Marie Dennis: Syrians Need Safety Zones for Humanitarian Relief

Marie Dennis with Syrian women.
Marie Dennis with Syrian women.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, traveled in May to Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, to deliver messages of hope and support to Syrian refugees from people around the world who had participated in a solidarity fast for Syria.

Here’s an excerpt from Marie’s report:

“…According to the OCHA chief Valerie Amos, humanitarian convoys are regularly attacked or shot at, and staff are intimidated or kidnapped. For example, in late March a convoy carrying medical assistance for 80,000 people was hijacked by an armed group on its way from Tartous to Aleppo, and all of the supplies were stolen. And yet, in spite of the threats, humanitarian workers continue their critical work. “I want to pay particular tribute to the work of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteers,” she said at an April briefing. “They have shown incredible dedication, impartiality and courage since the beginning of the conflict. Many of them do not hesitate to risk their lives every day to bring assistance to people in need, whether they live in government or opposition-controlled areas…. Given its network across the country and its capacity to negotiate access to almost all areas affected, SARC is an invaluable partner for the UN and other humanitarian organizations in Syria.”

Syria’s government, responsible for protecting the people, is not only failing to do so, but is accused of viciously attacking civilian communities, including with its substantial air force. Between the Assad government, the Free Syrian Army and the many extremist elements increasingly involved in the conflict, few people we met in Lebanon thought that a negotiated solution in the near future was possible. Instead they were predicting a long, bloody war. We heard strong voices speak against any kind of a military intervention, but for consistent, diplomatic, relief and solidarity support from other countries without self-interested geopolitical maneuvering.

At the April briefing, Valerie Amos also said: “As a matter of priority, the Security Council must find ways to reduce the level of violence and stop the bloodshed. Parties must be reminded of their obligation to protect civilians and abide by international humanitarian law. The consequences of violating those rules must be made clear to all. Protection of medical facilities, staff and patients in particular must be ensured at all times. Parties must demilitarize hospitals and … they must take all precautionary measures to avoid hitting medical facilities or staff.” She urged the Security Council to “request the parties to ensure the safe and unimpeded access of aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria.”

Faith in action: Urge Secretary of State John Kerry to actively encourage UN Security Council action in support of safe, cross-border corridors into Syria for humanitarian relief and to ensure that all promised U.S. aid for displaced and refugee communities is promptly delivered.”–Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International

Read Marie’s whole report.

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