Hearing :: Fleeing to Live: Syrian Refugees in the OSCE Region


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

Michel Gabaudan, 
Refugees International

Jana Mason, 
Senior Adviser for Government Relations, 
UNHCR Washington Regional Office

Yassar Bittar, 
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 
comfortable existence.

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 
these issues.

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 
international response.

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 
right now. 

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 
other group.

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 
two countries.

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.

Congressman Hastings.

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 
different camps.  

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 
to refugees.

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 
other two.  

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 
be encouraged.

Thank you very much for your attention, Mr. Chairman and congressmen.

CARDIN:  Thank you very much for your comments.  

Ms. Mason.

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 
fourth movement.

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 
children’s crisis.  

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 
been mentioned.  

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 
their presence.

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 
multiple times.

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 
25,000 people.

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, 
very challenging.

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 
neighborhood itself.  

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.

Dr. Burgess?

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.

BURGESS:  Family.

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 
centers – 

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 
receive refugees.

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 
international system.

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 
could it?

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 
thrive together.  

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 
Syrian people.

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 
asking for.

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.]