Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
“Fleeing to Live: Syrian Refugees in the OSCE Region”
Committee Members Present:
Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD),
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI),
Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX),
Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Anne C. Richard,
Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration,
U.S. Department of State
Senior Adviser for Government Relations,
UNHCR Washington Regional Office
Government Relations and Advocacy Associate,
Coalition for a Democratic Syria
The Hearing Was Held From 2:07 p.m. To 4:15 p.m. in 562 Dirksen Senate Office
Building, Washington, D.C., Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), CSCE Presiding
Thursday, June 15, 2013
CARDIN: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Helsinki Commission
hearing we’re holding today on Syrian refugees in the OSCE region, “Fleeing to
Live.” As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I want to welcome everyone to
today’s hearing and thank them for their interest in our work.
This hearing is convened as we prepare to commemorate World Refugee Day on June
20th. It is fitting, therefore, that we examine what is quickly becoming a
great humanitarian disaster, and determine what more we here in the United
States and, indeed, in the entire world community can do to alleviate the
suffering of the Syrian people and assist those countries that have opened
their borders to the refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are now
more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and more than
5.1 million displaced within Syria. An average of 8,000 Syrians are crossing
into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt every day. The majority are women
and children. The refugees have increased the population of Lebanon by 11
percent, and Jordan by 8 percent. To put the enormity of this crisis in
perspective, that would be equivalent in the United States of receiving 25
(million) to 30 million refuges during the past two years. The host countries
are under intense political, social and economic pressure. I commend them for
keeping their borders open to those fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria.
In February of this year, I led a commission delegation to the Middle East.
While in Turkey, we visited Kilis, the refugee camp which shelters more than
13,000 Syrian refugees on the Turkey-Syrian border. It is one of 17 camps that
have been established by the Turkish government. Just prior to our visit, the
camp residents held an election: selected leaders for their temporary
community. It was the first free election that they had ever participated in.
They were excited about that.
Our delegation met with those elected officials who shared stories of their
triumph in leading their families to safety in Turkey. Their frustration with
the lack of support from the international community was clear. These leaders
repeatedly expressed their expectation that the United States would take more
decisive action. Our conversations reinforced concerns that destabilizing
elements may take advantage of the void of cohesive leadership in the
opposition as time drags on.
In December 2012, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees appealed for 1.5
billion (dollars) in contributions from the international community to meet the
needs – then expected to be one million -- to have fled across Syrians’ border
by mid-2013. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has already
registered more than 1.6 million refugees in the region; however, the December
appeal has not yet been fully met.
Last week, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued its updated
Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees and appealed for 2.9 billion
(dollars) in humanitarian assistance, almost double its December 2012 request.
They now estimate that by the end of the year, half of the population of Syria
will be in need of aid. This includes an anticipated 3.45 million Syrian
refugees and 6.8 million Syrians inside the country. The governments of
Lebanon and Jordan are also appealing for funds, and the humanitarian appeal
for inside Syria is $1.4 billion. According to the United Nations, the total
appeal for assistance for displaced Syrians in 2013 is $5 billion. This is the
largest humanitarian appeal in history.
The United States is doing its best to provide aid to the Syrian people. Since
the crisis began, we have contributed $514 million in humanitarian assistance
and remain the single-largest donor of aid to the United Nations,U.N. agencies
and the host countries themselves. Clearly, the unprecedented scale of this
crisis requires the United States and the entire international community to do
After more than two years, the violence in Syria continues and the humanitarian
crisis it has spawned continues to spiral out of control with no end in sight.
Sadly, and most disturbingly, not only does the violence in Syria continue but,
according to the most recent report by the U.N.'s Independent International
Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab republic, it "has reached new levels
of brutality." The Commission states that the report, "documents for the first
time the systematic imposition of sieges, the use of chemical agents and
forcible displacement. War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human
rights violations continue apace. Referral to justice remains paramount."
That was what the report said.
We must, and we can, do more to help the Syrian people. I look forward to
hearing the views of our distinguished witnesses that we have before us today
so we can plan an effective strategy to help accomplish that goal of protecting
the Syrian people.
Let me acknowledge my colleague, Senator Whitehouse, and recognize him for any
opening statement that you might want to make.
WHITEHOUSE: Only very briefly. I want to let folks know that I recently went
on a bipartisan codel that was led by Senator McCain. I’ve since been back to
the region. We met with the Syrian Opposition Council. We went to one of the
refugee camps and there was, I believe, unanimous bipartisan sentiment on the
part of all of the travelers on that codel that we needed to improve and
increase the United States’ effort in Syria and improve and increase the United
States’ effort in Turkey and in Lebanon, where the refugee problem is the most
acute. We have allies who are facing very considerable cost and, indeed, even
political risk in those two places because of the inadequacy of the American
and international response. We communicated those views to the administration,
and I hope this helps communicate them further.
CARDIN: Well, Senator Whitehouse, let me thank you for taking the time to
visit. I know that – how much they appreciate when we all – personally take
the time to visit and see firsthand the circumstances on the ground and are
able to talk to the people who are directly impacted by this crisis.
On our - first panel today we will receive testimony from the Assistant
Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Ann Richard. Prior
to her appointment as Assistant Secretary, Ms. Richard was Vice President of
Government Relations and Advocacy for the International Rescue Committee. She
also served as the Director of the Secretary of State’s Office of Resources,
Plans and Policy, and was Deputy Chief Financial Officer of the Peace Corps.
We thank you for your service and we look forward to your testimony.
RICHARD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Senator Whitehouse. And I
really want to thank the entire committee for pulling together this hearing
today on this important subject, and I want to thank you both for traveling to
the region and for meeting directly with Syrians who are in need of our help,
and leaving this town and going out there and talking directly to the people
affected. Thank you so much.
The crisis in Syria has caused the world’s largest refugee emergency in
decades. I’m grateful for this opportunity to update you on the impact this
crisis is having on countries in the region and steps our government and the
international community are taking to help governments in the region address
this massive challenge.
My written testimony offers detailed information about the extremely dangerous
situation inside Syria, as well as the effects of refugee influxes on the
neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. This
afternoon, I would like to focus on just a few key points and then I’ll be glad
to answer your questions.
This is the largest and most complex humanitarian crisis in the world today as
you said, Mr. Chairman. Some 5.8 million Syrians have fled for their lives.
Of this, an estimated 4.2 million Syrians are displaced inside their own
country and 1.6 million Syrian refugees are in neighboring countries. More
than 500,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon. Jordan and Turkey each are rapidly
approaching that number as well. More than 150,000 have sought refuge in Iraq
and nearly 80,000 have made their way all the way to Egypt.
With disturbing frequency, Syrian families are fleeing not only because they
fear an imminent threat of conflict or atrocities in their communities, but
also because they are desperate to reach the essentials that are no longer
reliably available in their communities, such as clean water, medical care and
basic shelter. U.N. humanitarian officials project that the number of Syrian
refugees could climb to 3.5 million by the end of this year, more than double
the current number. The number of refugees could surge to far more than that
if, for example, violence in Damascus itself were to intensify.
Last week, the United Nations called for $4.4 billion to address emergency
needs inside Syria and in neighboring countries that are struggling to
accommodate huge refugee populations. It was the largest humanitarian appeal
in U.N. history.
The U.S. is providing nearly $515 million to support emergency humanitarian
assistance programs for Syrians, including nearly 260 million (dollars) to
protect and assist Syrian refugees. We are looking closely at providing
additional financial support in coming weeks as the emergency continues to
The governments of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt have worked hard and
at great expense to accommodate the flood of refugees that are inundating their
local communities. One of our most important priorities is to encourage
countries in the region to keep their borders open so that Syrians desperate to
reach safety can do so. We continue to urge neighboring governments to offer
asylum to all Syrians who cross the border. We recognize the tremendous burden
that hosting refugees is placing on neighboring countries. Our government’s
strong financial support for refugee relief operations helps alleviate this
burden, and we are committed to doing more to support Syria’s neighbors.
Seventy five percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. They typically
are the most vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, domestic violence,
poor health care, forced early marriage, survival sex and long-term trauma
caused by the dangers and atrocities they experienced or witnessed in Syria. I
have traveled to the region four times in my tenure as assistant secretary, and
each time I have met with Syrian women and children to hear their stories.
One of our ongoing priorities is to provide the safe shelter, education and
therapeutic activities that refugee women and children desperately need. Most
Syrian refugees do not live in refugee camps. They instead have taken shelter
in villages and cities where local residents have generously shared what they
can. During the second half of 2013, we will place a priority on giving more
help to these local communities that are struggling to accommodate the large
Syrian refugee population.
The presence of so many refugees has inflamed local tensions in some areas and
has aggravated local pressures. If these communities are to continue hosting
Syrian refugees, they will need help. We must strengthen bilateral economic
and development aid to help maintain and expand public services for refugees
and the local residents alike.
Another priority as we move forward, Mr. Chairman, will be robust contingency
planning. The current humanitarian challenges are great, but these challenges
will only grow larger. Regrettably, we must plan ahead for even more
scenarios. We will continue to engage in frank discussions with U.N.
humanitarian agencies and refugee-hosting governments about the possibility of
massive new refugee surges and other contingencies. It is critical that we
prepare now for what might come in the future.
Mr. Chairman, I hope to depart later this month on my fifth trip to the region.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Clements is traveling in the region this
week. Our bureau bases refugee coordinators in the region, deploys
humanitarian advisers to identify humanitarian needs, analyzes and reports on
challenges and monitors programs. We work very closely with all the U.S.
embassies in the region, and we have very good working relationships with them.
And they are working night and day.
This is a regional crisis, and it has our full attention. We deeply appreciate
the strong congressional support that has made our efforts possible. We are
always ready to brief you and your colleagues about what we are seeing and the
actions we are taking. So in closing, let me thank you again for holding this
hearing, and I welcome any questions you might have.
CARDIN: Well, your entire statement, as will all the witnesses’, will be made
part of the record. So just want all of you to be aware of that. And thank
you for what you’re doing and thank you for returning to the region.
We need a dual strategy here. We’ve got to deal with Syria and the crisis in
Syria so that it is safe for people to live in Syria, that will allow a certain
number of the refugees to be able to return to their homes in safety. That
clearly has to be a priority. And the message we heard very clearly from the
people who have been victimized and the opposition leaders said they need more
decisive international action and more predictable action. And I’m going to
talk about that in a moment.
The second area of priority is to protect the people who are now vulnerable,
whether they’re living in refugee camps, whether they’re living in communities
outside of Syria or whether they’re displaced within Syria. And you point out,
particularly with those who have left, the large majority are women and
children. You also point out that there are widespread abuses: forced
marriage, prostitution, et cetera. What are we doing to protect the women and
RICHARD: Thank you for asking that question. It’s very much on my mind on a
daily basis. As you know, there have been reports of gender-based violence,
including sexual violence. We’re working closely with our humanitarian aid
agency partners to beef up protection for vulnerable refugees. We are
concerned about the allegations of exploitation of Syrian refugee women and
girls through early marriage, in addition to the violence.
And protection of these populations is a core part of what our partners do. If
you – if you read their documents, they don’t just aid people. They try to
protect and aid them. But in some of the largest – in on the largest camps, in
Zaatari camp, in Jordan, this has proven very, very difficult. Right now, we
are working with the government of Jordan, with our embassy in Jordan and other
bureaus of the State Department to enhance the security of that camp overall.
