Saudis take up the slack |
Arab News - 03 August, 2012
Refugees continue to pour out of Syria into neighboring countries as the Assad regime writhes and slashes out in its death throws. There are now some 124,000 people who have fled over Syria’s borders. Another million have been driven from their homes by the fighting and are hunkered down, wherever they can find shelter inside the country.
The United Nations made clear two months ago that caring for all these luckless people with shelter, food and medicines, would cost it around at least $ 400 million. It called on the world to give generously. As of two weeks ago, only 20 percent of the needed funding, about $ 80 million, had been forthcoming. Thus the extraordinary fund-raising campaign begun by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah which, through a ground-breaking telethon, raised SR 440 million in aid for the Syrians. At a stroke, this will go a considerable way toward making up the money which the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) requires. However, it leaves over $ 200 million still to be found.
Saudis and expatriates all gave generously during the telethon. It must be wondered however why so many other countries have chosen to keep their pocket books shut tight. What is happening to the people of Syria at the hands of their own government is a barbarous disgrace. It has been rightly condemned in virtually every world capital, with the notable exceptions of Moscow and Beijing. UK Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday described Assad’s butchery as “ a stain on our world.”
Fine words, but where is the money to assist the victims of the Syrian regime’s savagery? Neighbors Jordan and Turkey are going the extra mile to do what they can to assist in the setting up of huge refugee camps. But it is entirely unfair to let them shoulder a large part of the burden of caring for so many displaced people.
If the world is all but united in its revulsion at what Assad and his creatures are doing to try and crush the opposition, then where is its money? Where is the tangible proof of its support for the Syrian people?
It must be said that many of those facing down Assad’s soldiers and murderous militias inside Syria, are despairing of the international community. They have begged for military intervention, for the sort of no-fly zone that NATO imposed on Qaddafi’s regime in Libya to stop him massacring his own people. But even had Washington and the Europeans the appetite for a further conflict, the dangers of a serious confrontation with Russia and perhaps also China, are deemed too great. They are not prepared to run the risk of backing their outrage with firm action.
Yet even if there is a geo-political argument to steer away from direct military intervention, this cannot excuse the stunning failure to bring sustenance to Assad’s victims, within and without his burning country’ s borders.
Unless a change occurs and quickly, Syrians will not forget being left in the lurch, by countries that claimed to deplore the crimes that were committed against them by their own government. Nor, it should be said, will many people in the Kingdom, who will have imagined that by matching their own sympathy for the suffering people of Syria with concrete help in the form of hundreds of millions of riyals, they had set a shining example to others.
It is not too late. As with opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq — a million Britons demonstrated ahead of Tony Blair’s slavish support for the Bush ouster of Saddam — there may yet be a groundswell of protest, which this time will oblige western governments in particular, to take concerted and effective action in support of OCHA’s campaign for the refugees. In the end, all these governments have to do is write some relatively small checks. They spent billions supporting a rotten and corrupt financial system. Why should they not find far less to succor a brutalized and bleeding nation ?
Just as there is no excuse for what Assad is doing to his people, so there is no pardoning any country that continues to stand by and watch, waiting for someone else to pick up the tab for one of the most urgent humanitarian challenges so far this century.