Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Refugees urge Kerry to take action

John Kerry met representatives of the Arab League in Jordan (AP/Mandel Ngan)
John Kerry met representatives of the Arab League in Jordan (AP/Mandel Ngan)

Angry Syrian refugees have urged US secretary of state John Kerry to do more to help opponents of President Bashar Assad's government, venting frustration at perceived inaction on their behalf.

Visiting the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, Mr Kerry met six representatives of its 115,000-strong population, all of whom appealed to him to create no-fly zones and set up humanitarian safe havens inside Syria.

The Obama administration has boosted assistance to the Syrian opposition but has noted grave complications and astronomic costs in enforcing no-fly zones or protecting the opposition on Syrian soil.

In Jordan on his sixth trip to the Middle East as secretary of state, Mr Kerry flew to the Zaatari camp which is north-east of Amman and close to the Syrian border. He was accompanied by Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh.

Mr Kerry, who spent his time at the camp's administrative base and did not tour the living quarters for security reasons, met with the six refugees who all appealed for the US and others to do more militarily to support the opposition. During the 40-minute meeting, they expressed their anger at what they called inaction and indifference on the part of the international community.

"Mr Secretary, if the situation remains unchanged until the end of Ramadan this camp will become empty. We will return to Syria and we will fight with knives," said one female refugee.

"You as the US government look to Israel with respect," she said. "Cannot you do the same with the children of Syria?"

Mr Kerry listened grimly to the complaints of the refugees, which included five from Daara, the Syrian city closest to the camp in Jordan, and one from Homs, which has been under increasing siege by Assad's military for weeks.

"A lot of different options are under consideration," Mr Kerry responded. "I wish it was very simple. As you know, we've been fighting two wars for 12 years. We are trying to help in various ways, including helping Syrian opposition fighters have weapons. We are doing new things. There is consideration of buffer zones and other things but it is not as simple as it sounds."

"You are not abandoned," he said. "We are very aware of how terrible conditions are inside Syria. I came here today because we are concerned. I promise you I will take your voices and concerns back with me to Washington as we continue to work with our friends in ways that can be helpful."

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