Forgotten Faces of the War

Third Way Wider ViewNovember 13, 2014

Washington Comment

Winter is fast approaching, bringing with it rain, snow and colder temperatures for many affected by the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

When I visited Lebanon earlier this year, I met with a Syrian refugee family living in a cold, unfinished building.

When I visited Lebanon earlier this year, I met with a Syrian refugee family living in a cold, unfinished building. They are just a few of the more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees officially registered in Lebanon. Informal estimates range much higher.

The influx of these refugees has created a huge burden on Lebanon, a small country with a population of just 4 million. Mennonite Central Committeeis providing help through local organizations, but the need continues to grow.

Refugees and the many others who have been impacted by the crisis are the forgotten, invisible faces of the war. The top United Nations official for refugees has called the Syria crisis “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” And yet, the U.N.’s response plan for Syria and neighboring countries is only 47 percent funded, leaving a huge gap in services.

Lebanon has also been impacted by instability as a result of the Syrian crisis, with violence spilling over into some parts of the country. Meanwhile,regional powers are vying for influence, offering arms deals to bolster the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Into this volatile mix the U.S. is unleashing airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State and other militants within Syria. The U.S. is also moving forward with its plan to train and equip Syrian opposition forces, recruited from refugee populations in neighboring countries.

These actions are likely to further prolong and expand a war that has already gone on for nearly four years. As Congress returns from their election recess and debates U.S. involvement in the region, urge them to oppose further military actions.

Instead, the U.S. should provide generous funding to address the humanitarian crisis, ensuring that its assistance goes to the most vulnerable populations, including refugees living outside of formal refugee camps. Support is vitally needed for host communities as well. And the U.S. should facilitate resettling greater numbers of refugees from affected countries in the United States.

In addition, the U.S. should seek to address the political and social grievances at the root of the conflicts within Syria and Iraq. The U.S. should also engage diplomatically with all countries in the region, including Iran. These steps will not likely result in a quick resolution of the conflict, but they will contribute towards a much more sustainable, long-term solution.

The family that I met with in Lebanon earlier this year expressed the basic desire shared by so many refugees: they simply want the fighting to stop so that they can go home. This winter let us hear that plea, so they will be forgotten no longer.

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