Mercy Corps leader tells Congress: Support relief efforts in Middle East

Iraq, Syria, September 16, 2015

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The humanitarian situation in the Middle East for the millions of people affected by conflict in and around Syria is “near a breaking point,” said a senior official with Mercy Corps in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Sept. 16.

After almost five years of war in Syria, and fighting spilling into Iraq, the effects of conflict in the Middle East are staggering. More than 11 million Syrian refugees are struggling to survive — either trapped inside Syria or in refugee camps and host communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

Now, families are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, attempting to find relief and a more hopeful future in Europe. While the recent news has increased attention to the risks and challenges that Syrian refugees face, the humanitarian crisis continues to grow.

“The sheer number of people in need is staggering, their needs grow ever greater and more desperate by the day, and there is still no end in sight,” said Michael Bowers, Mercy Corps’ vice president for humanitarian leadership and response, in his testimony.

Bowers’ appearance comes within days of his return from Lesbos, Greece, the first landing spot for many Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.

Bowers urged lawmakers to quickly take action to protect humanitarian organizations providing aid and to seek a political solution that would target the underlying cause of the war in Syria.

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“Regional host countries that are receiving the vast majority of refugees face particular strain on their resources. The longer the war drags on, the more new challenges emerge,” Bowers said.

“I can say without hesitation that for Mercy Corps and other humanitarian agencies, Syria and Iraq present some of the most hostile and complex environments in which we have ever worked,” Bowers added.

Millions of the Syrian refugees are in danger of going hungry. During August alone, Mercy Corps responded to the needs of more than 400,000, delivering 2,600 tons of food.

“For the first time since we started delivering aid into the Aleppo (Syria) governorate three years ago, families we spoke to this week said that they depend on our food aid to survive; their personal resources are now completely exhausted,” Bowers said. “Without this aid they would go hungry. A mother of 10 in Aleppo told us that she has no money left to buy groceries, but with the monthly food basket her children will not go hungry.”

Watch the full video or download the testimony.

In Iraq, more than 3 million people have fled their homes because they do not feel safe due to continuing violence and political dysfunction. Meanwhile, thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in Iraq to escape violence in their own country.

“Our world leaders must take decisive action and push for a lasting peace,” Bowers said. “Humanitarians are being hung out to dry, left to solve the Syria crisis by themselves. Where is the diplomatic push? The moment for this push is now.”

Bowers urged lawmakers to act on four recommendations:

1. Provide adequate funding for humanitarian assistance and longer-term needs.

2. Support programs that address the underlying causes of conflict, build resilience and promote social cohesion.

3. Rethink risk and operations in high-risk environments by providing reasonable legal protections for humanitarian organizations.

4. Push the Obama administration to seek a political solution to the war in Syria and support the growth of a more accountable government in Iraq.

For years, Mercy Corps has been working to bring emergency relief to millions of people suffering inside Syria and those seeking safety in neighboring countries.

Our work is currently helping nearly 4 million people in the area — Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — get the food, water, shelter, household supplies and clothing they need. We have also focused on creating safe spaces for children traumatized by conflict.

You can help. Our work with refugees is only possible because of our generous supporters. Give today to help us send lifesaving relief to families fleeing crisis in Syria and around the world.

How you can help

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Syrian refugees and families in crisis around the world.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.
  • Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help Syrians fleeing the war.
  • Stay informed. Read more stories about our work and those we are helping on our Syria crisis response page. You can also learn more about our focus on protecting Syria’s children.