Assistance to Syria

Special Briefing
Simon Henshaw
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Paige Alexander, USAID Assistant Administrator for the Middle East; Thomas H. Staal, USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance
via teleconference hosted by The Brussels Media Hub
February 8, 2016


Moderator: Great, thanks, Jeffrey. Hello everybody. Greetings from the U.S. Department of State, I would like to begin by welcoming all our participants who are dialing in from across the region. And we would like to thank all of you for joining us today in this discussion. Today, we are pleased to be joined from Washington D.C. by three senior officials who oversee U.S. assistance programs. We have with us on the line Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for the Middle East Page Alexander. We have USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, Thomas Staal. And unfortunately Assistant Secretary Richard got pulled away but we are very thrilled to have her Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary with us, Simon Henshaw. He’s with the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. And thanks for stepping in.

They are going to be speaking with you today about last week’s Syria Donor’s Conference as well as U.S. humanitarian, education and development assistance for those affected by the Syria crisis. And of course as you know, they have a wealth of experience dealing with these issues. So we’re again very grateful for their time today. We’re going to begin today’s call with brief opening remarks from Assistant Administrator Alexander and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Henshaw and then we will turn it over to your questions.

At any time during this call if you would like to ask a question, you must press *1 on your phone to join the queue. Again that’s *1. And today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to you Assistant Administrator Alexander.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander: Thank you. Thanks everyone for joining us. Tom, Simon and I just got back from London and in that pledging, I wanted to let you know that the U.S. has committed $601 million in additional humanitarian aid for Syrians. And more than $290 million in development assistance for education in Jordan and Lebanon.

So it’s important to note that we’re not newcomers to this crisis. In the last five years, we have consistently been the largest donor of humanitarian aid for Syria and since the crisis began, we have also been working to help the communities taking refugees. The U.S. total for Syria humanitarian assistance now stands at more than 5 billion U.S. dollars and last year our development assistance to Jordan and Lebanon where we’ve been working since 1951, amounted to $680 million.

So our assistance already reaches millions of Syrians every month inside Syria and in the neighboring countries. But the conflict in Syria has grown into the most complex humanitarian emergency of our time. Millions of people are beyond their coping capacity and need support. Our assistance in education, water, health and economic growth reflects the increased needs in areas and sectors where refugees are having the greatest impact on these communities.

So we recognize that our assistance must go beyond the humanitarian need and expand opportunities for adults to work and for children and youth to attend school. The United States continues to be a leader and a partner in that effort with this contribution. So our pledge in London is going to help continue to feed these five million Syrians as well as providing health, clean water and protection.

For example, Syrian refugees will continue to receive food vouchers and inside Syria, our assistance includes monthly parcels, food vouchers and support for flour to bakery programs. The assistance builds on supplies we have provided to 230 bakeries and six governments inside Syria to date. As the crisis and the mass movements of people have demonstrated, the importance of not only providing immediate life-saving humanitarian assistance but to think longer term about the development needs of the region and build resilience in communities.

For example our development funding will educate nearly 300,000 Syrian children as well as improve education for Jordanian and Lebanese. In some instances, we can see dual benefits from our assistance programs and our humanitarian programs and we like to call this the relief to development continuum. An example is when food voucher debit cards were issued to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, it helps restore a sense of dignity by allowing them to buy groceries in local supermarkets.

But these vouchers have also injected $1.25 billion into the economies of Syria’s neighbors. And it’s created more than 1,300 new jobs. And issues of besiegement are exacerbating the humanitarian situation. The United States stance remains firm. All parties must be allowed unfettered humanitarian access throughout the country to help save lives and alleviate suffering. Without peace, good will and international assistance, we cannot end the displacement and suffering. So where violence and dislocation continue and innocent civilians suffer, we’ll continue to do everything in our power to help.

Thank you and we look forward to taking your questions.

Moderator: Thank you so much for that. And now I will turn it over to Mr. Henshaw for your remarks.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: Thank you very much. Last week Secretary Kerry announced that the United States is providing $601 million in additional life-saving assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. This new funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance and response to this conflict to over $5.1 billion since the start of the crisis.

