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Syria 'biggest humanitarian test'

The escalating refugee crisis in Syria has become "the biggest humanitarian test of the century" for the international community, and it is one that the world is currently failing, David Miliband has warned.

Mr Miliband's comments came ahead of the expected launch of a major United Nations appeal for the millions of people forced to flee their homes and facing hunger as a result of the civil war which has lasted almost three years.

The former foreign secretary, who is now chief executive of relief charity International Rescue, said aid efforts were being hampered not only by a shortage of cash from donors who appeared to have put Syria "on the backburner" since the regime of President Bashar Assad agreed to give up its chemical weapons, but also by the security situation in a conflict in which humanitarian workers have been treated as targets by the warring sides.

Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Syria is the biggest humanitarian test of this century and clearly we are failing it.

"The UN appeal being launched today is much needed, alongside the political efforts to try to negotiate a peace, which the French foreign minister said yesterday he held out little hope for. That makes it even more important that we make this humanitarian effort succeed."

Mr Miliband added: "It is both cash and security that is creating a humanitarian nightmare in Syria. There is a war going on in which the very notion of a civilian has been lost. Civilians are being targeted, doctors are being targeted, aid workers are being targeted.

"But it's also the case that the relatively weak response to previous UN appeals - 50% funded, 60% funded - mean that organisations like mine running cross-border exercises into Syria or helping the nearly three million refugees in neighbouring countries are not able to do the kind of health work, education work and protection of women and kids that are necessary.

"I think that there is almost an 'out of sight, out of mind' feeling at the moment."

He said that when the chemical weapons agreement was announced in September, it was almost as though Syria was "solved" and it was put on the backburner. He said the humanitarian situation has actually got worse since the chemical weapons deal.

"I think it is really important that people understand that, according to the UK figures, there are 2.5 million people cut off by the fighting. The sad truth is that it seems like it is a conflict that is too complex and too far away for the attention that it needs."

Mr Miliband said that even if the talks planned for next month in Geneva cannot produce peace, they must be used to improve the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting.

"If it is not going to be a peace conference, then it needs to be a conference about the conduct of the war, because at the moment the interests of civilians have been completely lost," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph