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15 March is the tenth anniversary of the start of the war in Syria, marking a sad milestone. The Syrian war is one of the greatest humanitarian disasters since the Second World War. Of the 21 million Syrians, more than 6.5 million have fled across the country’s borders, mainly to neighbouring countries. Lebanon is host to the largest proportion of refugees, around 1.5 million. Around one million Syrian refugees have reached Europe. Just over six million people are internally displaced within Syria, many of whom have had to flee several times.
In Syria, more than half of the working-age population is unemployed, and around 80 per cent of the population live in poverty. The state education system barely functions and leaves children and young people without educational prospects. So the humanitarian situation is still desperate: for eleven million Syrians, humanitarian aid is vital for daily survival. Returning to Syria remains impossible, due to the omnipresent destruction, the dire basic services and the danger of displacement and violence. The Syrian refugees, but also the indigenous population in the structurally weak neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, are suffering greatly from the consequences of the Syrian crisis and fear a collapse of the social support systems.
Caritas’ aid for Syrians displaced by the war
Since the outbreak of the war, Caritas Switzerland has implemented aid programmes amounting to more than 76 million Swiss francs in Syria and the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Jordan. In addition to emergency aid and survival assistance, this includes educational measures for refugee children and measures to promote income generation and qualify people for the labour market. Since 2012, Caritas has reached a total of around 670,000 people with its aid measures. Since conditions in Syria still don’t allow the return of the refugees, and the needs for humanitarian aid in all sectors are still enormous, Caritas Switzerland continues to support people affected by poverty in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Jordan. Caritas is committed to combining emergency aid with long-term, sustainable support
Increase Switzerland’s humanitarian commitment
The international community must step up its commitment to lasting peace and reconstruction. Until then, there must be functioning humanitarian aid for the people in the crisis region. Emergency aid alone is not enough, however, because the war-stricken population needs prospects in the form of medium and long-term development aid. There is a great need for investment in education in particular. There are children in Syria who missed their entire schooling because of the war. Caritas calls on the Federal government to provide more funds for humanitarian and long-term development aid.
Recognise provisionally admitted Syrians as refugees
After ten years of war in Syria, around 20,000 people from Syria are living in Switzerland. Almost half – namely 8,500 people – have not been granted refugee status but have been only ‘temporarily admitted’ in Switzerland. This despite the fact that it was foreseeable early on that the refugees would not be able to return to their home country for a long time, if ever. Temporary admission means they have worse prospects of finding accommodation or suitable work and makes integration more difficult. To improve their conditions, Caritas demands from the Federal Council that the 8,500 persons be recognised as refugees as quickly as possible. Where closest family members have been torn apart, family reunions must be made possible through humanitarian visas. In addition, Switzerland should do more to ensure safe escape routes and increase the admission of resettlement refugees.