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Refugee crisis: Western promises of help are insufficient as millions of refugees face bleak winter

Much of the money that Western governments have donated has been squandered or failed to reach those most in need

Tuesday 03 November 2015 23:14 GMT

Blankets; tents; campfires. Despite the promises of the UNHCR and Western governments, the plain truth about the 4 million Syrian refugees living in makeshift accommodation is that they are facing an extremely bleak winter with only the flimsiest of defences against the cold. The other, still more disturbing truth about the aid effort was revealed by the BBC recently: much of the money that Western governments have donated has been squandered, and in all events has failed to reach those most in need. The World Food Programme, Unicef and the UNHCR all have huge challenges in dealing with the looming humanitarian disaster. They have little enough time to do so.

The scale of the logistical task is obviously vast, and the funding of the UN programmes – even when efficiently administered – inadequate to the task. More than 4 million refugees have left Syria since the fighting started to destroy their homeland, and, despite the impression given that almost all of them are by now in Calais or Kent, some 95 per cent are in countries next to Syria – Turkey (1.9 million), Lebanon (1.2 million), Jordan (650,000), Iraq (249,463, in addition to 3 million internally displaced people) and Egypt (132,375). The governments of all these countries – of which none can be said to be rich – have pleaded with the developed economies for months to help them provide food and shelter to this unprecedented wave of humanity that has arrived in their midst. Some 10 per cent of the population of Jordan is now Syrian refugees, the equivalent to 6 million in Britain.

The West has failed to answer their pleas; it is the Syrians, and their hosts, who are taking the strain. There are, of course, thousands more spread across Europe from Lesbos to the English Channel, many within the territory of the European Union. Few of these souls have been offered anything like acceptable accommodation for cold conditions.

The UN humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is, according to Amnesty International, only 40 per cent funded. This means that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive about £1 a day in food assistance. So as the first winter frosts begin to bite, the rains become heavier, the ground turns to mud and snow and storms loom, we witness the international community, through its principal agencies, failing utterly to protect some of the most vulnerable and desperate people on the planet.

There has been much to lament about the British Government’s response, but in one respect it is defensible. The greatest need for assistance is in those camps around Syria’s borders, and if we are to take in more refugees – as we are simply morally obliged to do – then there is a case for at least some of them coming directly from those camps in safe and orderly conditions. Yet not enough has been done, and the weather is quickly turning. The EU, an entity that boasts some of the most advanced and wealthiest societies on Earth, seems incapable of organising decent shelter for people who are begging for help.

It is not as if this winter weather was a “black swan” event. We have seen it coming for months (or should have done), and could have begun to make preparations. Reaching a political or military solution in Syria will take time, as will finding a rational way of allocating displaced people across the EU. What cannot take any longer, without tragic loss of life, is the granting of shelter to those in dire need.

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