Australia needs to step up diplomatic pressure to protect Syrians

Emergencies, General, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 11 Mar 2016

With at least 250,000 people killed in Syria in the past 5 years of conflict and more than 11.4 million forced to flee their homes, the Turnbull Government must step up diplomatic pressure to help end the nightmare war.

A group of 30 aid agencies from around the world are calling on Russia, the United States, France and the United Kingdom to safeguard the glimmer of hope that the recent ceasefire has brought to the people of Syria.

Oxfam Chief Executive Helen Szoke said the four countries have all undermined their commitments to protect civilians through inadequate diplomatic pressure, providing political and military support to parties to the conflict, or taking direct military action.

“While the failure to permanently end the terrible violence must primarily rest with those involved in the fighting, their international backers also have a responsibility to safeguard hope rather than fuel the fire,” Dr Szoke said.

“They have to decide whether they are committed to ending this catastrophe or to continuing its escalation. We have seen the impact of airstrikes, now it is time to see the impact of diplomatic pressure in bringing peace to Syria.

“It is vital that Australian Government steps up pressure on all parties through the UN Security Council to immediately and permanently end siege tactics that block aid and leave people sick and starving, and to stop attacks on homes, schools and hospitals.”

A report by aid and advocacy organisations responding to the crisis has found that the past year also left a further 1.5 million in need of humanitarian aid, and that the international community should be doing more to help.

The fifth year of the Syria crisis has seen the number of people cut off from food, water and medical supplies in besieged towns double. The UN estimates that the number of people living under siege has now reached almost 500,000, though Syrian organisations say the number is much higher.

Despite increasing needs, it has been harder than ever to get aid to the most desperate. Restrictions on aid access across government controlled lines in Syria have meant that only 10% of UN convoys have got through. While aid convoys are now reaching some besieged communities, bringing some temporary relief to hundreds of thousands of civilians, huge swathes of Syria remain without adequate assistance as aid agencies continue to be blocked, attacked or harassed by all warring sides.

CARE Australia Chief Executive, Dr Julia Newton-Howes said the undermining of commitments designed to protect Syrians must end.

“As well as insisting on respect for the ceasefire and an end to all attacks on civilians, pressure must be put on UN Security Council members to hold to account those who break international law. It’s urgent the international community also seek to halt the indiscriminate use of weapons with wide area-effects in populated areas,” Dr Newton-Howes said.

“Equally vital is to continue to press for access to besieged areas so those most in need can be reached.”

The report, Fuelling the Fire, catalogues the deteriorating conditions in Syria, as the country is plunged into further chaos and fragmentation.  It has been signed by 30 humanitarian and human rights organisations including Oxfam, CARE, Save the Children and Syrian organisations, including The Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), Big Heart, and Syria Relief and Development.

For more information or to arrange an interview contact Angus Hohenboken on 0428367318 or