Twelve short months - Refugees and the Syria crisis

By Rob Henderson, Advocacy and Public Affairs Officer, World Vision UK

It’s hard to believe its party conference season again. Every year seems to come around faster than the last. One minute I’m sending ‘thank you’ emails and reading over meeting notes and the next I’m on a train to Manchester or Brighton ready to do it all over again.

Then again, every time I turn on the TV or check Twitter I’m reminded of just how much has changed in those twelve short months.

I’m lucky to work in advocacy. The best part of my job is taking the story of a child or a family to a decision maker and showing them why and how things need to change. But sometimes this can be an uphill struggle, especially when you’re talking about a crisis that the world seems to have all but given up on.

The way politicians are talking about the Syria crisis this year is completely different to the way they were talking about it a year ago. In September 2014, I organised a panel discussion at the Conservative and Labour party conferences on how we could keep attention on Syria and increase aid as the crisis entered its fourth year. Our panellists were open, honest and talked about the children affected by this crisis with real conviction.

But as someone who had recently returned to the UK from Lebanon, a country that hosts a staggering 1.3 million Syrian refugees, I couldn’t help but feel that our discussions were detached from the reality.

The refugees were living in increasingly dire conditions, and while there was no doubt that the panellists understood this, it still seemed like a problem ‘over there’. The Syria crisis had not yet reached Europe’s shores in the way it did this summer.

Syria is the humanitarian crisis of our time and our response will define a generation. In recent months we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees arrive on the continent. They are fleeing violence in Syria and the hopeless existence they often face in refugee camps and informal settlements, coming to Europe for a safer and more prosperous life.

These refugees are people like Faud and his young family, who left Syria six months ago. After five months in Turkey, he started the journey towards Germany with his wife and daughter. Two of his sons died in Syria and Faud lost one of his legs. Last week they arrived in a refugee camp in northern Serbia, more than a thousand miles from a home that will never be the same.

The truth is people like Faud and his family should not be in this situation. In 2000 the main aim of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was to reduce poverty and desperation on this scale.

The MDGs achieved so much for children across the world, halving infant mortality and empowering women and girls in the process. The problem is that the gains made by the MDGs didn’t extend, for the most part, to places experiencing conflict, where conditions brought on by war are so dire that people like Faud and his family are forced to become refugees - places like Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The MDGs failed to address root causes of poverty - things like conflict, corruption and poor governance. When the UN meets to agree the follow-up to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), next week, we need to go further this time if we really want the world to move forward in the next fifteen years.

There are currently 60 million people displaced in the world. We want to see this disturbing trend reversed. The UK Government has been incredibly generous in its response to the crisis in Syria, committing £1billion to date, but we cannot respond to this crisis with money alone. Perhaps this summer’s events, which have seen these global issues knocking at our front door, will bring the political will we need to change the lives of Faud, his family, and all the refugees like him.

World Vision has been responding to the Syria crisis for over four years, and reached more than two million people. We are continuing to respond in Syria and the wider region as the crisis reaches Europe, and have recently begun distributions in Serbia for unaccompanied children and families on the move. Last summer Rob spent nine months working with our Lebanese policy team. You can follow him on twitter for updates on policy and throughout party conference season @henderobertson.

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