And we’re trying to look at ways the U.S. can help the Jordanians, who have the
responsibility for the camp’s protection, to beef that up and also potentially
to help people inside the camp, some of the Syrians who live there, to mount
their own neighborhood watch so that they’re protecting themselves, each other.
That camp grew so quickly over such a short time period, with so many people
coming in, I think that is one of the reasons that it has problems today. So
in the camp, we are increasing the number and reach of gender-based violence
awareness sessions. There is a women’s clinic. I was up in New York yesterday
talking to the head of U.N. Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, about
that clinic, where it is, making sure that it has services. There’s also a
clinic run by IMC and others. We want women to have counseling services if
they have been victimized.
One of the things I just learned about was we’re using children who go to the
child-friendly spaces to get word to their mothers, if they need help where
they can go and get it, which in that culture makes a lot of sense. I’ve met
with the head of the Jordan Health Aid Society, JHAS, and talked to him a lot
about this, because they have mobile clinics that go to neighborhoods then to
reach people who are not in the camps. We also fund just generic health
programs for urban refugees.
Some of our nongovernmental organization partners are providing training to
ministries of health to be sensitive to the situations and sensitive to these
needs. You know, our funding that goes to the U.N. High Commission on
Refugees, UNICEF, U.N. Population Fund and these international nongovernmental
organizations are in part to coordinate protection and services to aid and
protect women and girls in the region. So we’re doing a lot. I think we need
to do even more. And I’m afraid that’s going to be a theme of several of the
issues we may be talking about today.
But in this particular area, the good news, I guess, is that we’re well aware
of the need, and so we are focused on these programs. And this is where the
U.S. is seen as in the forefront of putting pressure on these partners to do
CARDIN: Well, I – as I said in my opening comments --I’m for us doing more.
So I agree with that. But I am for accountability. And U.S. participation
must come with strict accountability to make sure that families are protected.
You point out that a large number – I believe it’s about 75 (percent) or 76
percent of the refugees outside of Syria – don’t live in camps. In camps we
have a chance to see firsthand the resources that are available to protect
CARDIN: But with three-quarters living outside of camps, we don’t have that
same opportunity. What do we do about the vast majority that are not living in
an organized camp?
RICHARD: Well, in some ways people living outside camps live a more normal
life in that if they can get their kids enrolled in schools, if they can get
some work, they can live among –
CARDIN: But let me say, do we have information that would let us know whether
the abuses that are taking place against women and children are more prevalent
in the camps or outside the camps, more prevalent in one country versus
another? Do we have that type of information?
RICHARD: I don’t have the answers on that. My suspicion is that the camp –
the Zaatari camp, not the camps in Turkey, but the Zaatari camp is a more
dangerous place right now than living outside the camp because people are
completely dependent on aid to survive and they don’t have their own resources.
And there is a sort of thriving underground economy that’s partially run by
criminals that has got to be stamped out. And so that’s where people, I think,
are vulnerable to exploitation.
Outside the camps – this is why we’re big supporters of refugees being
registered by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees because then they – who
they are, where they’ve come from, what their needs are, what their special
needs are if there’s someone disabled or elderly, that gives a profile of what
the needs are, and that way they can get the help that they need. We can
provide it through our NGO partners.
CARDIN: I understand the registration; it’s so that they can get services.
Are they getting the services? They getting the help?
RICHARD: If they’re registered, then they’re on the map and they’re getting
help they need, definitely, yes. Is it enough to survive? I think it’s a very
challenging existence, as it is for refugees everywhere. I mean, it’s not a
CARDIN: Well, I would appreciate more information being made available to us
by camps and countries and regions. I believe Senator Whitehouse went to the
same camp I did – was it Kilis that you went to? And that’s really an
incredible investment by Turkey to have the camp and the schools there.
CARDIN: You were at a different one?
But I was very impressed by what I saw, but I also – believe that’s not typical.
RICHARD: That is not the typical camp, yeah.
CARDIN: Right, circumstance. So, I don’t want to be –
RICHARD: In Turkey, the standards not only meet but they exceed international
standards for refugees. And it’s tremendously generous.
CARDIN: So, let me ask one last question. How do we make sure the resources
get to where they need to be? If we’re going to put more money up, how do we
make sure that we get that to the most vulnerable to protect them?
RICHARD: My strong belief is that the most important thing we could do is get
other countries to contribute and donate because I think that the
nongovernmental organizations and international organization partners we’re
working with know what to do. And I think the U.S. is out in front in
contributing, but we know that there aren’t enough resources coming to respond.
And so I think the most important thing for us to do as diplomats and the
State Department is to get other countries, convince them to join us and to
take this as seriously as you all are taking it and as my boss, Secretary
Kerry, is taking it.
CARDIN: Senator Whitehouse.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Chairman. I have to go down to the classified briefing
that we’re having, but I wanted to thank you for the attention that you’re
bringing to this issue. And I just wanted to propose to the assistant
secretary that I recognize that America has spent a lot of money and put a lot
of effort into supporting the opposition and into supporting the refugee
population coming out of Syria, but it’s possible to spend a lot of money and
spend a lot of effort and still be behind the curve, still be that day late and
that dollar short.
And I worry from what we’re seeing – from what I’ve seen in the press, from
what I’ve seen in my visits to that area, that we’ve been just behind the curve
on supporting the opposition, and the momentum as a result has shifted to the
point where at one point the administration was saying that, you know, Assad’s
days are numbered, and now people are saying, well, looks like he’s winning.
And in terms of support for the refugees, it seems that we’re always just
behind the curve so that the burden on the – on our local allies is always so
great that it’s potentially destabilizing. And we have few better friends than
the Turkish government and than King Abdullah in that area, so I would just
urge you that it’s not so much how much we’re spending; it’s whether we’re on
the right side of the curve and whether we’re on the right side of the
momentum. And it looks to me that despite our efforts, we remain both a day
late and a dollar short in both these things.
And the incremental marginal difference not to be a day late and a dollar short
against what we’re spending may not be a very big difference, but strategically
I think it’s all the difference. So, I, for one, would urge you to take the
message back to the administration that there’s considerable support for trying
to make sure you’re actually at that point where the momentum is with you and
you’re ahead of the curve.
CARDIN: Thank you.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.
CARDIN: You mentioned that we want to get more contributions from the
international community to the United Nations. What can the United States do
to encourage U.N. contributions from other countries to be made?
RICHARD: I think that in all of our meetings with other countries on a whole
variety of issues, we need to add this to the talking points and we need to
encourage them to give and encourage them to do what you did, which was to
travel to the area.
You know, the economic downturn a few years ago has meant that traditional
donors like the Europeans are not expanding their giving. And everyone has put
the hopes on emerging donors – so-called emerging donors. These are countries
in the Gulf area but also the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South
Africa. And so we have seen generosity from some of these countries in the
past but not necessarily through international organizations. Sometimes, some
of these countries prefer giving bilaterally or giving things instead of
contributing cash. Cash is always more helpful, especially when it goes to
professionals who know what they’re doing. So, my sense is that we have to
look for every opportunity to have these conversations, invite these officials
to come travel with us, encourage them to attend international conferences we
have. Our diplomats are out traveling.
I think another piece of this is – which I’m doing with colleagues – is
speaking through the media to raise the profile, to point out the shortages in
the funding. I know the Helsinki Commission has relationships overseas, and so
I know you all are well-placed to have those kinds of international
conversations about these very, very serious issues.
CARDIN: That’s a very good point. Whenever I travel to an area that’s
affected by refugees, I try to visit refugees. So, when I was in Syria two
years ago, two and a half years ago, I visited the Iraqi refugees. Are the
Iraqi refugees heading back to Iraq? Where are they?
RICHARD: Many of them have headed back to Iraq. And I – like yourself, I
visited Iraqi refugees in Syria a few years ago. And at the time, I thanked
all the Syrians I met for hosting them, so it is a sad and cruel turn of events
that Syrians are now fleeing their own country.
Many of the Iraqis have gone back to Iraq. Others are moving on for a second
time. We have been working very hard to help Iraqis get out of Syria. It’s
very tricky because we can’t do interviews of refugees in the country, so we’re
working with other countries to help get Iraqis out if they were in line to
come to the U.S.
CARDIN: How do you assess the risk factor that borders may not be as open as
they are today? We have been very fortunate and we have complimented the
governments from Turkey to Jordan to Lebanon, where there have been borders
that have been available for people fleeing persecution and danger. The
numbers are extreme in these countries and there’s at least conversations that
that policy – that these policies could change. How great of a risk is it
that borders could be less than freely opened?
RICHARD: I think it’s a real and live concern, and this is why in all our
conversations with the neighbors, we thank them. We are usually trying to
provide additional help so that they understand that we understand their
tensions, their domestic tensions in trying to help their own citizens and then
shoulder the burden – the additional burden of taking in refugees. And then
we’ve been very vigilant in talking to these countries when there are
difficulties at the borders about, you know, really pushing them to keep them
open. It’s a very serious issue.
You know, I think of Jordan where they have Palestinian refugees who’ve been
there for decades. And then they took in Iraqi refugees, so this is actually
the third population of refugees coming to a very small country. So the one
thing that gives me hope there is that the king has been very forward-leaning
in saying that they must allow people to cross, out of humanitarian motives.
But it’s clear that inside the country this creates some domestic tensions, and
so that’s where our help to not just the refugees but to the local communities,
especially impoverished communities so they don’t feel that things that they
deserve are going to these visitors and that they are somehow disadvantaged by
this. Aid to local communities is very important.
CARDIN: King Abdullah was here not too long ago, and he was pretty firm about
his commitment to keep borders open. But when you start looking at the
numbers, you know that it’s a challenge. I think he has some domestic
concerns. I mean, I think there is a real serious question being raised on
Dr. Burgess, good to have you here.
BURGESS: Thank you, Senator.
CARDIN: We’re about completed with this panel. Would you like to ask a
question – sort of give you a chance to jump in here.
BURGESS: Thanks, Chairman, I would. And, Secretary, once again, thank you for
speaking with me earlier this week to give me some background.
RICHARD: Thank you so much for your interest in this issue.
BURGESS: Well, I got to tell you I’m very concerned. And, I mean, you raised
some serious problems that are being faced by the three countries that are
bordering Syria. And shortly after our discussion, I had an opportunity to
read an article in the L.A. Times about perhaps resettlement plans to the
United States for Syrian refugees. And I got to tell you that got my
attention; that certainly aroused a significant amount of concern.
I think we are – several of us are wondering what the position is of the
administration going forward. I recently took a trip to Kabul and on the way
there stopped in the United Arab Emirates, and the emir of that country voiced
some concern as to what seemed to be an inconsistent policy toward Syria. And
I know they’re working with their other partner-countries to try to have a
unified response, but I’ll just tell you the – I don’t want to say lack of
direction because that’s really not quite fair, but the fact that there is a
confused analysis or what appears at least in the press to be a confused
analysis – hundreds of thousands of people pouring over the border to
neighboring countries, and now you have people talking in our press about
resettlement of refugees in this country, I – all of that on top of the
possibility that the United States should take some additional action in Syria.
But I got to tell you that concerns me, and it concerns the people that I
represent back home.
