Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) released the following statement regarding yesterday's hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) on the status of Syrian refugees:
"The international community has taken far too long to respond to the pressing needs of the Syrian people displaced within their own country and struggling in the refugee camps of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt. Three-quarters of the over 1.6 million are women and children, fighting to overcome tremendous loss and trauma. I saw this personally this past February when I joined a Congressional delegation led by our Chairman to a refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey. The Turkish government and other surrounding nations have made selfless investments to meet the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people and they should not bear this hardship alone.
"I applaud the tremendous contributions that the United States has made with over $500 million in non-lethal assistance. Yet this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall need for security and humanitarian investment. The Syrian Regional Response Plan requirement from December 2012 alone indicates a financial need of over $1 billion to meet the humanitarian needs of refugees in the region. This need was only 73 percent funded a month ago. This plan is only a component of the Syrian conflict's overall financial impact on the region.
"I serve as Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs and traveled extensively in the Maghreb and Mashreq to promote parliamentary diplomacy and the principles of the Helsinki Process. I traveled to Syria in this capacity in January 2010 and personally met with Bashar al-Assad. As I pressed him on the importance of honoring the right of his people to exercise their civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, I knew immediately that he would not give in and that his regime would not end well. Many others recognized this long before civil war erupted and yet years have passed without the necessary effort by the international community to stop the violence.
"It is crucial that we focus our discussion today on how to generate a more effective response to the need of Syrian refugees. We must however, not neglect the current security situation which will put many more innocents in harm's way if not addressed. On May 8, I sent a letter to President Obama and Ambassador Susan Rice to urge them to support imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, particularly in light of the continued indiscriminate shelling of innocents and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. We must not sit idly by and let more families be torn apart and more civilians become refugees. The Syrian people will remember in their time of need whether the international community and the United States did all within their power to support them. We must take a leadership role in meeting that need."