Avatar photo

Gareth Bayley

UK Special Representative for Syria

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Turkey

19th August 2015 Istanbul, Turkey

The UK Effort to #ShareHumanity With Syria

Today, 19 August, is World Humanitarian Day. It’s invidious to choose among the most pressing humanitarian crises around the world. But there’s one very close to my heart: Syria. I work with my team across three countries – Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan – to help resolve the Syria crisis.

So far, the Syria crisis has claimed at least a quarter of a million Syrian lives. An estimated further 16 million Syrians are in need of assistance inside and outside the country. As the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria recently pointed out, almost half of the country’s population – 12million men, women and children – have been forced to flee their homes. Syrians are now the largest refugee population in the world.

For the UK, the number one imperative is that this crisis ends. Syrians must be able to negotiate, agree and own a political settlement which leads to inclusive government and stability of the kind you can only get from governance both accountable to Syrians and legitimate in their eyes. By his actions, Assad has shown he cannot be a part of that.

Yet, five years since a peaceful uprising demanding a better future for Syria, that political settlement has yet to come. Meanwhile, the violence is unimaginable. Assad’s barrel bombs continue to terrorise civilians from above, while violent extremist groups – often tacitly encouraged by the Assad regime – have sought to exploit ungoverned space on the ground. The overwhelming majority of Syrians have little choice but to dig in for the long haul, planning for the worst – years of conflict to come – while nourishing hope for the best, that credible political negotiations can resume.

Meanwhile, there is a duty to help, to relieve Syrians’ suffering, respecting and preserving their dignity and empowering them as owners of Syria’s future. This is why the UK is at the forefront of the international response. We have committed £900million of support in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region, making us the second largest bilateral donor to this noble cause. This is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. This funding is providing support, including food, medical care and relief items, to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the fighting in Syria, as well as to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

We must also pay tribute to the Syrians who continue to dare to dream of a better future for their country. After all, the real humanitarian heroes in Syria are the Syrian people who are working together to support their communities. Whether as doctors, teachers, aid workers, engineers or many other roles, they are leading action in Syria to save more lives and be part of the solution to the challenges facing Syria.

The UK’s support extends further than humanitarian aid. We work to get Syrians access to local governance, justice and community security, and help from rescue teams willing to dig victims from under the rubble caused by Assad’s barrel bombs. And behind these wide reaching programmes I have the honour of working with a dedicated team – two even swam between continents to raise money and awareness for the Syrian crisis.

When one looks at the scale of Syria’s need, it is clear that the international community cannot do enough and indeed has not done enough. The heart of the matter – support and pressure for a political settlement – is flatly blocked within the UN Security Council. Humanitarian aid appeals meet with a response, but never quite to the amount sought. For the UK, we responded – £200million to the latest appeal – and will continue to respond. And we do all we can to unblock the path to that political settlement that Syria needs.

This year’s theme for World Humanitarian Day is #ShareHumanity. Join me in sharing some for Syria.

Follow Gareth