So, what can you say to mollify me today to assuage those concerns, to reassure
me that there is a consistent policy coming out of the – out of the department
and the White House, that there is a road ahead, there’s a trajectory that – a
strategy that’s been defined and a trajectory that’s being followed?
RICHARD: Well, you’ll understand I’m authorized to talk about the humanitarian
piece of this, and we have been consistent on this as we have been in other
crises, where we’re the world’s leader in contributing to the response – to the
You know, many of us hoped that this would be a short-term crisis and that the
people who I’ve met in the Middle East living in camps and living in villages
would have been able to go home by now. And the longer this has gone on, it
has meant that not only that more people are coming across but that the road
back home will also be more challenging because so much of Syria has been
bombed and is ruined, and so many horrible things have happened that there are
children who really have been traumatized and so getting over that will be
very, very hard.
In terms of resettling refugees in the United States, you may know that each
year the U.S. leads the world in accepting thousands of refugees to come and
restart their lives in the U.S. We tend to take the most vulnerable people,
for whom there is no going home. Sometimes it’s ethnic minorities, sometimes
it’s female-headed households with lots of children who, you know, have no way
of making it on their own overseas but can get a fresh start in the U.S.
We’re hoping to bring 70,000 refugees to the U.S. this year. That’s just a
drop in the bucket compared to the 42 (million), 45 million displaced people in
the world or the 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the region. And these 70,000
come from all over the world. The top countries are Iraq, Burma and Bhutan
So, when I’ve been asked if we would be open to resettling Syrian refugees,
I’ve said yes. But we’re going to follow the recommendations of the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees. We don’t bring people quickly. We generally have
refugees go through a process where we check their stories and we work very
closely with partners – organizations but also the Department of Homeland
Security, who gets to determine who is a bona fide refugee by U.S. standards;
not just international standards but by U.S. standards.
So, I could foresee a time when some refugees will come here from Syria,
particularly if they have some situation where they really feel they can’t go
home again. We have brought only a handful so far, and I don’t think it’s
going to happen quickly and I don’t think it’s going to happen invery large
numbers. One reason to do it, in addition to help those refugees themselves,
is it will demonstrate to these countries in the region that they’re not the
only ones hosting refugees. Germany, for example, has done that. They have
offered to take 5,000. When Germany offers that, they mean temporarily. When
the U.S. offers refugees a fresh start in the U.S., we generally mean
permanently. If they’re happy here – and most refugees are very successful
here – then they often become U.S. citizens over time and stay.
So, I think if there’s any part of that – of your question I didn't answer,
please come back at – (inaudible).
BURGESS: Well, actually, let me – let me – let me ask you this. Because the
area that I represent back in Texas – part of Tarrant County and a good chunk
of Denton County – we actually have two groups of refugees that have been
settled by the State Department in the 10 years that I’ve been in Congress. I
think there were (chim ?) refugees and I don’t remember the nationality of the
I will say that I was surprised when I found that they had been resettled in
the area. And I would have thought – I was a relatively new member at that
point, and I would have thought there would have been some conversation with
the representative from that area, recognizing that there was this enormous
responsibility that was coming to the neighborhood and where the congressional
office could be helpful with the municipality, with the county government, with
local aid agencies. I thought there could have been a better coordination of
that activity. But that’s just been my own experience in the brief time that
I’ve been in Congress.
I’ll just say again I’m – I’ve remained very concerned about what I’m seeing
and what I’m hearing. I don’t see a good answer to this, but I do want to
convey the message that there needs to be a strategy developed. There needs to
be – of course, obviously, the administration does need to work with the House
and the Senate about whatever type of military activity might be contemplated.
And we all need to think through the timeline. If the – you know, I came here
after the authorization for (acting ?) in Afghanistan had already occurred, but
if there’s one thing that’s become painfully apparent over the last10 years
it’s the lack of the definition of a timeline, the lack of adherence to a
timeline that has caused a great deal of the difficulty. It even leads to some
of the ambiguity that we see today in – as far as our relationship with those
But, I thank you for your time being here. Thank you for the – for the effort
to educate me about this earlier in the week. And, Mr. Chairman, I’ll yield
RICHARD: Thank you. Can I just mention one thing? You know, I agree 100
percent with you on the need to make sure that local elected officials know
about the refugees coming to their – the areas that they represent. And the –
not only do I agree with that but the general – Government Accountability
Office also came out with a report saying we have to do even more of it than we
have been in the past. So, this is one of my priorities in the admissions
program, is to make sure we’re talking to the mayor, the head of the school
board who’s going to be seeing the – you know, the teachers are going to be
seeing these kids come in; to make sure that people in the neighborhoods
understand who their new neighbors are and why they’re coming. Why this is an
American tradition and why it has been successful, and really to allay people’s
fears and make sure we’re very careful in where we bring people.
BURGESS: OK, thank you.
CARDIN: And I will point out that there are some efforts being made in the
immigration reform bill to give a little better direction on these programs and
numbers, we have our differences with how the law has been implemented, but
we’d like you to move faster, in some cases, than you’ve been able to move. We
understand homeland security, we understand the procedures, but these people
are extremely vulnerable so I think definitive action is important and we need
to have the resources in place to be able to deliver on what we claim to be our
international responsibility to accept refugees.
We’re joined by the long-time leader of the Helsinki Commission, who has been
going through a change in his body as far as getting new parts, so we welcome
him back from his surgery. He looks like he’s – he still has that smile.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Senator, and thank you so very much for holding
this hearing. – I don’t know how Dr. Burgess got over here faster than I did
from our vote on the House, but I apologize for being delayed and I apologize
to the secretary and other witnesses and all that are assembled.
Senator, this is an extremely important hearing, and I know that Secretary
Richard’s portfolio contemplates many of the things – in light of the fact that
I am late, I really will ask first that the statement that I would have made at
the opening be put in the record by unanimous consent.
CARDIN: Without objection, it will be included.
HASTINGS: Thank you so very much.
CARDIN: Dr. Burgess’s statement will also be put in the record.
HASTINGS: All right, I deeply appreciate that.
Senator, you and I in January were in Kilis. Secretary Richard, we saw the
extraordinary work that the government of Turkey is doing with reference to our
refugees. They are building two camps now. And in the midst of all of that,
new matters have arisen regarding the Turkish government with reference to
their own internal politics.
The stress that the Syrian people are experiencing, with 1.6 million refugees –
at least 1.3 million of them registered – and being scattered to the wind, for
lack of a better expression, I’d like for you to give me your overview with
reference to your opinion and the administration’s opinion, with reference to
the effects of this refugee crisis on the governments of Jordan, Lebanon and
Turkey. And what, if anything, aside from the fact that the United States
government should be proud of the fact that they are the largest of the
contributors, but my understanding – and we will hear later, I believe, from
UNHCR that they're requesting $5 billion, and so the amount that we have
contributed thus far for humanitarian aid is just not sufficient.
Let me put my bona fides on the table. The senator mentioned that I had been
involved in the Helsinki Commission for a long time. We have some
extraordinary people up here that work with us and have worked with us for a
long period of time. We’ve been in and out of that region frequently, and I
don’t recall that anybody on your staff – and I’m not resentful at all – have
ever asked me a single question about anything, and I believe I know more about
the Middle East than most of your staff, at least, if not you. And the reason
being for no other reason than I’ve been there, and I’ve been there often. And
I’m not bragging; I’m just telling you what is a fact. When I speak about the
king of Jordan, I’m speaking about a friend. I served, just for your
information, eight years on the intelligence committee. Need I say more
regarding how important Jordan is and the implications for all of this.
I’d like for you to tell me what’s happening with Iraqi refugees that went to
Syria. Where are they? I’d like for you to tell me what’s happening with
refugees as it pertains to Russia and what’s happening to refugees as it
pertains to Iran. And then I’d like very much at some point for you and I to
have a conversation so I can edify you regarding some things we missed. When I
met with Assad in 2010, I knew that he was not going to accept any terms at
all, and I know that now. And I don’t know what the plan is. I join Dr.
Burgess in saying that I’m not certain as to what we are going to do. But I
know what we should have done; that we didn't do. And somebody needs to speak
up around here when these matters are ongoing.
You were not in the Department of State when Rwanda was going on. My good
friend, and the senator’s good friend, and Dr. Burgess didn't get to know him
as well – Donald Payne and I begged the State Department to call that genocide.
And it wasn’t until many years later that it was put on the bubble and called
for what it was worth. Now, I said I wasn’t going to say very much, but I am –
I’m beside myself when I see children and women and – different from Dr.
Burgess, I attended a function in Broward County, Florida, in December, and
there I was stunned that there were 1,700 Syrians that – Syrian nationals that
were at that function. They live in the congressional district that I
represent, so you don’t have to tell me very much when they’re coming there.
They tell me.
The point that I’m making to you is I’ve seen the slowdown on Iraq with
refugees. We have people that helped us, that helped American soldiers;
interpreters that helped them, people that saved American lives, and they were
left by the wayside. And it wasn’t until a substantial amount of time before
we began to accept people. We need to have a process in place with reference
to the Syrians that allows that we can expedite – I wanted to ask you, and
perhaps I’ll wait until we meet personally – to ask you if you say 70,000 are
coming, I’ll make you a bet before the end of the year we won’t have 2,000 or
3,000. And if not, then correct me and tell me the “when” of it, and why there
will be an accelerated pace for the acceptance.
I hope you don’t take my attitude about this to mean that it’s directed towards
you or the secretary of state. But something is drastically wrong with our
lack of communication when I can cite to you right here four people that have
been on the ground, that are sitting behind me, that have been on the ground in
this issue, and that I have dealt with it from the Maghreb all the way back
across the board for the greater portion of the last 16 years. And I rarely,
if ever, unless I force the issue, hear from anybody from the State Department.
That doesn’t make sense to me. That’s just – not because I’m important or
you’re important, but that we as a government are and that we’re doing things
and there’s no communication.
There was no brief-out after the senator and I and the delegation that we were
with went to Kilis. Nobody asked us about who we met with in Turkey or what we
did while we were there. Nobody asked us about the fact that we were going
there from Israel and the implications for all of this as it pertains to
Israel. In there somewhere is the question.
Thank you very much.
RICHARD: Thank you, Congressman, for your –
RICHARD: – for your attention to this issue and for your passion –
CARDIN: Just one moment. I agree completely with Congressman Hastings but I
will not tolerate responses from the audience.
RICHARD: Congressman, I want to assure you that I’m quite certain you know
more than I do about the Middle East because that is not my area of expertise,
and many of the refugee crises that I have worked on in the past were Burmese
and Thailand and also throughout Africa. And like Senator Cardin, the first
time I went to the Middle East it was for meeting with Iraqi refugees. And
this is why I rely so much on the experts in the Near East and Asia Bureau –
NEA Bureau – I think it’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau (sic) – of the State
Department because I know that without that historical context, without
understanding the unique situation of each of these countries, you can’t really
understand what’s happening with the – with these governments, the precarious
situation they’re in, and, you know, all the many rocks upon which this
humanitarian enterprise could founder.
