Washington — The United States is working closely with Syria’s neighbors to support the estimated 140,000 Syrians who have fled the country's ongoing violence, according to Under Secretary of State Maria Otero.
She spoke in a telephone briefing on U.S. humanitarian aid for Syria July 19, shortly after her trip to Syria’s neighbors Turkey and Jordan.
She said the “alarming events” in Syria are “continuing to evolve even at a faster speed, raising huge and deep concerns for all the countries in the region” as well as for the international community.
The country has been embroiled in violent conflict since March 2011, when Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched brutal crackdowns on political opponents that have now left more than 14,000 people dead.
Kelly Clements, deputy assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in the briefing that the violence is continuing to grow and that more and more Syrians are crossing borders every day seeking safety.
“In the course of just one night, nearly 1,300 Syrians arrived at Turkish camps,” Clements said, adding that there are reports that more than 8,500 Syrians crossed the border into Lebanon in the 24 hours before the briefing.
“For this reason, our support is crucial to ensuring that basic needs are met,” she said.
Clements said the governments of Syrian neighbors Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have taken on a significant financial burden in providing shelter, medical care, food and water to refugees.
“We commend them for their generosity,” Clements said, “but they are not alone.”
She said the United States is providing an additional $6 million to bolster the humanitarian response to the crisis.
“This brings the total amount of U.S. assistance in 2012 to nearly $64 million, and more is coming,” Clements said.
She said the aid is being delivered largely through international organizations with staff and infrastructure in Syria and neighboring countries.
“Humanitarian assistance is provided on the basis of need, not political affiliation, and is being distributed to the most vulnerable through [United Nations] agencies and other international and local nongovernmental organizations working together,” including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, and other international and local nongovernmental organizations.
Clements said lack of access due to violence is keeping humanitarian agencies from reaching those in need, and called for all parties to facilitate access for relief workers to reach affected areas and populations.
Mark Bartolini, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, said there are “really heroic efforts going on right now inside of Syria to help people that are most in need,” and that these efforts are having a positive impact. He said in the briefing that there are an estimated 1.5 million Syrians in need still in the country, including between 300,000 and 500,000 who have been displaced from their homes.
“We’re not reaching everyone, but we’re doing the best we can and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get further access as the situation moves forward,” Bartolini said.
Otero said the United States is working with international agencies as well as government leaders across the region to expand humanitarian aid because as the violence increases, more and more Syrians are expected to flee.
“We will continue our support for those affected by the violence in Syria even as we look forward to the day when all Syrians can live in a free and democratic country,” Clements said.