This funding provides shelter, water, medical care, food, protection and other necessities to help millions of people suffering inside Syria and 4.6 million refugees from Syria in the region. The United States will also provide more than $290 million in developmental assistance to support the Jordan and Lebanese Ministries of Education which Page just went through.

Of course, increased assistance meant to aid Syrians inside the country means nothing if parties to the conflict block that aid from reaching the Syrian people. So let me just reiterate and repeat that we continue to call on all parties, in particular the Syrian regime to immediately allow unconditional, unfettered access to humanitarian assistance by all those in need in Syria.

Indeed humanitarian crises around the world have proven that despite our best efforts, all nations must do more. As Secretary Kerry announced in Davos, the United States is seeking commitments to expand the humanitarian safety net and create more long-term durable opportunities for refugees worldwide. The pledges made at the conference last week will count towards the commitment the U.S. is seeking for the Summit on Refugees President Obama will host in September at the UN. This event will be the culmination of a vigorous sustained diplomatic effort undertaken by the United States over the coming months to increase humanitarian assistance, access to resettlement and other legal forms of admissions, and refugee self-reliance and inclusion through employment and education. Thanks.

Moderator: Thank you. And thank you both for setting the stage for us. We are now going to begin today’s question and answer portion of the call. And again as a reminder, you must press *1 to ask a question. So, Jeffrey, if you’re ready, our first question is coming to us from Erdem Aydın from CNN Turk. Go ahead, please.

Question: Hi, this is Erdem Aydın from CNN Turk. My question will be about the 20 to 35,000 people who are on the Turkish border near A’zaz and near the Turkish city Kilis. As you know, these people have been fleeing the Russian bombardment in the area and I was just wondering if the State Department and USAID have a plan to deal with this immediate situation, thank you.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: This is Simon. Yes, we’ve been reaching out to our partners in the region over the weekend. We’ve been talking to the Turkish government and we are checking to see how we can assist in providing help to our partners, to provide assistance to this new wave of refugees and independently internally displaced persons.

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Assistance Thomas Staal: And this is Tom Staal, also from the USAID. Just to add to what was Simon was saying, we’re of course already working across the border into Northern Syria and so we’re looking at… you know we’re monitoring the situation. We already have partners on the ground. As it’s possible and where it’s possible we will continue to support these people.

You know, the situation is very fluid. The lines are changing. So I can’t say on a given day which method we’re going to use and which route. But we do have programs there. We are continuing to work through our partners there. And obviously we’re very concerned about what’s going on.

Moderator: Thank you. Our next question is coming to us from Sami al-Joundi with Alwan FM Radio. Sami?

Question:Hello, everybody. My question is about the areas which are under siege in Syria. If the regime refuses to allow any aid to get through, do you have a scenario to deal with this situation?

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Assistance Thomas Staal: Yeah, this is another situation where we’re very concerned about. We’ve been working through our partners and primarily the UN Agencies to negotiate with the regime to open up those areas. We believe very strongly that this, you know it must be unconditional access at all times. It’s not a sort of negotiating tactic. It needs to be open humanitarian access and obviously the best way is to use the instruments we have, World Food Program, UNICEF, other organizations that can work across the line.

We were able to get into Madaya and a few other areas but unfortunately those were only one off and the assistance will only last for a short period of time. So we believe that there is still a huge need to open those areas. We have resources that can do that if the areas will be opened up. We will continue to push through all channels to get assistance into those areas.

Moderator: Thank you. For our next question we’re going to go over to Hungary and we have a question coming in from Zalán Zubor of Origo. Zalán?

Question: Hello? I hope you can hear me now. My question is, is there any effort by the United States to help any refugees who are currently in Turkey, or in one of the European countries, either East States or the countries outside of the European Union? Or are you planning to do anything like that or to grant assistance to the countries themselves to deal with the refugees’ crisis?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: Much of our program in the region includes Turkey. We’ve been working in Turkey since the beginning of the crisis and we work with the Turkish government, we work through UNHCR to support the Turkish government and we work with a number of other UN Agencies such as UNICEF and some NGOs to support refugees inside Turkey and we will continue to do so.

