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Syrian refugee girls collects wood to be used for heating at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
Syrian refugee girls collects wood to be used for heating at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Axworthy and Rock

How Canada can help Syria’s neighbours Add to ...

Lloyd Axworthy is president emeritus of the University of Winnipeg, chair of the board of CUSO and a former foreign minister of Canada. Allan Rock is president of the University of Ottawa and a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

Harrowing scenes of starvation from the besieged Syrian town of Madaya this month served as yet another reminder of the horrific plight of those trapped inside Syria. It is hardly a surprise that so many attempt to flee. To date, 4.6 million Syrians – the equivalent of the entire population of British Columbia – have already done so.

Canada is playing a commendable role in responding to the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government came to power, Canada has welcomed more than 10,000 Syrian refugees, a number that will soon climb to the target of 25,000.

While Canadians can be proud of the moral leadership we are displaying and the international example we are setting, more must be done for the refugees remaining in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Those millions who will not be lucky enough to be welcomed to Canada (or a handful of other countries resettling refugees) face a difficult choice: continue a bare existence in a camp with few services and almost no hope, or risk a perilous journey to Europe.

Consider the desperate plight of the refugees. More than half of Syrian refugee children are not in school. Access to food and to health care is often very limited. Things are so bad for some refugees that they are even considering crossing back into Syria. In short, a whole generation risks losing its future – the very generation that will some day be needed to rebuild the Syrian society.

There is an urgent need for a new global response to help Syria’s neighbours in their efforts to host refugees and prevent further instability across the region. That response must include fostering economic growth and stability in the countries that have accepted so many refugees. More than just the continuing drip feed of humanitarian aid, there must be a co-ordinated and ambitious approach that will shift gears on how we manage the overspill of Syria’s crisis that has engulfed the whole region.

By committing $233.3-million to support development projects in the region, our government has signalled that it can play a leading role in this endeavour.

Next week, Canada is attending a major conference in London on “Supporting Syria and the Region.” This will be a key opportunity for us to once again showcase Canadian international and moral leadership by helping to orchestrate a co-ordinated international plan to ensure that Syria’s neighbours are able to support the four million Syrian refugees they are hosting.

With the fifth anniversary of the devastating war approaching, the London conference is the curtain-raiser for a year of international action on the crisis, happening in Geneva, Vienna, Riyadh and elsewhere. London will set the tone for that action: It must be where our government and others in attendance take a stand. How far are we willing to go to solve the Syrian crisis and help Syrians survive?

It will not be enough simply to pledge more money, though that is certainly needed. We must play our part and help put together a detailed, co-ordinated, ambitious and long-term strategy. We need nothing less than a Marshall Plan for the region. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey need holistic and sustained assistance to steady their economies, to decrease incentives toward extremism and, most importantly, to protect the rights of the refugees they host. This means guaranteeing education for children, ensuring access to basic services such as health care, and removing barriers to work so that refugees can reclaim their independence and support themselves.

To date, the global response to the Middle East’s refugee crisis isn’t working. We have an opportunity – and indeed an obligation – to make it work.

Just as Canada is leading the world on refugee resettlement, so too can we lead in establishing a new global compact on supporting refugees and their host governments in the Middle East.

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