World leaders gathering in London for the high-level conference on 'Supporting Syria and the region' on Thursday 4 February 2016 must ensure relief efforts contribute to lasting peace in the country now, says International Alert.
As the Syrian crisis reaches its fifth year, the conference – co-hosted by the governments of the UK, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the UN – presents a unique chance for the international community to set the agenda for not only how much aid will be pledged and by whom, but also how it will be delivered in a way that builds trust within increasingly divided communities.
Harriet Lamb, CEO of International Alert, which is working in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Tunisia, said:
"People desperately need food and shelter, but they also need a future. Investing in peace now can make the difference to people’s lives in the long term. With billions of dollars needed to deal with the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, governments must ensure that this aid is laying down the long-term conditions for peace."
The UK government alone has contributed £1.1 billion towards humanitarian efforts in Syria since 2012, which is to be applauded. However, only £9.5 million has been spent directly on building stability. And yet, with communities in Syria increasingly polarised and the number of Syrian refugees now standing at 4.5 million people, tensions in the region are becoming ever more strained. Their future rests on the ability of these communities to work together to rebuild Syria and overcome these deepening divides.
"Despite the uncertainty around the vital political peace process, there is much that can and must be done now to build daily peace between communities – as peace in the end must always also come from the ground. Against all the odds, so many civilians and local organisations in Syria are reconciling traumatised and divided communities, and they need our support now."
Investing in education and generating economic opportunities – major focusses of the conference – are two key practical ways of kick-starting this long-term process.
In Lebanon, for example, research by International Alert shows that separate classes for Lebanese and Syrian children are worsening divides, while mixed classes are countering prevailing prejudices among these communities. In Syria, ‘peace education’ classes provided by Alert are providing safe spaces where children and young people from all backgrounds can stay on a daily basis, get psychological support and learn to respect one another. As a 17-year-old Syrian refugee attending these sessions in Lebanon said:
"Without these classes, I would have returned to Syria and joined ISIS."
Alongside education, employment can give young Syrians a sense of purpose and help keep them away from extremist groups. If economic opportunities are offered to some groups and not others, it risks deepening political and sectarian divides, but if delivered correctly, they can bring communities together around common goals.
Any humanitarian and relief efforts for Syrians must take into account these opportunities and challenges. Only then can there be realistic hope for ending the suffering of Syrians and building the foundations for lasting peace.
Notes to editors
- 'Supporting Syria and the region' conference
- Experts on Syria and the Middle East available for interview
- Rebecca Crozier, Head of Middle East and Emerging Programmes, International Alert
- Caroline Brooks, Syria Projects Manager, International Alert
- Reem Assil, Chair of the Syrian Platform for Peace
- Olfa Lamloum, Tunisia Country Manager, International Alert
- Local experts based in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon also available for interview
- Social media: @intalert | #SupportSyrians
For more information and to arrange interviews with Alert’s experts on the Middle East, please contact:
Ilaria Bianchi, Head of Communications
T +44 (0)20 7627 6858 | M +44 (0)7910 255256
About International Alert in Syria
International Alert is one of the world’s leading peacebuilding organisations, with 30 years of experience laying the foundations for peace in more than 40 countries (including the UK). In Syria, we work with children and young people, artists and civil society to build trust, develop shared understandings of the conflict, and build strategies in support of peace and reconciliation. Find out more at www.international-alert.org/syria