Part of the pledge that we made last week includes additional funds for Turkey. Inside Europe we have carried out consultations with European governments and are assisting them with some of our ideas on how they can best deal with the current flow. We have some very small programs in the Balkans to support, through UNICEF -- I’m sorry through UNHCR to support refugees in those areas including some motorization plans but they’re relatively small compared with what we’re doing inside Turkey, inside Syria and Jordan and Lebanon and other countries in that region.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander: And I would say from the USAID’s perspective, our bilateral programs often deal with host communities specifically that have large refugee populations, so obviously in Jordan and Lebanon we’re working on that. But throughout the rest of Eastern Europe where AID still does have assistance programs running, we’re working collectively with the local officials on any areas that we can be of assistance.

Moderator: Thank you. Our next question is coming to us from Turkey and we have from Cumhuriyet Daily, we have Duygu Guvnec.

Question: Hi, can you hear me?

Moderator: Yes, we can, go ahead.

Question: Okey doke. We suspect follow-up to my Turkish colleague’s question especially the ones making on the Syrian border, the ones who leave from Aleppo, I mean they have been waiting on the border despite Turkey’s open-door policy. Is it a matter of concern for US that these people have been waiting still in Syria under the bombs and is there any type -- is it the reason for U.S. to be concerned for? And I would like to learn if there is an agreement on any humanitarian aid for the ones fleeing from Aleppo.

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Assistance Thomas Staal: Yeah, I mean certainly our aid is going as much as possible into areas, even up, you know we’ve been working in Aleppo and providing assistance into the people within the city and we will continue to try to reach any that are being displaced. But obviously it’s become more difficult with the changing situation on the ground and we’ll continue to support them from a humanitarian perspective as and where it’s possible through our partners, both UN agencies and other NGOs.

So there is no limit to our intent to provide humanitarian assistance but it is not always easy to get to some of these places.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: If I could just add, Turkey has an excellent record in reacting to the various refugee crises that has affected its borders over the past few years and we are sure they will continue to do so and continue to meet its international obligations, its international humanitarian obligations.

Moderator: Thank you. We received a question via e-mail so I’ll go ahead and read that one. It’s coming to us from Syria’s Radio Alkul. And it’s a two-part question. It’s first to what extent will Syrian refugees have the opportunity to be part of the decision-making in what goods and services they receive and at the Donor Conference in London, there was a pledge to use a part of the aid to finance education in host communities, what will be the role if any of the Syrian interim government?

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Assistance Thomas Staal: Yeah, there are several pieces to that. Let me speak to especially the people inside Syria who are receiving humanitarian assistance either in their communities or who have been displaced. Definitely the way our programs works, is we work with local organizations, local councils wherever possible, local civil society organizations to get input from the Syrians themselves on what their needs are, who are the most needy, how the distribution should go, even there the manner of distribution, whether it’s food aid or water or other types, health assistance. We work as much as we can with the local population. And I know the same is true with the refugees. We work with the refugees in the camps or wherever they are as much as possible.

Simon might be able to speak more to that and then Page can talk a little bit about the assistance that we’re providing through the local communities in the host countries nearby.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander: Simon, do you want to jump in on the camps, the work you’re doing in the camps?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: Yes, happy to. We work through UN agencies in the camps and they run a number of different programs and have a number of different policies which assures communications with Syrians in the camps and Syrians play a role in letting the UN agencies and local governments, the governments of the countries in which the camps are located, know what their needs are and we try and be as responsive to those needs as possible.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander: And also on the transition assistance, there within Syrian, USAID has provided more than $130 million in assistance to support moderate civilian actors and this goes to the question, the reporter’s question about working with provincial and local councils in an effort to keep the schools running and improve the health services, restoring electricity, repairing irrigation and water systems, working on waste management and repairing roads.

This is an important element because these essential services are otherwise not being met and so that is what the majority of our assistance inside Syria is going towards as well as to their civil defense teams who have saved over 40,000 lives in the search and rescue missions and firefighting services.