Taking these countries, then, that you’ve mentioned, I’ll start with Turkey
since both you and Chairman Cardin have been there. As we said, their response
is far and away the best response to refugees there has ever been on Earth,
probably. They have been tremendously generous. Part of the dilemma they have
is that they started this when there were fewer refugees coming across, and now
it is becoming a very expensive enterprise for them to support that many
refugees in the way they would like to, where they not only meet international
standards; they exceed them. And so I’ve been there a couple times to two
And I have thanked the Turks with whom I met for their generosity. And we have
looked for ways that we could provide support. They – once the numbers really
started to grow, you know, they asked us to provide funding directly to them,
and we explained that our humanitarian assistance appropriated by Congress is
used not to pay governments directly but to go through these trusted
international organizations and nongovernmental organizations. So, we have
looked for ways to offset some of their costs by, for example, the World Food
Programme, which – to which the U.S. is a top funder. Not my bureau; USAID
does that. But to fund a card that the Turkish Red Crescent gives to refugees
so that they can go shopping on a local market. And it’s much better for the
mental outlook of the refugees. It’s better for the locals because they have
customers coming and shopping and buying their products, and it’s – all in all,
it’s been a beneficial thing, then, offsetting costs that the government and
the people of Turkey would have to fund.
So, it hasn’t been completely problem-free, but I think – Turkey has – partly
because of its economic strength, partly because of its tradition of generosity
– has really moved quickly to host large numbers, build lots of camps, 17, and
more under construction, and to provide a really outstanding level of support
In Jordan, we have close ties but Jordan is not as economically advantaged as
Turkey is, so we have a bilateral relationship that has – not run by my office
but to provide assistance – economic assistance to the government to help with
their own needs of their own people, especially impoverished people who live in
Jordan. And then also we are working very closely with U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees to provide help to refugees in Jordan. Some are in camp; some are
living in the villages in the communities. And we’re trying to get aid to both
groups and it requires different approaches for each group. We meet often with
the Jordanians. We visit often. I talk every week to the U.S. ambassador to
Jordan. He is intensely interested in what’s going on and, you know, really
has his finger on the pulse of what’s happening. He talks to everybody; from
refugees who he meets with when he visits the camps, to the king.
In Lebanon, because of the way they are governed, it is harder for us to have
that close a relationship in terms of bilateral aid, and so we really rely more
on the international organizations. I have, however, met with the prime
minister of Lebanon, I’ve met with the president of Lebanon; I have assured
them I care what happens there. We want to make sure that they are not
forgotten in this situation. They are used to tensions in their own country
and – but, you know, Beirut is very, very close to Damascus. It’s driving
distance. It’s just a couple hours away. And you really feel that when you're
So, one of the things we’ve done lately is really try to bring more attention
to Lebanon, and I’ve talked especially to the European – my counterparts in
Europe about this because they may be able to do more in Lebanon whereas we
could do more in Jordan, and trying to make sure both countries get the help
they need. There are no camps in Lebanon to this date. The Lebanese took
people in but they’re also living in clinics, in schools, in partially
completed buildings. You know, anything that has a structure turns into a
shelter for refugees, so it’s a very, very sobering situation.
The numbers of refugees going to Iraq are fewer. My colleague, the deputy
assistant secretary, Kelly Clements, was in Iraq. The last couple days, we
send her up to Erbil and then to Baghdad to investigate the situation for
refugees there. As we were talking about a moment ago, not only are Syrians
going to Iraq; Iraqis who’d fled Iraq are going back to Iraq. And so this is
really heartbreaking. I mean, these poor people have been displaced twice.
I’ll have to get back to you on Russia and Iran. Iran, you know we have a
program to help people flee Iran, so I don’t know about Syrians going to Iran.
Iran already hosts – I think it’s 1.7 million Afghans, so, you know, this is a
place where we are constantly working on the edges of in terms of refugee
I was on the State Department payroll when Rwanda happened. I was a civil
servant. I had taken a leave to go help start the International Crisis Group.
And as we went around and talked about the need for an organization like that,
the Rwandan genocide was unfolding. And your former colleague, Steve Solarz,
was in – had left Congress at that point. And so he – I accompanied him to
some of the meetings in where Rwanda became the case of what we had to not have
happen ever again.
And I can’t hear Donald Payne’s name without thinking of all that he did. You
know, he was “the” expert on Africa. So, you don’t have to convince me that
sometimes members of Congress know more than State Department people because if
you just mention Donald Payne, you rest your case. (Chuckles.)
Let’s see, in terms of bringing Syrians to the U.S. The 70,000 refugees we
intend to bring this year would come from countries in the rest of the world.
The top three places we’re bringing refugees right now are Iraq, Burma and
Bhutan. Only a handful of Syrians were really anticipated when we put that
number together. And the president, you know, proposed that all to you. So,
by the end of the year, there may be very few Syrians who have come in. That
is true. We will get – we will probably get all 70,000 refugees but they won’t
be Syrians. I appreciate what Senator Cardin said about trying to find
mechanisms to bring in refugees who need to be brought to safety quickly; out
of these situations quicker.
You know, this has been a conversation we’ve had ever since we realized – we,
the U.S. government – that we had to get some of these translators and drivers
and those who’d helped – Iraqis who’d helped American troops out. And then,
our procedures are deliberately designed to be super careful so that we don’t
let terrorists in.
One thing that the State Department has set up, before my time, was to fund
UNACR to have three places around the world: ETCs – and I almost remember –
transit centers, where refugees can go if they have to get out of wherever they
are, the place for them – the new country that they’re headed to – is not ready
to take them yet. So, there’s one in Romania. Somebody back here knows the
MS.: (Off mic.)
RICHARD: Say it out loud.
MS.: There’s one in the Philippines –
RICHARD: In the Philippines?
MS.: And Slovenia.
RICHARD: Slovenia – is where we have these ETCs. So, those have proven to be
very, very helpful. Small numbers but really life-saving situations.
CARDIN: Well, thank you for that comprehensive answer to Congressman Hastings.
I’m just going to make an observation. You are correct, there is a reason for
time to pass before we can resettle refugees, but the resources have not been
made available in the right locations, so it could have been done a lot
quicker. And there have been a lot of letters from Congress to the
administration on this issue. Many of us have observed this first-hand and
have tried to get the system working more efficiently, and we’ll be glad to
follow up with you on this issue, but I think you’re going to see some
additional congressional direction in order to expedite those that are at risk.
RICHARD: We welcome that.
CARDIN: Thank you. Thank you very much for your testimony, appreciate it.
RICHARD: Thank you all very much for your interest and for your travels, too.
I appreciate that.
CARDIN: Thank you. We’ll now turn to our second panel that consists of three
experts on Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. We have Dr.
Michel Gabaudan, who is President of the Refugees International. He testified
before the commission in 2008 regarding the plight of Iraqi refugees when he
served as the United Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesRegional
Representative for the United States in the Caribbean. Trained as a medical
doctor in addition to holding a master’s degree in tropical public health, Dr.
Gabaudan’s career at UNHCR has spanned more than 25 years.
We also have Ms. Jana Mason, who is Senior Adviser for Government Relations and
External Affairs at the Washington, D.C. office of the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees. Prior to joining the High Commissioner’s office, Ms. Mason was
Director of Government Relations and Advocacy at the International Rescue
Committee and also worked for 11 years with the U.S. Committee for Refugees.
And then we have Ms. Yassar Bittar, who is Government Relations and Advocacy
Associate for the Syrian-American Council in Washington, D.C. She is
responsible for briefing congressional offices and the Department of State on
the Syrian crisis and for grassroots mobilization with the Syrian-American
We will start with Dr. Gabaudan.
GABAUDAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And Chairman Cardin, Congressmen
Hastings and Burgess, thank you very much for inviting me to testify to this
very important hearing, which timing, of course, is fantastic, between the
largest appeal of the U.N. and World Refugee Day.
We have at Refugees International undertaken four missions to the region to the
four countries hosting refugees and to the northern part of Syria in the past
year and a half. And I will share with you my key impressions from these trips
as we are preparing for our next one very soon.
I think the Syrian crisis, the way it affects people, we have to look at under
three different dimensions. First, there is the strict level of human
suffering and humanitarian needs and how best to respond to these. I was
certainly dramatically impressed a year ago when we met the children of the
first families who had managed to escape Hama and Homs and who arrived in
Jordan. And in 30 years of refugee work, I’ve never seen such a blank stare in
small children, who should never have seen things that we regret to imagine.
On the question of gender abuse, I was also quite stricken to the fact that the
extent of violence against women inside Syria has led to families leaving in
order to avoid being subjected to this sort of violence. I had never heard
that in my life before. So there is a level of brutality to the conflict that
is reaching almost unheard-of heights.
The second dimension, of course, is the impact this refugee outflow is having
on neighboring countries. We were absolutely pleased to be the tremendous
welcome that Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have given to refugees with very
open borders, with rather easy access to services and in general – and it’s
evolving – a pretty open attitude toward the international community in its
ability to come and help.
But this open-arms policy is slowing – is showing some strains right now.
First, they are at risk of importation of the increasing sectarian nature of
the conflict in Syria into neighboring countries, Lebanon in particular. And I
think we should all be very happy to see that Lebanon hasn’t done worse than it
has done to date with this strict – this close relationship it has with Syria.
But there is the impact in the local population. When we were in Jordan last
year, the health and education ministries have seen their budgets cut by 25
percent, because of the economical situation of Jordan, at a time when they’re
offering access to schools and to the facilities to the very large number of
Syrians they have. Now, that of course is something that a local population is
going to tolerate for just a small amount of time. And at one point, they will
say, what about – what about us?
So in general, what we’re seeing right now, I think, is what we would call a
reduction of the protection space in this country, which is certainly of great
concern and needs to be addressed, not through the humanitarian means and
response that we had, but perhaps, more to development aid, to the multilateral
banks, et cetera.
And finally, there is the situation inside Syria, where we see an increasing
atomization of the power structures in different areas. And it has a series of
impacts. The first one is that, as Assistant Secretary Richard mentioned, is
that we are seeing now refugees who get out of Syria because of the breakdown
in services, because of the very high price of commodities, not only because of
the brutality of the conflict, because – but just because the living conditions
are becoming unbearable.
And that exit, if left to fester and to continue, of course, will make returns
impossible. And the longer the refugees stay in neighboring countries, of
course, the more the reactions of these neighboring countries are going to
stiffen and to make protection difficult. So we are caught in a vicious
circle. And in my view, we have to address the response to the Syrian crisis
by looking at support for neighboring countries and what we can do inside
Syria, in addition to the traditional means of delivering humanitarian aid to
the refugees and to those Syrians we can access inside Syria.
For the sake of time, I don’t want to go over issues that you have covered in
your statement, Mr. Chairman, and that Ms. Richard has also addressed. I would
like, perhaps, to mention just two issues that we were quite stricken with.
The situation in Lebanon and Jordan, for good reasons, because they have the
highest number of refugees, have been largely covered and benefit from the
large impact of the humanitarian community. Though things could be improved,
they are on the radar screen.
Iraq is much less, and the Kurdish Regional Government has responded almost
singlehandedly to the refugee crisis. The appeals for Iraq have not been met
at the same level as the others. But it’s further complicated that the
relationship between Baghdad and the Kurdish government make international aid
much more difficult to get there. And I think this is something we have to try
to see how we can break.
The second issue is regarding Turkey. As was mentioned, their response was
outstanding in the way they run camps. We’ve been to Kilis also – I think we
all believe Kilis is perhaps the showpiece, probably the best of the camps.
