war with international actors as well as a brutalisation of a people who dared to stand up to a regime and demand freedom, rights and dignity. The Syria of 2010, the Syria that I'd known for twenty years now no longer exists. This country of the fringes of Europe is being dismantled. But it is also a Lebanese crisis, a Turkish crisis, an Iraqi crisis and a Jordanian crisis. What is happening in Syria is not just spilling over, it is actively destabilising these countries. In the last few months we've seen increased Hizbollah activity, Iranian activity, Israeli strikes, bombs in Turkey and a huge escalation of violence in Iraq. Throughout all of this all we've had chemical weapons attacks that may have killed 500 to 1,500 people in Syria.

Why did we wake up only then? Why all of a sudden did the international community suddenly leap into action? 110,000 had already been killed. 2,000 may have died since the 21 August attacks. All of a sudden we find that Russia and the United States can actually do diplomacy together. But why not before, and lets hope they continue to do this tomorrow. They haven't resolved the issue of Syria even if they've come to an agreement on chemical weapons. Assad has been slapped on the wrist, sure, but the message he's taken from this is you've used the wrong sort of weapons, so please continue but make sure you do it in a conventional fashion. As Kerry said, sarin was used and sarin has killed, but SCUD's have been used and SCUDs have killed.

The scale is unimaginable.

One in three Syrians have been forcibly displaced. That is the equivalent to 21 million Brits. Would we expect the world to remain silent if that was happening here? The refugee numbers by the end of this year are predicted to reach 3.4million. There are 5million IDPs, and we're not even sure of that. It will get worse. The financial costs, $5 billion. Can we continue to afford that, we can't even get it funded now. And we will have to make tough choices between competing humanitarian catastrophes.

Inside Syria it is much worse, particularly with winter approaching. Huge areas are inacessible. The refugee camps on the outside are like hotels compared to what you find on the inside. Aleppo has been under siege for twelve months. They even now have a new disease in Aleppo, they've re-christened it, renamed it "the Aleppo boil", cutaneous leishmaniasis. The old Byzantine villages, the 'Dead Cities' are now living, the living cities are now dying. Grass has become a food source, as have leaves and the children are dying, actually dying of hunger. It is this trauma that is effecting everyone. You can see videos of children under 5 watching public beheadings going on. They play games where death is re-enacted and funerals are played out. You can't possibly imagine what it has done to entire generations of this country. Who can disagree with the letter which was referred to in The Lancet from those 55 doctors, but are their calls being listened to?

Today, every area in Syria is unsafe. Every family is effected and every child traumatised. The only thing that gives me any hope is the extraordinary courage of Syrians working in civil society, communities keeping services running, who are trying to build some sort of future in the face of this horror. I talk to people inside Syria every day, and the one thing they want is an end to this bloodshed. What upsets me most is those who say this is not our issue.What's it got to do with us, as if silence and inaction are right. The refugee flows, the polarisation, the extremism, the arms, are not going to be contained in the Near East. Then there are those who say that this is just a conflict between a brutal regime on the one hand and al-Qaeda on the other. That is an insult to 20 million people who don't belong in either camp, who are neither jihadis or desiring of this dictatorship, the Assad mafia.

So, what can we do? There's no excuse for parties international, regional and local not to insist on full access across Syria. Full access, and that applies to all parties, not just the regime. Aid must also be completely independent and non-political, and this worries me that it is not, that various parties have been given aid on the basis of political affiliation. I would also argue that we cannot expect Jordan and Lebanon to take in more refugees if we are not prepared to do it ourselves. Europe has to open its borders, and the UK itself, Britain cannot deliver a 'niet' to this either. We need longterm thinking. We can't just reside in short term solutions. What is going to happen to Syria, how will it be reconstructed? How are we going to deal with reconciliation here? What is the transition plan? We think only in a couple of weeks ahead and this is extremely frustrating. How are all these people going to go back to Syria? The only solution to this is a political solution. If we really truly want to see an end to all this then we have to press for all parties, Syrian parties, regional parties and international actors to get round the table and try to bring an end to this disgraceful tragedy,

And I end by saying that during this meeting, this one and a half hours, 360 Syrians will have become refugees. That's one every fifteen seconds.