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Syria's refugee crisis: Where it stands now

Some 15.3 million Syrians are currently in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations – nearly 70% of the country’s population. The crisis has made its impact on people in every corner of the country.

“People are living in extreme poverty today in areas of Damascus,” Atlantic Council senior fellow Qutaiba Idlbi said. “Every three hours they receive one hour of electricity and then completely … go into darkness.”

More than 50% of Syrians don’t have enough food. Malnutrition is also on the rise.

The Syrian people continue to suffer on a massive scale,” U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said. “They have not yet seen any improvement in the reality of their lives, whether they live inside Syria or outside Syria.”

Blinken said partner nations, including Saudi Arabia, are aligned with those goals despite welcoming al-Assad back into the Arab League.

“I have to admit we are skeptical of Assad’s willingness to take the necessary steps, but we’re aligned with our partners here on what those steps are and on the ultimate objective,” Blinken said.

The U.S. strategy has shifted since U.S. troops first began assisting Syrian rebels in 2014. Other global conflicts have since moved into the spotlight.

“We see no indication that the regime is committed to ending its harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of returnees,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

More than 12 million people in Syria have been displaced. The refugee crisis has also caused poverty and deteriorating living conditions in neighboring countries. Experts said the U.S. should focus on economic and political investments in Syria to get refugees to return.

“We need to show that we are not leaving the region,” Idlbi said. “That doesn’t mean that we really need to invest heavily. The problem we’re facing today is that the U.S. investment in the Middle East has not really changed.”

The need for assistance has become even more critical. More than 8,000 people were killed after an earthquake struck northwestern Syria in February. Al-Assad agreed to open crossing points for aid delivery until August. Now, the United Nations has been pushing to keep those paths available.

“It is a matter of life and death for millions of people in northwest Syria,” said Ghada Eltahir Mudawi with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Women walking at al-Hol camp

Women are shown walking at the al-Hol refugee camp in Al-Hasakah province, Syria, on May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad/File)

Russia’s U.N. ambassador acknowledged the deteriorating conditions but said cross-border aid delivery has outlived its usefulness. Russia further said that the aid was benefiting northern Syria only and not enough funding was going to the government-controlled southern region. Experts have argued that a U.S. presence is all the more important to combat adversarial interests in Syria.

“It is about the world coming together,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., “and then make sure that we prevent it from happening in the future, which ultimately makes America a safer country and democracy gets to be promoted and moved around the world.”

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