LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments could help stem the flow of Syrians fleeing to Europe by providing more services to those sheltering in Lebanon and Jordan or uprooted in Syria, a senior official from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
ICRC’s Middle East director Robert Mardini said most Syrians would prefer to stay close to their family than pay smugglers to take them to Europe, but living conditions at home had spurred many to take the risk.
“We were shocked to see that people (in al-Moadamiyeh just outside Damascus) didn’t have electricity for two years. People were eating grass, people were drinking water from the swamps,” Mardini told reporters in London on Thursday.
Syria’s conflict has killed an estimated 250,000 people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, including four million Syrians who are refugees mostly in neighboring countries.
With resources stretched to their limits, there is growing tension between refugees and host communities, aid groups say.
The ICRC, which receives approximately 80 percent of its funding from governments, faces a shortfall of 80 million Swiss francs ($82 million) this year to respond to conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan among others.
After presenting a record appeal for 2015, the ICRC may be forced to dig into emergency reserves, an unprecedented step, but so far has not done so, the humanitarian organization said.
Mardini attributed the lack of funds for Syria’s civil war to donor fatigue.
“Who would invest in a country where you have no political solution in sight?”, Mardini said. “Efforts should be placed at the root causes of the problem. When this is solved, the refugee problem will also be solved.”
The ICRC has “substantially improved” access to government run areas in Syria over the past month Mardini said, adding that working in regions held by the Islamic State was “extremely challenging”.
The sheer number of armed groups operating in Syria - 20 in eastern Aleppo alone - makes things even harder with aid workers having to negotiate with multiple players just to make short trips, he said.
The journey from Syria’s capital Damascus to the northern city of Aleppo, which used to take about four hours, now takes two days and many tense discussions with multiple commanders, Mardini said.
“We should not take acceptance for granted ... we are widely perceived as a Western organization,” he added.
Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org