On the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising, Handicap International condemns the inaction of the international community, which has failed in its duty to protect civilians or to give them equal access to humanitarian aid.
Handicap International has been aiding victims of the Syrian conflict for ten months. After launching a relief effort for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, it extended activities inside Syria, where conditions are extremely harsh.
Two years after the first demonstrators hit the streets of Syria, the country is locked in a bloody civil war that has already claimed the lives of nearly 70,000 people and forced nearly 4 million others to take refuge abroad or inside Syria. This incredibly violent crisis, in which civilians have faced two years of continuous fighting, claims more and more victims. They continue to be killed by bullets or bombs, severely wounded or burned, and traumatized by the hell of their everyday lives.
Handicap International began supplying aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon in May 2012, before extending its operations into Syria. More than 160 Handicap International staff work in these three countries to case-manage victims. By June 2013, almost 37,000 people will have benefited from the charity's direct assistance, while 9,000 people have learned how to spot and avoid weapons and explosive remnants of war.
Few organizations operate in the north of Syria. Handicap International is the only one providing post-surgery emergency rehabilitation care to victims, many of whom are children. It is common for our teams to provide rehabilitation care and orthopedic devices to people who have lost both legs, or an arm and a leg.
Given the extreme suffering of the Syrian people, Handicap International has already admonished representatives of the international community for their failure to apply principles of civilian protection and for their lack of action.
“It is clear that diplomatic pressure on all parties to this conflict has failed to prevent civilians from being deliberately targeted, in total disregard for international humanitarian law, and sometimes with indescribable cruelty,” says Jean-Baptiste Richardier, executive director of Handicap International.
Despite advances in obtaining authorization from the Syrian authorities to access government-controlled areas, the north of Syria remains appallingly isolated. The significance and preservation of international humanitarian law are at stake as well as the capacity of the international community to combat its own despondency.
“This conflict has unfolded behind closed doors,” Richardier adds. “Humanitarian organizations, which are ready and willing to intervene, are not being given adequate resources to supply the humanitarian assistance required to meet the immense needs of the people. As a result of this wait-and-see policy, a growing number of Syrians have had to flee their country, with one million refugees already registered in neighboring countries. There will also be dramatic and long-term consequences for everyone left without adequate care, some of whom will develop disabilities as a result. Statements on the accessibility of northern Syria for aid passing through government-controlled areas should not, however, minimize the serious deficiency of emergency relief getting through to this region. Any other conclusion would be a lie, and the international community should not be satisfied with the little progress made so far.”
Elizabeth MacNairn, executive director of Handicap International's US office, adds that "the victims of this bloody conflict will bear the physical and psychological scars for years to come. The international community must not only respond immediately with lifesaving assistance, but also in the medium- and long-term to help the Syrian people rebuild and reclaim their lives.”
About Handicap International
Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 30 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization's principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and the winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Award in 2011. Handicap International takes action and campaigns in places where “standing tall” is no easy task.