Kevin McKenna: No end in sight for Syrian crisis

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One of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century thus far is unfolding before our eyes and perhaps we are inadvertently passing by on the other side of the road and averting our gaze.

In Syria, a civil war still rages on almost three years after the initial euphoria of the Arab Spring. Even by the devastating standards of bloody strife in this region over the past 30 years or so, the figures are simply staggering.

More than 160,000 people have been killed, the majority of which were civilians. More than six and a half million people have been displaced. Thousands of Syrian families are fleeing across the border every day into neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Around half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million requires urgent humanitarian aid. What we are seeing here is one of the world’s oldest and most noble civilisations being erased slowly from the map.

Why should we care? There are other parts of the world which are holding our attention right now with trouble spots in Gaza, South Sudan, Libya and Ukraine. In Syria though, it seems that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the violence.

By the end of 2014, the UN estimates that more than four million people will have fled Syria – this is just a little under the population of the Republic of Ireland. These Syrians are refugees and are having to learn to survive without their Syria.

Mercy Corps has become one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations, working in the world’s darkest and most dangerous places for more than 30 years.

As well as providing immediate relief to families who have lost everything and who find themselves in a foreign land, Mercy Corps works closely with the UN and other aid and community-based organisations to bring them something else: hope.

The organisation helps people not only survive but thrive. This matters greatly to the rest of us. The prospect of half the population of a country crossing borders for shelter and protection is bringing these lands almost to breaking point. Most Syrians are not ending up in formal refugee camps but in host communities who cannot meet the needs of their own people.

These countries are already hard-pressed and so the threat of the entire region, already pulsating with violent upheaval, becoming dangerously unstable is very real. The threat to commodities needed in the west and to other vested interests in the region is how wars and invasions start.

Mercy Corps is not simply alleviating pain. It is working to bring something approaching a decent quality of life to Syrian families.

This includes digging wells to serve refugee camps in Jordan’s northern towns and building playgrounds and spaces where traumatised children can play safely and securely.

The charity is providing education and healing to children who have witnessed and endured unimaginable horrors. Just as crucially, it is committed to working with host communities and their new arrivals to avoid conflict and bring understanding.

But, there are no quick fixes. Organisations like Mercy Corps are in it for the long-haul and will be called on to do even more as we hurtle towards the end of 2014 with no end in sight for the Syrian crisis.

• Kevin McKenna is participating in A conversation: Syrian without Syria at the Just Festival on Monday. Other speakers include Gary Christie from the Scottish Refugee Council, Dr Thomas Pierret from the University of Edinburgh and Ashley Proud, Mercy Corps