(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), at a bipartisan press conference, called for a dramatic and drastic increase in humanitarian aid to refugees through the Syrian Opposition Council. Such humanitarian aid would include food, medical supplies, health care, clean water, blankets, and heaters for refugees in camps located in Jordan and Turkey.
Blumenthal said, “Now we have a very direct national interest in providing dramatic and drastic increases in humanitarian aid. That’s our call today – dramatic and drastic increases in humanitarian aid through the Syrian Opposition Council, not through the NGOs alone, not through the United Nations alone but directly to Syrian people.”
Blumenthal made this call with U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Christopher Coons (D-DE), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) two days after returning from a Congressional Delegation (CODEL) trip to the Middle East with them, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Other highlights from Blumenthal’s remarks are below.
“This crisis is unfolding not slowly – it is accelerating and exploding. There are now 650,000 refugees or more, and 60,000 dead. And those numbers are increasing exponentially. The night of the day we visited the Za’atri Refugee Camp, there were between 2,000 and 3,000 refugees across the border as opposed to the average of 1,000 the nights before. This problem, far from going away or diminishing, is actually exploding and increasing and destabilizing the entire region – in Turkey and Jordan – by imposing enhanced demands on their resources, which the United States has a historic obligation and opportunity to match.
“These numbers are staggering. But I will tell you they are nowhere near as powerful as the sights and sounds in the refugee camp. The groups of children whose arms are outstretched, whose voices beseeched aid, whose parents want to care of them and lack the basic wherewithal to do so, whose futures have been disrupted and changed forever by this war, whose relatives have been tortured and killed. They may not comprehend it right now but their futures will be transformed and our future will be transformed. Their future is indistinguishable from ours because they are the prey for extremists and jihadists who will eventually attack United States interests.”
At the press conference, they called on Congress and the Administration to reexamine the situation in Syria – both to think through what an extended civil war in Syria means for the Middle East and the appropriate level of our assistance to the Syrian opposition. Blumenthal and others suggested there should be consideration of other aid to opposition forces within Syria. Increased U.S. aid, he said, would not require U.S. troops or include any direct combat role. They also urged Congress to consider how to sustain support for these Syrian refugees to avoid their becoming a recruiting ground for Islamic extremism.
Last year, Blumenthal introduced Senate Resolution 428, a bipartisan resolution with Senators Graham and McCain, which condemned the government of Syria for committing crimes against humanity and urged the President to use his authority to examine and take action against Syrian officials responsible for such crimes.
On Wednesday January 16, 2013, the CODEL met with the Syrian Opposition Council (SOC):
- Mouaz Al-Khatib, President
- Riad Seif, Vice President
- Zohair Sabran
On Saturday January 19, 2013, the CODEL visited the Za’atri Refugee Camp:
- Brief by UNHCR and international aid staff
- Met with refugee families
- Over 1,000 refugees crossing the border into Jordan daily. The Camp holds 45,000 refugees. Conditions are good, but hard to sustain.
- Met with US Ambassador to Jordan, Stuart Jones