Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on the Humanitarian Impact of Eight Years of War in Syria
Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing on "The Humanitarian Impact of Eight Years of War in Syria," with testimony from witnesses Ben Stiller, Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, The United Nations Refugee Agency, and David Miliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee.
Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement:
"Before we get to the reason we are here today, I would like to first take a moment to remember our friend and colleague, a former chairman of this committee, Senator Dick Lugar, who passed away just a few days ago. Dick was as widely respected in his home state of Indiana as he was around the globe. A lifelong public servant, he exemplified the ideals that many of us strive for every day. I was fortunate to serve alongside him from my first days in this committee, and to benefit from his wisdom.
"At the top of the long list of his accomplishments is his work on nuclear non-proliferation in former Soviet countries. Our world is safer today because of his signature legislation, which was no easy feat. On behalf of all of us on the committee, I send my condolences to Senator Lugar’s wife and his family, and the many people who, like us, were blessed to know and work with him. He was a true statesman and will always be remembered as such.
"Moving to the topic at hand, March tragically marked the 8 th anniversary of a brutal civil conflict in Syria – a war characterized by the indiscriminate deployment of barrel bombs and chemical weapons against civilians; mass murder and forced displacement; targeted attacks against medical and humanitarian workers; and the wholesale destruction of critical infrastructure – directed by the brutal dictator Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian enablers. The humanitarian and economic toll has been devastating.
"More than half a million people have been killed; Over 13-million Syrians require urgent, life-saving assistance; Millions of men, women, and children have been forced from their homes, including 5.7 million refugees; and nearly 3-million Syrian children, including 800,000 child refugees, are out of school – at least 10,000 of whom are unaccompanied, and all of whom are now vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation, and recruitment by armed groups.
"Notably, Assad’s atrocities have also given rise to dangerous extremists groups, including ISIS, which have capitalized on the chaos, unleashed further death and destruction, committed acts of genocide, manipulated aid, and further destabilized an already fragile region.
"These are people, not just statistics, and they deserve better. These are men and women with families and children – the overwhelming majority of whom have been dragged into a conflict not of their making, yet are forced to pay the ultimate price. Unfortunately, there is no easy path forward for them.
"Of particular concern is the current situation in Rukban. Along the Syrian-Jordanian border, the Rukban camp houses 36,000 Syrians, mostly women and children. In recent weeks, the Assad regime and its Russian-backers have blocked access and repeatedly refused requests by the UN to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance. The last UN aid delivery was in February and supplies of food and basic necessities have been exhausted. With Ramadan fast approaching, I urge the Assad regime and its Russian backers to grant access to Rukban and beyond, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2449, and thereby alleviating wide-scale humanitarian suffering.
"The regional implications of this crisis cannot be underestimated. The unrelenting flow of refugees into Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan has overwhelmed economic and security institutions and poses the risk of additional regional instability.
"And while it is easy to focus on conditions in the camps, it is important to note that roughly 90 percent of Syrian refugees live among hosting communities outside of camps. Refugees living in urban settings, without access to legal employment or other assets, face extreme difficulty in finding shelter and basic necessities. Moreover, they are often difficult to identify and therefore, difficult to assist.
"This situation is simply not sustainable. It is in the U.S. interest to help Syrian refugees realize their desire for safe and voluntary returns to their homes as quickly as possible.
"All of this has resulted in the bill that would authorize sanctions against the Assad regime and its backers and hold these parties accountable for their human rights abuses and ongoing atrocities. This bill, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, I have worked on with Ranking Member Menendez and others, and many of us want to see it passed as quickly as possible. It was included in S.1, the first bill passed by the Senate this Congress, but which has been high-sided in the House. As a result, the Caesar bill will be taken up soon at a business meeting of this committeee. The Syrian people need our help, and we should not delay this legislation any longer.
"The United States is the single largest humanitarian donor to the Syrian crisis, providing $9.5 billion since the beginning of the conflict. Now, the questions are, how do we maintain the momentum of support for these populations, and what programs provide a path to durable solutions for the Syrian people? Such solutions will both address the grievances that perpetuated the conflict and prevent sowing the seeds of future conflict.
"With Syria’s complex and deadly war entering its 9 th year, the United States and other partners continue to work to ameliorate humanitarian conditions while seeking a more permanent, durable solution to the crisis. We remain committed to doing what we can to save lives, while acknowledging that humanitarian assistance is just a Band-Aid. A political solution is long overdue. The United States stands with the Syrian people."
Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing.
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