David Robinson serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Yesterday, I participated in two events, using new tools — specifically social media — to explain the ways that the United States is providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the violence in Syria. I started off the morning with Mark Bartolini, the Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAID in a “Live At State” forum. This format is a virtual press conference; journalists log-in, submit questions in real time, and watch the discussion online from wherever they are around the world. Over 15 international media outlets participated, and we were able to reinforce the message that Syrians are not alone during this crisis, that the United States is deeply engaged in providing relief and assistance.
That event was followed by a Facebook chat on the same topic, open to the public. We reached participants asking questions from around the world. A single mother asked a question about how she could help the Syrian people, and we heard from many Iraqis who had fled to the then-relative safety of Syria, only to be displaced again by the new round of violence in the region. Other interested international participants asked great questions about how aid is distributed and monitored.
These new means of communicating offer the State Department the opportunity to share an important story. We are currently providing nearly $82 million in humanitarian assistance to support those affected by the violence in Syria. This assistance is programmed through experienced partners, including UNHCR, ICRC, WFP and other international and non-governmental organizations. These organizations have trained, professional staff on the ground who risk their own lives to distribute aid to the people who need it most. Providing assistance in times of crisis is challenging enough, but this is magnified by a lack of access to those trapped by the fighting in Syria. Many relief agencies have reported that the insecure environment within Syria is causing delays or blockages in getting relief to the most vulnerable. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian workers and aid safe passage to reach the people in need.
We understand the frustration of those who desperately want help, security and safety. The United States is working tirelessly with its international partners and other governments to pre-position supplies in the region and to move them into Syria as quickly as conditions allow. In fact, we’ve significantly scaled up assistance in the past several months. Right now our assistance is reaching 780,000 people inside Syria, and our support to neighboring countries, international partners and other agencies has helped provide aid to the tens of thousands who have fled the country. All this has been possible because, for more than 30 years, the U.S. has been instrumental in creating and enabling a robust international humanitarian architecture to respond to crises like these.
The conversations I had yesterday help provide a clear sense of where the spotlight must shine, to draw attention to those most in need. The United States is the leading contributor to humanitarian assistance across the globe and as we address the conflict in Syria, we are simultaneously responding to dozens of crises around the world where civilians are at risk. We will continue to be a pillar for international humanitarian assistance, and support the important work that our international and non-governmental organization partners carry out. It is our deepest hope that the violence that created this humanitarian emergency will end, and with it, the suffering of the Syrian people. Like those who fled, we too look forward to the day when a political solution will allow Syrians to return to their homes to build a democratic Syria.