But even if the others are not as good, it’s certainly well above average. The
Turks have the tradition of responding to earthquakes; people coming to camps,
and after six months, they go out. So they can afford a pretty high level of
In this case, they have now to maintain standards for a long time. I
understand that the bill for one year is $1 billion; they cannot sustain that.
And all the Turkish officials we’ve talked to are appealing for international
aid, but not international aid as we do in usual refugee emergencies; they want
bilateral aid, because they have their own way of responding. And I don’t
think we should pretend that we should run the camp in their stead; not at all.
But we should see how we can eventually support them, a difficult proposition,
even though Turkey is a fairly wealthy country, it doesn’t figure on the
international aid targets.
But they have shown also more willingness to accommodate international help in
dealing with the growing population of urban refugees. And I think, as time
goes, we will see a higher proportion of refugees living in cities. And we
have to learn from the experience with Iraqi refugees, when the U.N. had some
fairly creative ways to assist urban populations, ways that have not yet been
into practice for urban refugees in the region.
The last comment I would like to make, Mr. Chairman, is that of our assistance
to programs inside Syria. Some international NGOs are having some problems
bringing aid inside Syria, but there are a lot of recently created NGOs or
loose association of Syrians that you find on the border.
They are businessmen from Aleppo, they are former professionals who took refuge
from Damascus because they were persecuted, they are Syrians working in the –
on the diaspora, some working from – in the Gulf states, other Syrian-Americans
who have left their business in the states, gone back on the border and tried
to do what they can. They are completely out of the loop of international aid.
And they are – these are people who think as we do about the future of Syria,
and they are highly frustrated and diffident about the West that they see
dumping them completely.
I think it’s a tremendous mistake because on the one hand, they could
contribute, if properly assisted and perhaps trained, you know, coached, in
delivering more aid inside Syria. They will also be essential in the period of
recovery and reconstruction to have as allies. And I think, if we’re missing
the boat right now, we’re condemning ourselves for the long run. It’s not
traditional to help these groups; there are perhaps some risks involved. But I
think we should take these risks and give all the Syrians a chance to be
recognized as bona fide recipients of the effort we are all making.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I would like to say that unless we start supporting
local organization, looking at development aid to the neighboring countries, we
are not going to address the complexity of the crisis as required.
And the last comment on appropriations, as it will impact very much where we
are in 2014: The administration request on the migration and refugee account
was 2 million (dollars) less than last year. We hope that the Senate, in its
tradition, will boost this up. I hope more than in the past, because these
funds will be needed next year. We certainly support very much the
administration’s request to boost the emergency refugee and migration account
to $250 million; I think this is absolutely needed. And we certainly welcome
the fact that the IDA has been tremendously increased.
I know your comment, Mr. Chairman, on how to get others – Europeans have been
slow to respond, as usual. They have much less of an excuse as they try to
have, in the case of Iraqis, where they said this is an American problem; let
them fix it. They don’t have that excuse at all in the case of Syrians. I
think it’s important that we seek ways to incorporate them. And perhaps the
convenient – convening an international conference on the Syrian humanitarian
crisis, you know, that UNHCR could do, as it did in the case of Iraq and did
create a bit more visibility for the issue, would be a way forward and should
Thank you very much for your attention, Mr. Chairman and congressmen.
CARDIN: Thank you very much for your comments.
MASON: Thank you very much, Chairman Cardin and other members of the
commission. I’d like to express, first of all, my appreciation for the chance
to appear before you today and offer the perspectives and concerns of the U.N.
Refugee Agency, UNHCR, regarding the humanitarian situation of displaced
Two days ago I returned from a 10-day trip to Jordan and Lebanon where I
traveled throughout both countries and witnessed the staggering human
consequences of the Syrian conflict. I had the opportunity to interview
refugees in both countries. And I also met with government officials, NGOs,
community members and, of course, my UNHCR colleagues in various parts of both
countries. Two members of our delegation also traveled to Egypt during that
time. I should mention Turkey was also on the itinerary initially but, due to
recent events, we weren’t able to go there.
Very briefly, let me just mention UNHCR currently has three offices inside
Syria and 13 in the five neighboring countries that now have received the
majority of Syrian refugees. As mentioned, these are Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey,
Egypt and Iraq. We currently have over 2,000 staff working in the region.
UNHCR leads and coordinates the refugee response – the response in the host
countries. And we work closely with host governments and with more than 100
U.N. and NGO partners.
Inside Syria, since there was no lead agency for all internally displaced
situations, we’re part of a collective U.N. and NGO response led by the UN
Emergency Relief Coordinator and the OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. My remarks today are going to focus on our main
observations and main messages regarding the whole crisis, and particularly on
my visit to Jordan and Lebanon.
My written statement includes additional information on all the countries that
we work on, in addition to our operations inside Syria where we are providing
much needed but very limited humanitarian assistance, understandably because of
the security concerns. But if you’re interested more on the inside situation,
I can certainly follow-up with more information on that.
As others have already noted, and as you noted in your very comprehensive
opening statement, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Hastings noted as well, there are at
least 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the region. Of those, one million – I
think this should be noted – one million of 1.6 (million) fled the country in
the last six months alone. So we’ve seen it’s not only the numbers, but it’s
the pace of arrivals and the escalation in recent months.
Civilians have crossed borders in record numbers because of increased fighting
and because of the way the fighting moves around, as we’ve seen, cities and
towns taking control – or being controlled by different factions at different
times. Many Syrians cross the borders after having already been internally
displaced. We learned on the trip that in many cases Syrians are displaced two
or three times before crossing a border. Crossing a border is sometimes the
And this decision to cross a border is often taken in haste, at the last
minute, because they’re at imminent risk. Therefore, they arrive with almost
nothing but the clothes on their back. As a consequence, they have few
resources to rely on and are desperately in need of aid by the international
community. We saw this with the Iraqis, but many of them had a little bit more
time to flee and had resources that dwindled over time. Many of the Syrians
don’t come with these resources.
It’s also important to know, as has already been mentioned, that three-quarters
of the refugees are women and children. But of this, three-quarters of the
total women and children, but in most of the countries over half are children
alone. In Jordan alone, 20 percent – or roughly 20 percent are under age five.
So as many of my UNHCR colleagues have mentioned, this is in many ways a
I’ve traveled to many refugees camps, as I – as I know many of you have, you
always see a lot of children. But I was just struck by the number of children
in Zaatari refugee camp and even in the urban areas. In Zaatari camp in
Jordan, 60 to 70 children are born each week. And that’s one camp in one
country. We saw a lot of – I saw a lot of newborn babies on this trip, so
that’s obviously very troubling, raises a host of protection concerns, as has
One of the main messages I came away with from this trip – which is not a
surprise; it’s been echoed by colleagues today – is that the refugee numbers
are putting enormous strain on the local communities. UNHCR and our partners
provide a range of services, both to the – to the camp refugees and to the
non-camp refugees. We call them urban refugees because they live in cities and
towns. Sometimes urban means a small village; sometimes it means Amman.
Increasingly, we’re also providing assistance to the host communities as well,
to the residents, local populations. The problem is that these communities
have already been hosting the refugees for two years and they’re now reaching
the breaking point. I can’t tell you how many times on the trip I heard the
term “the breaking point.”
The problem is particularly acute in Lebanon where there are no camps and where
refugees are housed in a wide variety of shelter, ranging from – if you can
call it shelter, in some cases – ranging from rented apartments – which are
probably the best, even though these are often substandard apartments at
inflated rents – to unfinished buildings to what we call collective centers and
maybe an unused school, to, in Lebanon alone, almost 300, what we call,
informal tented settlements, and tent is an overstatement. It would be nice if
they were tents. They were usually – sometimes they were tearing down
billboards to build some sort of a shack, or they scrounged around for some
materials. These are not run by UNHCR, but as we access them, one by one, we’re
trying to provide more assistance.
Now, the problem is also particularly dangerous in Lebanon given the country’s
complex sectarian divisions. As I know the commission is well aware, the
political and security situation in Lebanon is very precarious. We have
reports of more spillover incidents along the border, with rockets fired from
Syria continuing to strike Bekaa in the north, as well as prolonged unrest in
Tripoli. We were supposed to go into Tripoli during this delegation, but the
security – we had to drive around the mountain roads and bypass Tripoli and go
to other areas of the north.
We did go to the Bekaa as well. This situation, of course, is exacerbated by
Hezbollah’s recent engagement inside Syria that we’re all aware of. During
this visit, for example, in Lebanon, we learned that the funerals of Hezbollah
fighters who have been killed in Lebanon were being used as occasions to fire
shots over the tented settlements where Syrian refugees were living.
Obviously, that’s very much of concern.
Now, in Jordan, most media attention has focused on Zaatari refugee camp in
northern Jordan, which currently houses about 120,000. Zaatari is a city
actually – I mean, it’s a camp. But as a camp, it constitutes the
fifth-largest city in Jordan and it basically sprung out of the desert in July
of last year. That camp is only 12 kilometers from the border so the refugees
and the workers there routinely hear artillery fire at night. The location is
harsh and some of the conditions are quite difficult.
Yet, ironically, sometimes even though UNHCR likes to say that we’re moving
around from camps – for very good reasons, because camps aren’t good locations
to live and for children to be born and raised. But at least, in this camp and
in other camps, we’re able to provide assistance that’s at least in walking
distance for the refugees. However, as mentioned, three-quarters of Syrian
refugees live in urban areas, in cities or villages. And they share many of
the concerns with the urban refugees in Lebanon.
These include high rents, inadequate cash assistance, problems accessing health
care, lack of job opportunities, problems keeping kids in school and a whole
host of protection issues including gender-based violence. These problems
often force families to turn to what we refer to as negative coping strategies,
which includes such things as child labor, early marriage, forced marriage and
other forms of exploitation. We’re very concerned about trafficking and all
sorts of things in these circumstances.
Now, another key finding from the trip, as you’ve already mentioned, is the
ongoing need to assure open borders. UNHCR continues to work with governments
in the region to convince them to keep providing access to territory to all
Syrians fleeing as well as other nationals fleeing the conflict. We’re very
grateful for the commitment that they’ve already offered. By taking in
thousands of new refugees every day, we have to remember that these countries
which are on the front lines of the crisis are saving lives and supporting the
families and communities.
And very important, they’re also helping Syrians prepare for what we hope will
be an eventual return to their homeland. And at this point at least, every
Syrian I met in Lebanon and Jordan said that they want to – they want to go
home. But this ability to keep borders open and offer services is, of course,
linked to international support to governments and host communities. If that
support isn’t available, acceptance towards the refugees may soon diminish,
which would threaten to further stabilize what’s already a fragile region.
I heard about this over and over. I was told the host communities were
initially welcoming to the refugees. Many landlords, for example, were
deferring rent payments, or reducing rents. Neighbors were providing food.
Communities were chipping in. It’s clear, however, that the tide has turned
and that tensions in host communities are growing.
And this is leading to the threat of violence and instability. One government
official I met with said the refugee crisis is bringing out the worst in
society. He said what people think is morally acceptable behavior is skewed.
And another official said, when you don’t have enough yourself, you’re not as
willing to share as you used to be. Two very quick stories about refugees that
I met, and then I’ll conclude.
