ISPI MED This Week

MED This Week | Syria’s Endless Crisis

The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today we turn the spotlight on Syria: despite its diplomatic rehabilitation, the country is still ravaged by an endless conflict.

Twelve years after the outbreak of the civil war, Syria’s conflict and the related humanitarian crisis show no sign of abating. The UN currently estimates that 15.3 million Syrians require humanitarian assistance within the country, a 5 per cent increase from 2022. Syria’s extremely fragile situation was further exacerbated by the February earthquakes, especially in the northwest, where some 4 million people – including 2.7 million internally displaced – live in dire conditions. But while the population is increasingly in need of assistance, international agencies are coping with funding shortages, with some, like the World Food Programme, already forced to scale down their Syria- and refugee-hosting countries-based operations.On June 12 and 13, the Rome MED Dialogues and the Carter Center co-hosted a closed-door meeting on Syria to discuss steps that could be taken at the international level to address the humanitarian crisis. We have asked some of the participants to share their thoughts on some of the issues that were discussed at the meeting.

The delivery of humanitarian aid to northwestern Syria should not be politicised

The UN Security Council’s failure to reauthorize cross-border aid into northwestern Syria is a dramatic event. For years, this aid mechanism has represented a lifeline for millions of Syrians living in rebel-held areas. Now, their livelihood is once again put in jeopardy. It is necessary to explore avenues for a possible cross-border mechanism that would work independently from UN agencies, although this is certainly not an easy task. Even if a UNSC agreement or other forms of ententes with Damascus were to be reached soon, the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria’s northwest should not be held hostage every six months. When talking about sustainable solutions for the Syrian crisis, the politicisation of humanitarian aid remains a major issue.

The international community cannot forget Syrian refugees

The World Food Programme’s decision to scale down operations in Syria and refugee-hosting countries due to funding restrictions is the latest evidence of decreasing international attention on the Syrian crisis. Hosting countries do not have the resources to cope with this situation alone, and forgetting that will only bring about more suffering to the refugees, potentially impacting the stability of Syria’s neighbours. In countries such as Turkey and Lebanon, the debate around repatriation has become particularly heated, and without international support, the cases of forced repatriation will only increase in the months and years to come.

The Al-Hawl camp remains a ticking time bomb

One of the most pressing challenges when it comes to finding sustainable solutions to the Syrian conflict concerns the makeshift prisons and detention camps holding Islamic State fighters and their families in northeast Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces run these facilities, which include prisons hosting about 10,000 Islamic State fighters, as well the al-Hawl (or Al-Hol) camp, which houses some 57,000 people with links to the Islamic State, mostly women and children. The United Nations maintains that the repatriation of foreign fighters and their families is the only international-law compliant response. Several thousand repatriations have been completed to date and others are underway, but many countries resist taking such action. Moreover, more than three quarters of the detainees are from Syria and Iraq. The international community has yet to delineate a plan for these individuals.

The closed-door meeting also touched upon the much-debated process of Arab re-engagement with Damascus and its implications for Syria’s and the region’s future. The relevance of this trend is before everyone’s eyes, and the Rome MED Dialogues decided to explore it with an online panel, this time organised in cooperation with the Jordanian Center for Strategic Studies.


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