We also work with the Syria Recovery Trust Fund, which is a multi-donor platform where the U.S. has been working with a number of other donors to develop 20 projects inside Syria to date.

Moderator: Thank you. For our next question we’re going to go over to Greece and we have Chara Pagkalou with The Diplomat. Go ahead, Chara.

Question: Hello, can you hear me?

Moderator: Yes, hello, we can hear you, go ahead.

Question: I would like to ask, what is the amount that the U.S. government plans to provide to Syria to rebuild after the war and after which ends. Thank you.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: I would just say that unfortunately we’re not at that point yet. We look forward to the day that the fighting has ceased and when that day comes, we will call upon the international community to work to assist Syria rebuild but right now we’re focusing on dealing with the humanitarian aspects of this war.

Moderator: Thank you. And as a reminder to those of you on the call, if you would like to join the question queue, you must press *1 on your phone and if you have us on speaker phone, you may have to take it off speaker to do that. So again that’s *1 if you’d like to ask a question. And our next question is coming to us from the Turkish news service Andalou and we have Bayram Altuğ.

Question: Hi.

Moderator: Go ahead.

Question: Turkey is currently hosing more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees and spent more than $9 billion so far according to the Turkish government. And at the Donor Conference in London last week, dozens of countries committed to help reach the target of almost $10 billion USAID proposed. But so far Turkey received only $400 million from European Union. So what is your expectation from commitment to get some more helps, immediate helps to the Syrian refugees in Turkey? Thank you.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: Thank you for that. I don’t think that any of the countries in the region are fully funded to the point where we can safely say they have everything they need to take care of the refugees in their country. And that’s certainly true in Turkey.

That being said, in this latest conference last week, $54 million was raised for Turkey and that brings -- I’m sorry, the U.S. contribution was $54 million which brings to our total contribution to Turkey since the beginning of the crisis, to $379 million.

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Assistance Thomas Staal: And I might add whenever we are working to support the refugees, we try to do it in such a way that you work with the local economy. So for instance, in Jordan, let’s say, instead of just providing handouts of food, we provide vouchers to the refugees so they can go to the local grocery stores and buy food.

Now that means it provides them a sense of dignity that they’re able to buy their own but it also then helps the local economy. And we do similar things in Lebanon and Turkey. And so at this point, under this program we’ve injected $1.25 billion into the economies of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. So we’re trying, you know, that obviously doesn’t cover all the costs to the neighboring countries but in everything we do, we try to do it in such a way that we support the local countries as well as the refugees themselves. And it’s even created new jobs. We estimate around 1,300 new jobs have been created in those neighboring countries through the refugee support programs.

Moderator: Okay, great. It looks like we have just one more question in our question queue and it’s coming to us from Syrian Opposition TV, Orient TV and the reporter is Hazim al-Arid. Go ahead. Can you hear us, Mr. al-Arid? Hazim? Hazim? Yeah, go ahead, Hazim, if you have a question, go ahead. Okay, Jeffrey is his line open?

Operator:Yes, the line is open.

Moderator: Okay. While we’re waiting to see if we can get -- oh, you’re here, you’re here, great, go ahead.

Question: Yes. Hello, yes.

Moderator: Do you have a question for us?

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw: Yeah, I think our time is just about up as well.

Moderator: Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry, we couldn’t get to that last --

Question: You cannot get to me?

Moderator: I’m sorry, here now -- okay go ahead if you have one last question, Hazim. Okay.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander: Do you want to maybe take the question from him and we can answer it later?

Moderator: Yeah, we will. Yes, if you could go ahead and just e-mail us your question because we’re having difficulty hearing you. And we’re about out of time and we will try to get you back a written answer to your question.

And I would just like to take a brief moment to thank our principals for joining us today and for sharing their insights with us and of course, I would like to thank all of you who have joined today’s call for your participation and for your questions. And a digital recording of today’s call will be available for the next 24 hours and we will also share with you a transcript and with that, I will again say thank you.