In Amman, I met with an urban refugee family in an apartment – a very
substandard apartment. Husband, wife, six kids, a daughter-in-law and a
newborn grandchild. The son was still in Syria. They were from Daraa – Daraa
region in Syria. The husband had participated in protests in Daraa and had
been detained twice and tortured. He told us very directly he had a nervous
breakdown because of this. The Syrians are very forthcoming with mental health
issues, which is unlike a number of refugee populations I’ve met with before.
He said he was receiving treatment. What forced him to leave was that he was
asked for a third time to come in by military intelligence, and at this point,
he was – he was afraid – he didn’t want to go through the torture again and
maybe lose his life, so he fled to Jordan.
In addition to the concerns over rent and other assistance, their family is
very worried because the newborn grandchild doesn’t have birth registration.
They’re concerned about his ability to move as well as to access services like
education. When we were leaving – and this is what struck me – we were walking
down the steps, and the women said to our translator, boy, they’re very lucky –
meaning myself and our delegation. I thought they meant, largely, we’re lucky
because we’re not coming from a war-torn country or we come from the United
States or what. All they meant, when I asked about it, is that we were lucky
that we were leaving the apartment, because they never do. They happen to live
in a neighborhood that doesn’t have as many Syrians, and they were afraid that
they were becoming – there were increasing hostilities in that neighborhood to
The second story, very quickly, is at a tented settlement in the Beqaa Valley
of Lebanon. We met a little boy who had visible scars on his face from when a
house explosion – he was in a house that exploded in Syria, and the burns were
quite difficult to look at. We asked about assistance – the UNHCR staff with
us said they would certainly follow up with them, but I wondered – you know, we
just happened to be there. They hadn’t seen aid workers for a while, because
again, they’re so scattered. How long would it be before he would be able to
get some assistance? Next to him was a little girl who we were told was so
emotionally distressed that she couldn’t move her hands – that was just the way
her symptoms were manifesting it.
This visit really highlighted the need for adequate shelter as well as adequate
assistance. So in conclusion – and let me just note that the – as we’ve
discussed here, the conflict in Syria has put an unbearable strain on the
population of Syria and its neighbors. The host countries have been very
generous, but the overwhelming message that I received is that the welcome is
now being strained as the conflict continues and refugees keep arriving. If
our goal really is, as it is, to encourage these host countries to keep their
borders open and continue allowing refugees to access basic services, then we
have to do more to assist these governments and their local populations as well.
Of course, we have to be very smart in how the resources are used, but the
reality is that significant additional resources will probably be needed this
year and beyond. New donors, including the private sector, have to be tapped,
and as was mentioned earlier, including by Dr. Gabaudan, the development
agencies have to be more engaged as well and work hand-to-hand with the
humanitarian groups. The experiences of the refugees in neighboring countries
may very well determine what a future Syria looks like, and the welfare of the
host countries will determine the future stability and prosperity of the entire
region. Thank you very much.
CARDIN: Thank you very much. Ms. Bittar?
BITTAR: Chairman Cardin and members of the commission, thank you for inviting
me to testify on behalf of the Coalition for a Democratic Syria’s work on
Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. I’d also like to thank you
for actually traveling to the region and meeting with Syrian people on the
What began in March 2011 as a peaceful revolution in Syria with hundreds of
thousands taking to the streets calling for freedom and democracy in the face
of bullets and tanks has evolved into what president of Oxfam, American Ray
Offenheiser, describes as a humanitarian catastrophe of quote “Darfur-level
insanity if not worse,” end quote.
As mentioned earlier, the U.N. made yet another aid appeal of $5 billion, its
largest ever, maintaining that nearly half of the country’s population will
need aid. My comments today will focus on the coalition’s work for the 1.6
million Syrian refugees and 4.25 million IDPs, many of whom have been displaced
I will then relay my observations from my recent trips into Syria, during which
I took a closer look into the depth and complexity of the humanitarian crisis
on the ground.
CDS represents the Syrian-American community advocacy in support of the Syrian
revolution. Our generous constituency throughout the country has been the
driving force in our work for Syrian refugees and IDPs.
According to data compiled by the American Relief Coalition for Syria, the
Syrian-American community contributed $45 million in humanitarian aid in 2012;
this number is projected to double in 2013. The networks of these
organizations are able to reach areas under extremely difficult circumstances,
at times when access by the UN is very limited or altogether lacking.
The international community’s efforts in addressing the humanitarian crisis in
Syria have somewhat improved in recent months, through the introduction of
cross-line and cross- border aid deliveries by international NGOs, albeit on a
scale that does not measure up to the massive needs.
I saw small examples firsthand in the IDP camps inside Syria. My first trip, I
saw very little presence of UN agency work; rather, the tents were donated by
non-profit organizations willing to cross the border. While on the border, two
tents caught fire as families used candles to keep warm, killing 7 children;
these children survived the landing of a mortar shell in their kitchen only to
be killed by their supposed source of refuge. During my second trip, two
months later, several UNHCR tents were set up throughout these camps as the
number of IDPs at the border approximately doubled to reach 60,000 people.
Unfortunately, other needs such as food and sanitation remain in desperate
condition. Refugees are forced to purchase their own food from local villages
as their daily allocation of one loaf of bread, a tub of butter and jam, and
one water bottle is often not sufficient.
My experience as I traveled further into Syria was even more heartbreaking. As
I traveled two hours into the country, I saw a physically beautiful Syria as a
backdrop to the reality that the Assad regime has forced upon the people. We
drove by homes that have been brought to the ground, places of worship that
have been destroyed and buildings that had been leveled. I saw families living
in remnants of ancient buildings and structures that once housed livestocks.
After arriving at the city of Kafrenbal, I made my way to the statistics bureau
of the local civilian council, a body formed by activists to meet the needs of
the population in the absence of government services. As I was visiting the
school that housed displaced children, an attack helicopter flew over our
heads, and the children reassured me, saying, “If we are meant to die, it is
God’s will. Don’t be scared.” According to the head of the humanitarian
bureau of the local council, the aid that we delivered into the city had been
the first delivery in at least one month; he delivered food baskets to women
who accepted them with tears streaming down their faces. That night, we faced
six hours of non-stop regime shelling; the following day, we escaped to Turkey.
On the Turkish side of the border, we stayed in the border town of Rehanlye,
whose population has doubled since the beginning of the crisis to reach 80,000
people. According to USAID, Turkey is home to approximately 380,000 registered
Syrian refugees; of them, 100,000 Syrians reside in non-camp settings. The
total amount of aid, as we discussed, spent in Turkey has reached $1.5 billion
with the Turkish government going above and beyond by providing over $600
Although I was not given access to the Turkish refugee camps, I visited several
Syrian families living amongst the urban population. I saw very difficult
living conditions for families paying up to 700 Turkish pounds in rent; a
family of six was living in a shed without running water or electricity.
Another family of seven was living on the rooftop of a building with a
makeshift roof for coverage.
The number of refugees and IDPs is at a scale in which, according to
assessments from the ground, there is little room for error on behalf of the
international community. These numbers will only increase as the situation on
is deteriorating by the day. Just last week, in the city of Qusayr, thousands
of civilians were forced to flee to neighboring villages as Assad forces,
backed by Iranian and Hezbollah militias, placed a vicious siege on the city of
Although positive steps in aid delivery have been made, a disconnect remains in
ensuring proper and efficient aid delivery on behalf of the international
community. We believe it is important to partner with the Assistance
Coordination Unit of the internationally-recognized Syrian Coalition, the
provincial councils in the liberated areas, as well as the Syrian NGOs that
have proven to deliver to disaster stricken areas. More importantly, the U.S.
has to demonstrate strong resolve and serious commitment to helping solve the
crisis in Syria, the root cause of the humanitarian disaster. Absence of
U.S.-led international action has permitted the crisis to fester and reach its
current tragic proportions, and continued inaction will only worsen it.
Without addressing the root cause of the problem – the illegitimate Assad
regime – the staggering numbers of IDPs and relentless exodus of refugees will
continue to overwhelm the humanitarian response and destabilize OSCE member
Turkey, OSCE partner Jordan, and all of Syria’s neighbors.
Thank you very much for your time.
CARDIN: Well, we thank all three of you.
I particularly appreciate, Ms. Bittar, your observations of what’s happening
inside of Syria. I think that’s very important for us. We know that it
depends greatly as to what part of Syria you’re in and who controls the
different areas, but one of our challenges is how do we get aid inside of
Syria? We know there are NGOs working, but to oversight, the route of that aid
is not always certain in that we’re not clear whether the resources are getting
to responsible people or not. So we appreciate your observations and we’re
going to continue to do what we can to develop the networks, but it is very,
I have one question and then I’ll yield to my colleagues. What I said
originally, we have two priorities: to try to deal with the people who have
been victimized, those that have been displaced and are refugees, to get them
aid. The other is to bring some semblance of order to Syria. And the strategy
is to try to get change in the regime as quickly as possible, and to do that in
a way that provides for governance in Syria that respects the rights of all of
its citizens so that people can live in peace.
Now, in order to accomplish that, the opposition people have been urging for
more definitive U.S. assistance and international assistance. If the amount of
international activity increases inside of Syria, the discussions about lethal
force, what impact could that have on the Syrian population dealing with the
issues that we’re currently dealing with? Do you have a view – or the nation
has already been shocked to such a point that anything more won’t make much of
a difference, or could there be another round of large increases of displaced
individuals within Syria?
GABAUDAN: Well, reading my cup of tea, Senator, as a matter of course I would
say if you introduce more weapons in an area which is already in conflict, that
may lead to faster resolution of the conflict, hopefully and perhaps, but
during that time there would be more civilian casualties.
I think the nature of the conflict has already proven that civilians are
bearing an immense cost in the conflict and I cannot see how adding more
weapons to that conflict would make civilians safer in the short term. In the
longer term that would be more of a military expertise to perhaps address that
because I cannot really vouch on that.
CARDIN: I guess my point about this is – and I’m for resolving the situation
in Syria as promptly as we can and helping the opposition. My concern is we
already – we don’t have the infrastructure in place today to deal with the
current displaced people. Putting additional pressure on it is going to make
at least the short-term circumstances even worse, and making it even more
urgent that we get the resources we need to try to develop a network to deal
with those who are being displaced.
MASON: Well, as UNHCR being a humanitarian organization, I can’t directly
address the military situation inside Syria, or what would be or wouldn’t be
the impact of different courses of action the U.S. could take. I only wanted
to mention that on the trip everyone we met with – government officials, U.N.,
even the refugees themselves – were very tied in to what’s going on back at
home, were saying that they still expect greater displacement regardless of
what happens. We kept hearing it over and over: The worst is yet to come.
For example, the battle for Aleppo hadn’t happened yet.
Regardless of what happens with Assad, they were concerned that there could be
future violence that would then – you know, maybe more sectarian violence that
would then lead people to leave. So just to say that regardless of the course
of action the assumption was more displacement is going to happen.
And that’s why as the U.N. we’re calling for increased funding this year and
then probably beyond, because as was also mentioned, regardless of what
happens, if Syrians are to return someday, there’s going to have to be great
investment in infrastructure and rebuilding that country, because with
agricultural land destroyed, homes destroyed, entire villages, there’s very
little right now for people to go back to.
CARDIN: Let me just – you can answer that – Ms. Bittar, I just want to ask
you, what percentage of Syria today do you believe we have effective ways of
getting help to those who are in need?
