As conditions continue to deteriorate for Syrian refugees, appeals for humanitarian aid are growing louder. Meanwhile, the countries most involved in fueling the violence inside Syria are the least willing to help alleviate the crisis.
To be fair, the US has donated the bulk of humanitarian funds requested by the UN.
According to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UNOCHA), the US has contributed $818 million this year, just over a quarter of the total $3 billion requested. In addition, Obama pledged another $195 million last month, bringing the US total to $1 billion.
But the US has spent even more aiding Syrian rebels.
As Reuters noted in July, the US “committed $250 million in non-lethal aid to Syria in addition to the $815 million in humanitarian assistance in support of the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces,” including “trucks, radios, large generators and sophisticated medical equipment,” which is “handed to officers of the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA).” For example, in May, the US sent 350,000 high-calorie U.S. military food packets to select rebel units in an effort to boost moderate opposition leaders, though there’s no way to determine whether it went to those most in need.
As of late, several news outlets are reporting that the CIA is actively funding weapons transfers to Syrian rebels. This follows earlier reports that the US had been covertly training Syrian rebels in Turkey and Jordan since 2012, though it’s unclear how much the CIA’s role is costing the US government. Still, chances are it eclipses US humanitarian aid.
Arming the opposition may not seem like a huge deal, especially considering the brutality of the Assad regime, but according to a January report by Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), arming the opposition is “the worst military intervention option” because it presents the “greatest risk of civilian harm,” even more than limited military strikes.
End users are difficult to vet, while the weapons themselves are nearly impossible to track. Providing weapons also increases the risk of post-conflict proliferation to facilitate armed conflicts elsewhere, and could facilitate post-conflict violence among rivals within Syria itself. If arms are provided, so too should be training requirements, with prioritization of international law and civilian protection as much as weapons use.
Meanwhile, the US, which was just last week demanding we bomb Syria, has granted residency to a pathetic number of Syrian refugees.
According to the Refugee Processing Center (RPC), just 33 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the US so far this year and they’re only eligible to stay until March 31, 2015, a date that will likely be extended as it has been in the past. But, as Keith Grubb at PolicyMic points out, “this cycle of extensions creates uncertainty and places an unnecessary psychological burden on the Syrian refugees” who inevitably “will again be uprooted from their home and expected to return to Syria.”
Overall, the US has offered to take in just 2,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, but not before subjecting them to extensive, possibly year-long background investigations to make sure they do not pose a national security threat. “It’s not that they’re worried about infants enlisting in al Qaeda,” explains Foreign Policy. “The worry is that terrorist relatives can more easily enter the United States, once they have relatives in America.” It’s US racial profiling at its finest.
In stark contrast, Sweden, a much smaller country, announced it would grant permanent residency to all 14,700 displaced Syrians inside Sweden, and Germany said it would offer asylum to 5,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year.
In May, the Financial Times reported that the US-backed Qatari government had spent an estimated $3 billion arming the Syrian rebels in the first two years of the conflict. Compare that to the paltry $2.7 million Qatar, one of the worlds richest countries, has spent in 2013 on humanitarian aid for Syria. As for Syrian refugees, Qatar offered shelter to a total of 42 early this year as “guests of the Emir.”
Even Iraq, a nation still reeling from its own refugee crisis, has donated $10 million.
Saudi Arabia, one of America’s greatest allies in the Middle East, has only contributed $51.9 million of the $78 million pledged in humanitarian assistance for Syrians in 2013.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has led covert efforts by the Saudis, Jordan, Turkey and the CIA to arm and train hand-picked Syrian rebels. Bandar played a similar role in the 1980s, when he partnered with the US to fund and arm mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and worked with the CIA to prop up the Contras in Nicaragua.
Just last month, Saudi Arabia transferred $1.25 billion to Jordan in an effort to funnel arms to the rebels through the Jordan-Syrian border.
Saudi Arabia has even sent fighters to Syria, including over 1,200 death row prisoners whose sentences were commuted on the condition that they join the fight against Assad. “[T]he prisoners included Afghans, Egyptians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, Somalis, Sudanese, Syrians and Yemenis,” reports USA Today. “All faced ‘execution by sword’ for murder, rape or drug smuggling.”
That Putin has come out looking like a peacenik compared to Obama is comical considering Russia’s meager $17.8 million humanitarian aid donation to the Syrian crisis, less than 0.6 percent of the total requested. Russia also blocked a UN Security Council plan to inspect Syrian refugee camps inside Jordan. Meanwhile, after the uprising against Assad began in 2011, Russia sent around $1 billion in arms to Syrian troops. Though arms sales came to a halt in 2012 and the beginning of 2013, Russia changed course in the last several months following a breakdown in diplomacy with the US. That’s not to say that the US is the good guy here, but neither is Russia.
I asked the Russian government whether or not it had offered asylum to Syrian refugees. I am still waiting to hear back.
Iran, on the other hand, has reportedly continued sending arms—”rang[ing] from communications equipment to light arms and advanced strategic weapons”—to the Assad regime. Near the the beginning of the uprising, Iran played a vital role in Assad’s suppression of dissent by providing the regime with surveillance technology used to disrupt the opposition.
While it’s unclear how much Iran has spent propping up Assad, there’s no question that it’s more than it’s offering in humanitarian aid. Iran is completely absent from the UNOCHA list of humanitarian aid donors to Syria in 2013.
Based on a Press TV report, Iran does appear to have taken in an unknown number of refugees, but it appears they were only welcome because they were fleeing rebel-led atrocities.
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There are several other countries involved in fueling the violence in Syria, like Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. However, unlike those listed above, these nations have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees. To be sure, their policies toward Syrian refugees have been horrific, but a lot of that stems from a lack of adequate funding and resources.
Wouldn’t it be great if the countries fueling the violence in Syria put their energy toward ending the conflict and alleviating the suffering their interference has caused?