Six years after start of the crisis, there is no escape for Syrians seeking safety

President Trump’s ban on Syrians goes into effect as Syrians mark tragic milestone.

Six years since the descent into a brutal civil war, millions of Syrians are bearing the brunt of increasingly restrictive policies around the world and inside Syria to stop them from reaching safety.

Those who have fled are seeing doors slammed in their faces as rich countries across the world enact hostile policies towards refugees. Since the end of January, the US, European Union, and United Kingdom have changed, suspended, or cancelled policies that could have offered a safe haven to tens of thousands of refugees

Amongst the most vulnerable are the approximately 78,000 people trapped along Syria’s sealed borders with Jordan, the hundreds of thousands more barred from entering Turkey, and over 640,000 people struggling to survive under military sieges in Syria.

Andy Baker, who leads Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Response said, “A new international consensus is emerging to stop Syrians fleeing violence, rather than stopping the violence that is causing them to flee. The result is more civilians in the firing line and living under crippling military siege, vulnerable refugees left with no resettlement options, and increasing attempts to force Syrians to return to conflict zones.”

President Donald Trump’s latest effort to slam the door on refugees is yet another affront to Syrians as they mark six years since the start of the crisis. His second executive order, which goes into effect on March 16, completely halts the refugee resettlement program for 120 days. This unprecedented action poses a direct threat to the lives of Syrians and other refugees who, given the multiple, time-sensitive medical and security screenings imposed by the process, effectively have only a two month window to travel before checks begin to expire. President Trump claims he took these measures to protect the US, but the facts simply do not bear out those claims. Stopping refugee resettlement will not make us any safer; instead it will cause massive harm to tens of thousands of people.

For those living in Syria, stopping the resettlement process could have real life and death consequences. Fatima, a Syrian living in besieged East Aleppo, said of life during the conflict: “We stay at home, hoping that we will be safe as the planes hover above us in the sky and the shelling doesn’t stop. We usually wait till the bombing stops to take a chance and go out and find food. We can’t find enough to eat.”

In this critical time of need, not only has the US closed its borders to Syrian refugees, but the Trump administration has proposed historic and devastating cuts to the foreign aid program. Foreign aid represents just 1% of the US budget, yet provides a critical life-line to tens of millions of women, men, and children around the world, including Syrians. It is an essential tool in the struggle to counter the violent extremism that President Trump says he wants to fight.

Matthew Chrastek, coordinator at the American Relief Coalition for Syria, an Oxfam partner said, “As a coalition of Syrian-American diaspora organizations providing shelter, food, and health services to displaced people in Syria and the neighboring countries, we remain frustrated by the international community’s focus on the symptoms and not the causes of the crisis. Many Syrians we work with, who have been waiting for months and years to return home, are now feeling even further alienated by the increase in anti-refugee rhetoric in the US and around the world.”

While the US has focused primarily on countering the very real threat from ISIS, there has not been appropriate attention to addressing the root causes of the crisis and finding a political solution for a lasting peace for Syria.

Baker said, “The international community must listen to all those affected by the crisis – including those forced to flee across borders and those within Syria, as well as the local humanitarian organizations that have helped them through this tragedy. Until there is a sustainable peace in Syria, all members of the international community have a duty to offer a safe haven to those fleeing the violence and repression.”

Originally posted on the Oxfam America website.

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