U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement at a Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee hearing titled "The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria: Views from the Ground." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"It"s a tragedy that, unfortunately, we're all too familiar with. By now we've seen the images and heard the unimaginable stories of despair, of horror and of suffering. And we know all too well the alarming numbers: more than 150,000 people have been killed as a result of Assad's war to stay in power; nearly 3 million people have fled from Syria into neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, creating instability within those countries as they struggle to cope with the strains that this massive influx of refugees places on their security and their stability; 6.5 million -- that is the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Syria; and 10 million -- that's roughly the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. And sadly, the vast majority of those hit hardest by this crisis are the women and children of Syria.
We are here today to get an important assessment from those who are on the ground who try to meet the needs of the millions of Syrians in desperate need of assistance. I would like to say thank you on behalf of our subcommittee for the work that you do, for the people that you help, and for having the courage to come here today. And I know that comes at great risk.
So far the Administration's approach to resolving the Syrian conflict leaves much to be desired by any metric. Unless the Administration addresses the underlying root causes for this humanitarian disaster, we're likely to be here again next year, and in the years to come, asking the very same heart wrenching questions.
Getting chemical weapons out of Syria is a vital step forward but more importantly, we must be working together to ensure that Assad leaves power so that his reign of terror ends.
These past three years plus, the Administration has been plagued by inaction, by indecisiveness and by the inability or perhaps unwillingness to put in motion a policy plan that will lead to the end to this unthinkable human suffering, and the time for half-measures and fence sitting has long ago passed.
We have been reactionary far too often when we should have been proactive. Our response has been to provide humanitarian assistance -- and we will continue to provide it, as long as millions continue to suffer needlessly -- but that is never going to solve the problem.
It is like trying to plug the holes in a sinking ship -- short term solutions to a much larger, long-term problem. Syria is becoming the training grounds for violent extremists, destabilizing the entire region, endangering the security of our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel, and posing a threat to our own national security interests in the region as well.
To date, the United States has allocated over 1.7 billion dollars to meet the humanitarian needs stemming from the Syrian crisis -- nearly a quarter of all international contributions to Syria -- and in his budget request for fiscal year 2015, the President has requested an additional 1.1 billion dollars.
We have with us today representatives of five of these non-governmental organizations who have helped serve as vital implementing partners both in Syria and in the neighboring countries. The work that these NGOs do is vitally important, but it's also extremely dangerous, and, as the ones who have to face all of the obstacles on the ground, it is vital that we hear directly from them about how effective U.S. assistance has been, with the hope of reaching as many people as possible.
Just last week, the Associated Press ran a disturbing article on how corruption is seeping into the aid process for Syrian refugees. It tells the story of Syrian women who are forced to bribe middlemen in order to access some of the aid, because some of these areas are just too difficult to enter for some of the NGOs, or they simply just don't have the man power to do it.
So they rely on these middlemen to be honest brokers, and it seems that they are exploiting the loopholes in the system. And its stories like these that shows us how important today's hearing is, so that we can better understand exactly what is happening on the ground.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses what these implementing partners have to go through in order to disperse the humanitarian aid we provide, and learn from them what more we can to do, so that we can do better to ensure more people are getting the assistance they so desperately need."