BITTAR: I mean, if we look at the liberated regions, I believe the number that
we have as far as liberated areas in Syria, I believe the percentage is about
60 percent. But what we have through the networks on the ground, through these
Syrian NGOs, they’re able to reach, like I mentioned, areas that normally the
U.N. agencies can’t reach. For example, there was a neighborhood in the city
of Homs called Alwad (ph), which has been – which was left by the regime until
they were tightening the siege on the city. And there’s 600,000 IDPs in that
So they tightened the siege on the city. And in response, American Relief
Coalition for Syria was able to raise about half a million dollars of aid and
find access through their networks on the ground into these areas that have
been under siege. So if the area isn’t liberated, which a lot of Syria is
despite the change on the ground militarily, as we’re seeing, there are the
networks on the ground through these Syria NGOs, as I mentioned earlier.
But then also, in response to your earlier question, in regards to – the goal
of course is to end the conflict in Syria so that all the Syrians can return
back to their country and those that are internally displaced can return back
to their homes. Arming, in our belief, would help of course bring that
conflict to an end in that as we look at the situation we see Iran and
Hezbollah on the ground in Syria. They’re making gains on the ground.
We have seen them take over, regain the city of Qudsaya, for example. They are
amassed in the suburbs of Aleppo. So we’re seeing these troops and the Assad
regime kind of take the path towards regaining formerly liberated areas. So
what happens in these formally liberated areas is that these civilians are
forced out, leading to the increase of internally displaced people.
So in order to make sure that this liberated area is not regained by these
Iranian and Hezbollah troops on the ground, we must equal the playing field on
the ground by providing arms to the Free Syrian Army on the ground, by
providing a no-fly zone so that the Assad regime can land their air force and
the SCUD missiles are not killing innocent civilians on a daily basis.
So providing arms, although it seems one would predict that would lead to, like
my colleague mentioned, a short-term displacement, it helps solve the crisis,
helps solve the conflict, which brings people back home and levels the playing
field on the ground, so that we don’t lose, so that the Free Syrian Army does
not lose any ground – any of the liberated regions. So, yes.
CARDIN: Well, thank you for that answer. We are certainly anxious to get this
issue – get Syria resolved. And the committee I serve on, Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, has taken – is taking action to try to increase U.S.
leadership in that regard.
I would just maybe take issue on one of your statements. In the liberated
areas, it’s my understanding they’re all not equal as far as the ability to get
aid distributed. We have more confidence in some areas of the liberated
communities than we do others, that international assistance can get to the
people that really need it. Is that your – I see you’re shaking your head.
Isn’t there this inconsistency in the liberated areas?
BITTAR: From what I saw – again, I traveled to Aleppo and I traveled to Idlib.
From what I saw, there was a lack kind of across the board, but the system is
in place. I think the structure is in place so that we can ensure proper aid
delivery through the Assistance Coordination Unit.
The Assistance Coordination Unit is kind of like a capacity, a place where all
the assessments of the situation on the ground, all of the networks on the
ground kind of come, and where we can go to the structure and say: We have
this aid that needs to go to a certain location in the liberated areas; can you
help us facilitate it? And they can connect the aid or the NGOs to the right
people on the ground so that the aid goes to, like, more difficult-to-reach
areas. But as far as I saw on the ground, I wasn’t able to see a vast
difference between different cities that I visited.
CARDIN: Right. And the two areas you went to are – I know the two areas, but
we’ve looked at the map and we’ve tried to figure out where we think we have
networks that work, and it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge.
BURGESS: Thank you, Chairman Cardin.
Ms. Mason, let me ask you a question. And this may seem so basic as to – be
something that’s not worth asking at a hearing like this, but the people in the
camps, let’s say specifically in the camps in Jordan, what do they do? What do
they do all day? What’s a day in the life like for someone in the camps?
MASON: Part of their day is getting the services that they need, lining up for
food distribution, lining up for other distributions. We do have – there are –
with partners there are schools for the children, not sufficient enough for all
of them right now. And some families, for various reasons, are not sending
their kids to the schools, but we do have schools. We do have what’s called
“child-friendly spaces,” where they can go even when they’re not learning
academic subjects to provide some structure, some normalcy for them.
More and more we’re trying, with limited resources, to have more camp-type
meetings, structures where women can gather, men can gather, make their needs
known. But the rest of what they do all day, as Assistant Secretary Richard
mentioned, there is just all sorts of things going on in the camp – some good,
some bad, some unfortunate. Kids are gathering, throwing stones. We’ve seen
vandalism. We’ve seen a lot of manifestations of just the frustration, the
mental illnesses, the lack of any structure or any hope at this point. So some
of the activities in the camp, we’re trying to put an end to some of those and
put more structure in place.
BURGESS: Those who have been displaced, who have left another home within
their home country, how do they keep tabs on their property or their former
homes or possessions?
MASON: Yeah, that’s a very good question. A lot of the refugees I talked to
were still in contact, because many of them had families back home. A lot of
them still had sons or other male relatives who were in detention, who were in
prison, but others have family members. They mentioned mothers, sisters. A
lot of them had older family members who just weren’t able to make the
difficult journey. A lot of them said: My mother is still in Syria. So
they’re in communication with them.
In addition, some of them are returning when possible, sometimes to check on
their land. There are daily buses that go from Zaatari camp in Jordan,
organized by the government. In some cases families are accompanying
individual family members that want to go back and return. In some cases
they’re all going to check on property or to try to bring other family members
back with them. So they do have ways.
BURGESS: So there’s an expectation that at some point, when peace and order is
restored, that they would be able to go to their original place of residence.
MASON: There’s definitely a hope, a very strong hope. Everyone I talked to
said, I want to go home. And of course that’s what refugees say in the early
part of a crisis anyway, but we heard this consistently, that they want to go
home. Whether they’ll go – if their home no longer exists they wouldn’t go
back to that same residence, but I think most of them came from communities
where they want to go back and rebuild those communities.
BURGESS: Those that had some means, do they have any mechanism of a bank to
check or a debit card, or any way of accessing their cash that they may have
MASON: Back in Syria, probably not. But we and our partners in not all the
locations – at many locations – are doing cash assistance, particularly for the
most vulnerable. We’re not able to get cash to everybody but for the most
vulnerable we are providing cash assistance. And we’re hoping to increase it.
And we’re moving to a system of debit cards. I mean, it’s a very effective
form of giving assistance. There’s almost zero overhead rate when you’re
giving cash. If you do it right with debit cards and such, there’s very little
chance of fraud. So they do have some access to that. In terms of their own
means, their own cash that they may have brought, I think they’re just using
what they have and then it’s dwindling.
BURGESS: Tell me this: You mentioned a figure of 60 to 70 deliveries a week.
Was that in one specific camp?
MASON: That was in Zaatari, which is the only real refugee camp per se in
Jordan. There are some very smaller what we call camps. They were originally
built as transit centers and now they’re limited –
BURGESS: So these are Syrian nationals who are –
MS. MASON: Syrian nationals.
BURGESS: – housed in Jordan.
MASON: In Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, 60 to 70 babies born per week, yes.
BURGESS: And to what country are those children assigned citizenship?
MASON: That’s a very good question. My organization also has a mandate for
stateless individuals. It’s not a well-known topic, so usually when I talk
about statelessness people’s eyes tend to glaze over. But you just put your
hand on what it means.
If they can’t register the births in Jordan – and sometimes they can and
sometimes they can’t – then at this point they could be viewed as stateless
because they don’t have documentation back in Syria yet. But at least for the
ones in the camps, the birth itself is registered.
We’re working with authorities to make sure that when this child needs
documentation, that they’ll have it. Then of course we’ll have to see what
exists back in Syria to record that documentation as well. In the Arab world
there’s something you’re probably familiar with called the family booklet, and
it’s just important to make sure that these births are still registered and
that they’re listed on the family booklet.
Doctor, let me just ask you this: What about the medical care in these camps?
Who is providing that? Would this be the host country of these doctors who
have been displaced who are in the camps? How does this work?
GABAUDAN: In the camps – sorry, Congressman. In the camps mostly
international nongovernmental organizations, but most of the refugees are not
in camps. So in the – sorry, in Turkey it’s the Turkish Red Crescent which is
completely in charge of the camps. In Jordan you have an international
organization. So is the case in Iraq. For all the refugees who are in urban
BURGESS: In Iraq?
GABAUDAN: In Northern Iraq, yes, you have about 150,000 refugees in the
Kurdish regional government.
BURGESS: Man, their medical infrastructure in Northern Iraq was really spotty
the last time I was there, which wasn’t all that long ago. So they’re
providing that within Iraq?
GABAUDAN: They are providing for the urban to give access to their own
facilities, but these are simple, as you know, and this is where they need
For the urban refugees in general, there is possibility to access services, but
the capacity of these services has been over-stretched. And this is where this
should be addressed I think more through the development lens.
In Lebanon it’s very different because in Lebanon all health care is private.
It’s available but it’s extremely expensive. What you have is international
NGOs picking the tab for the refugees so that they can pay the bill in private
medical practice. It’s a very expensive venture, particularly that among the
older population you have a lot of heavy need for tertiary attention.
BURGESS: Sure. Well, you mentioned professionals who were displaced, so if
you have a professional family – a doctor, dentist, accountant – are they able
to work when they get to the new location, whether it be in a camp or just
resettling in a new country?
GABAUDAN: I don’t have an exact answer. I would guess that in the camps they
probably can work with some of the international nongovernmental organizations.
In the countries they cannot work because they’re not licensed.
BURGESS: I see. Thank you.
I’ll yield back.
CARDIN: I’m going to turn the gavel over to Mr. Hastings, Congressman
Hastings. When you’re complete you can adjourn the committee. I apologize. I
have a 4:00 commitment. And I want to thank, again, our witnesses. And thank
you all for your participation.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Senator. And thank you again for holding what
I perceive as a very, very important hearing. And I hope that we have a
follow-up to it, that I’ll talk to you about.
I’m not going to keep you all. I just am overwhelmed with sadness that these
matters persist in the world, not just in that particular area.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe now has, I believe 58
countries, 57 –
MR. : Fifty-seven.
HASTINGS: OK, 57, and Mongolia is soon?
Very recently, or in the last two months – I don’t know how to describe them,
but let’s just call them disturbances – occurred in Sweden dealing with the
fact that they had absorbed – and I’m proud of the fact that they did – a
significant number of Iraq refugees. Some of the issues, as described at least
in the media – and I have no first-hand information, but some of the issues
dealt with the fact that – the usual inadequate housing, inadequate jobs,
inadequate education, and medical attention in a country as forthcoming as that.
I guess my question is, Ms. Mason, do you get any information from other
countries in the OSCE region specifically, leaving out Turkey and Jordan as a
partner, saying, you know – I heard you talk about Germany accepting 5,000, but
did this particular series of events there and the events in France, not
related to this in one sense of the word, did these kinds of uprisings cause
other countries to say, I’m not so sure that we want to accept refugees?
MASON: Thank you very much for that question because, as you’re aware,
resettlement is one component of UNHCR’s work. It’s one of what we call the
three durable solutions. It’s very small solution.
