‘What About the Refugees?’ The U.S. Is Doing More Than Anyone
I was onstage at the end of a very long day when the heckling started.
I was telling an international women’s conference about how, earlier that day, I had stood up in the United Nations Security Council to condemn Syria for a chemical-weapons attack that had put dead children on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. I was about to get to the part about how the U.S. would act to stop future chemical attacks when someone in the audience shouted: “What about the refugees?”
The heckling was rude, but the question was legitimate. The Syrian war has created one of the greatest refugee crises of our time, with 12 million Syrian men, women and children—half the prewar population—killed or forced to flee their homes. What is happening in Syria and its neighboring countries is a true humanitarian crisis. But those who accuse the U.S. of heartlessness in the face of this crisis are wrong.
No country has invested more in protecting, housing, feeding and caring for Syrian refugees than the U.S. We have provided nearly $6.5 billion in emergency assistance for Syria since the start of the crisis. Inside Syria, some four million people benefit from U.S. assistance for essentials like food and shelter every month.
In the coming days, I will travel to two neighboring countries that have performed an admirable service in taking in Syrian refugees: Jordan and Turkey. The purpose of my visit is to see firsthand what news reports and official briefings can’t fully convey: how refugees are coping, day in and day out. I will talk to government leaders about how U.S. programs are working to help both those displaced by the violence in Syria and the communities that host them.
In both countries, I will go to refugee camps, some of which are large cities with schools, shops, water systems and medical facilities. Couples are wed in these camps, babies are born, and entrepreneurs start businesses. I will visit with refugee families participating in an innovative U.S.-funded food program in which families are given electronic cards to shop at stores in the camps. This program allows refugees the dignity of being able to purchase and cook the food of their choosing rather than donated foodstuffs.
I will also see firsthand U.N. efforts to ship humanitarian assistance from Jordan and Turkey, despite obstacles erected by the Syrian regime. The dictator Bashar Assad attempts to control who does—and who does not—receive humanitarian assistance in Syria. His ruthless regime continues to hold entire towns and villages hostage, denying aid to the people inside.
But in 2014 the U.N. Security Council authorized the U.N. and its implementing partners to use four border crossings to ship food, medicine and other lifesaving assistance into and around Syria. Through these cross-border aid programs, the U.N. and its partners have delivered more than 13,600 trucks full of humanitarian supplies to desperate civilian populations otherwise unreachable through aid programs that originate inside Syria. As a result of these programs and U.S. funding for them, millions of Syrians have been helped.
Another humanitarian aid operation I will observe is a U.N. World Food Program project that conducts high-altitude airdrops of emergency food and other aid to Syrians in an area under siege by ISIS. With the support of the U.S., this program has successfully conducted more than 230 drops since it began last year.
In addition, I will visit U.S.-funded schools that are educating both Syrian refugee and local children. Jordanian schools have been so overwhelmed by Syrian children that they have had to institute double shifts. I will meet with Syrian students who attend their school in the afternoon, after Jordanian students attend in the morning. In Turkey I will visit a U.S.-funded school built for Syrian children.
With American help, Syria’s neighbors have made the difference between life and death for millions of Syrians. The U.S. and the U.N. will continue to do a great deal of heavy lifting for these desperate people.
There won’t be a fully adequate response to the question “What about the refugees?” until there is peace in Syria—when ISIS is defeated and when the Assad regime no longer terrorizes its people. The U.S. is striving toward both of these goals. Until they are realized, we are committed to easing the suffering of Syrian refugees and supporting the countries that host them.
Ms. Haley is U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.