Out of the 10 (million) or 11 million refugees around the world that we care
for, there are only about 100,000 resettlement spaces available in any given
year. So we’re talking less than 1 percent of the world’s refugees that can
never be resettled. But we do view it as a critical form of protection. So we
take very seriously the continued willingness and openness of countries to
I’m not familiar with the specific incident in Sweden, though I will say Sweden
is one of our key partners in resettlement. Unlike the United States, which
has a very lengthy process for admission, as the assistant secretary mentioned,
Sweden is often able to take emergency cases very quickly, medical cases and
others. So they have been a key partner of ours.
Other European countries don’t participate too much in the resettlement system,
because by virtue of geography they get a lot of spontaneous asylum seekers and
they meet one of their international obligations to refugees by accepting
asylum seekers who come in without any help by the U.N. through the
Even though our job in resettlement is only to identify cases that are
vulnerable and refer them to countries – and then it’s up to the countries,
through their own mechanisms, to take refugees in – we of course are very aware
of and concerned by local integration prospects, security issues, anything that
would help or hinder resettlement from happening. So we do take this very
I haven’t as yet heard countries in the OSCE region or elsewhere, our
resettlement partners stepping up and saying, you know, this has happened or
that’s happened; we don’t want to take in refugees. What we do tend to hear
from, like, in the U.S. is maybe one community, one group, one individual who
maybe has a perspective where they’re not as familiar with the resettlement
system and all the benefits that others might be.
And that’s where I would go back to what Dr. Burgess said earlier. We do agree
that it’s very important to keep local officials and communities very aware of
the needs of refugees who are coming and why they’re coming. Each state,
including Texas, has a state refugee coordinator and a number of
nongovernmental organizations that work in refugee resettlement. And they are
very often keeping these local agencies, local officials informed of what’s
happening. And if they’re not, I think they would welcome knowing who they
could meet with in your district and how they can provide more information.
So to get back to the question, I haven’t heard anything about this yet. We do
at times – we do hear, and that’s when we go back and try to remind them of the
conditions that people are fleeing and try to make sure that resettlement
occurs as far in advance and appropriately as possible so we can alleviate some
of those concerns.
HASTINGS: Ms. Bittar and Dr. Gabaudan spoke about the nonprofit groups in
Syria specifically that are not in the loop. What is your interaction, if any,
with Ms. Bittar and her group?
And the same goes – since Dr. Gabaudan identified it first, for my ears at
least – what does UNHCR do, and should you not be making attempts to have these
particular groups involved since – for lack of a better way of putting it, when
I was a child in Altamonte Springs I would have been able to deliver more than
most outsiders because I had access to the people and I was one of them.
MASON: Absolutely. If you’re referring specifically about inside Syria in
terms of assistance –
HASTINGS: Yeah, inside Syria.
MASON: – as mentioned, we’re only one of a number of U.N. and other agencies
that are working inside Syria. Because of legal restrictions the U.N. is not
able to do cross-border assistance right now without a change, but we are doing
inside Syria what we call cross-lines assistance – assistance going through
Damascus up to the north and other places where there are concentrations of
displaced persons that need help.
It’s certainly not enough. I wouldn’t pretend to say it’s enough. But we are
doing what we can. And for the actual distribution we are working with the
Assistance Coordination Unit, and we’re working with some NGOs. I’m not
familiar with exact names of who we’re dealing with, but we are working with
them. We want to do more. We want to do a lot more. Part of it is capacity.
Part of it is of course the security inside Syria.
HASTINGS: Two more quick questions. One to you, Dr. Gabaudan.
You mention in your statement the zero-point distribution system that Turkey
utilizes. I’m asking for information. Can you tell me a little bit more about
how that works and whether or not it would help, then, a national community, or
GABAUDAN: I think it does. Turkey does not want to do cross-border operation
itself because that would be a violation of the sovereignty of Syrians. They
have been quite clear on that. However, they do tolerate the passage of goods
from Turkey to Syria by agencies who are in Syria. But the zero-point is
really on the border, a place where Turkish trucks empties its goods into a
Syrian truck –
GABAUDAN: – and then the NGO can take these.
HASTINGS: And I actually saw it.
REP. HASTINGS: Yeah. Right. OK.
Ms. Bittar, you ended your testimony – and I’ll quote you, and you correct me
if I’m wrong – you said the United States has to demonstrate strong resolve and
serious commitment to helping solve the conflict in Syria, the root cause – you
said other things before this – the root cause of the humanitarian disaster.
In your opinion, what specifically would you have the United States – and I
don’t mean you specifically but the organization and others that you work with,
and you – what would you have the United States and the international community
do to try to bring an end to the violence in Syria?
BITTAR: Definitely. I would say that it’s a three-pronged approach.
First we would start with – the United States would start with exerting more
political pressure in that we would cut off all – any kind of support in that –
even, like, with the lack of statements, for example, against Assad – against
the Assad regime.
Second, we would also empower the Syrian Coalition, which is now in place, as
well as the interim government, so that they can meet the needs of the people
on the ground. And then there’s also – we must be pressuring the Lebanese
government to do what they can to ensure that Hezbollah troops do not travel
into Syria to fight with the Assad regime.
The second prong we would say is to exert further military pressure in that the
U.S. should be supplying arms, defensive arms, strategic arms, to the Supreme
Military Council, the structure in place under General Commander Salim Idris,
that works with the majority of the Free Syrian Army battalions on the ground,
the good guys on the ground, those that align with the vision for a free Syria,
that we share here in the U.S., so that we can help unify them, so that we can
kind of elbow out the influence of the extremist groups on the ground so that
they do not gain anymore popularity and do not continue to win the hearts and
minds of the people.
And then, finally, we should support the civilian governance that is taking
place. So we have the political track. We have the military track. And the
political and the military track are aimed at changing Assad’s calculations so
that he sees that the international community will not let him continue what
he’s doing, because at this moment in time he’s emboldened by Iran’s support.
He’s emboldened by Hezbollah’s support. So we must do something to force him
to the table, force him to negotiate, or force a political settlement for Syria.
And at the same time, we should be supporting the civilian governance on the
ground that I mentioned earlier. There are these civilian structures,
democratically elected structures on the ground who need to be empowered so
that the civilians are meeting the needs of the people rather than the military
arm or the extremist elements inside Syria, so as to strengthen their
legitimacy on the ground and also kind of help in the transition post-Assad.
So in regards to your question, sir, I would believe it’s the three-pronged
approach of political pressure, military pressure – which we haven’t seen
enough of by the international community – to force Assad to the table, and
then finally, continue the support to the civilians governance so that the
transition post-Assad is not as chaotic and does not spillover into the region.
HASTINGS: Well, one thing I wish that the media would pay more attention to is
the long-standing direct involvement that the Russian government and the
previous Soviet Union – and I often wonder, if we had made a deal with them to
assure that they kept their warm-water port, whether or not some of this would
be a little different at this time.
I’m not sure that I agree that military, even in the short term, is going to
help. I’m so confused by it all. I’ll give you an example. When I met with
Bashir Assad, I already knew that Iran was supplying military materiel to
Hezbollah. I specifically asked him, and he allowed – because I’d been in the
region an awful lot but I had never had an opportunity to take that two-hour
drive from Damascus to Lebanon through the Beqaa Valley. He granted it and
assured that we would be safe and all of that, and it was OK. And we met with
Mr. Hariri on the other side when we got to Lebanon.
But I asked him specifically whether or not Iran used Syria as a transition
point for military materiel to be distributed specially to Hezbollah, and of
course he gave me a long story as to why that is not true and the international
community has – later that same day I learned that as we were speaking he moved
Now, he knew that I served on the Intelligence Committee and I would know that.
All I’m saying is I’m not sure how you bring an abject liar to truth. I hope
at some point – not from the standpoint of what Ms. Mason and Dr. Gabaudan do –
and lord knows they don’t have enough resources to do what they need to do
anywhere, but I hope at some point the international community insists that
people like Assad and others be brought to justice in a meaningful way. I
don’t know that it will ever stop this greed, this power-mongering, this
continuing pattern of people not being able to resolve their differences. I
don’t see good things happening in Syria either way. That’s just me.
I thank you all. You know so much.
And, Dr. Burgess? Of course. Yes, sir.
BURGESS: One follow-up.
Ms. Bittar, since you’ve broached the question, I’m going to ask it. OK, the
last 10, 12 years you’ve seen the displacement of Mullah Omar in Afghanistan
and the result there. You’ve seen the displacement of Saddam Hussein in Iraq
and the result there, the displacement of Hosni Mubarak and the result there,
the displacement of Gaddafi in Libya and the result there. Are any of those
models to which Syria aspires right now?
BITTAR: What I can tell you about the Syrian people is that – from my
experience with them – I’m Syrian-American and I traveled back to Syria every
summer since I was born. I was born here, though, in the United States. And
my interactions with them on the ground, and as well as the narrative of the
Syrian revolution, in that since day one what they were calling for is a
democracy. What they were calling for is the right to elect their own
These people, we’ve lived together for hundreds of years – Muslims, Christians,
Alawites, Shiites. We’ve all lived together for hundreds of years in Syria.
Of course, throughout history you’ll find disputes and things like that, but
it’s an ethnically diverse, religiously diverse country that’s been able to
And so its history kind of speaks to the cohesion and the bonds that exist
between the people, as well as coupling that with the narrative of the
revolution. Since day one the people are calling for freedom and democracy.
They’re calling for – you know, they weren’t calling for – there were no
sectarian slogans, nothing like that – calling for a Syria that represents all
And I believe, furthermore, the Syrian – the majority of the Muslim population
is a very moderate Islam, again speaking to my experience with them on the
ground. But the further that this situation goes and the lack of international
community support has led to frustration of course with the international
community and kind of pushed towards some extreme ideologies. But the core
Syrian people, their beliefs and their values align with what we all believe,
what we see here, in that they want a Syria that represents all Syrians,
regardless of ethnicity, religion.
And I do believe – and I think when you talk to Syrians on the ground, that is
what their dream and their wish for a future Syria is. But again, the longer
that this takes, the longer that this problem goes on, there are more questions
in the air. So the key is helping bring a solution now so that these – so that
these groups and these ideals and these beliefs can really show and we can
start taking the steps towards a post-Assad Syria, a Syria that all Syrians are
BURGESS: I find myself strangely aligned with Mr. Hastings. And perhaps
that’s because we’ve spent so much time together the past two days. But
perhaps that’s a good note on which to end. And I thank you for your tolerance
and I’ll yield back.
HASTINGS: Thank you very much.
And I certainly thank all of you. There’s so much more. I hope we get a
chance, some of us, to visit personally so that we can perhaps have a meeting
about solutions and not just discuss the problems. You’ve enlightened us a
great deal. And again I thank Chairman Cardin and our incredible staff for
pulling this hearing together. And I thank you all, ladies and gentlemen, for
being with us today.
I regret very much – and when I chaired the commission I tried to open a
process where people who have to sit and listen would have an opportunity to
ask questions or make statements themselves. Staff didn’t like it. I still
think it worked. It’s boring as hell to come up here and not get a chance to
say what you want to say. Somehow or another there’s something incredibly
wrong with the way we go about doing this, and I think that we could relax it a
little bit and learn a great deal more from people sitting in this audience
that have a whole lot of information that would be useful to this process.
But these incredible witnesses have done a magnificent job, and I thank you all
for being here. The hearing is closed. (Sounds gavel.)
[Whereupon, at 4:14 pm, the hearing was adjourned.]