Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin
Chairman - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


Statement by the Honorable Benjamin L. Cardin


Helsinki Commission Hearing on:

Fleeing to Live: Syrian Refugees in the OSCE Region


Thursday, June 13, 2013


         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 20.   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 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 (UNHCR), there are now more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and more than 5.1 million displaced within Syria.  An average – let me repeat that – 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 populations of Lebanon by 11% and of Jordan by 8%.  To put the enormity of this crisis in perspective, that would be the equivalent of the United States receiving 25 to 30 million refugees 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 the Kilis refugee camp which shelters more than 13,000 Syrian refugees on the Turkey-Syria border and is one of 17 camps that have been established by the Turkish government.  Just prior to our visit, the camp residents had held an election and selected leaders for their temporary community. 


     Our delegation met with these 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 expectations that the United States would take decisive action.  Our conversation also 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 UNHCR appealed for $1.5 billion in contributions from the international community to meet the needs of the then expected one million to have fled across Syria’s borders by mid-2013.  UNHCR has already registered more than 1.6 million refugees in the region, however, the December appeal has not yet been fully funded.


     Last week, UNHCR issued its updated Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees and appealed for $2.9 billion 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 U.N., 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 U.N. agencies and the host countries themselves.  Clearly, the unprecedented scale of this crisis requires that the United States and the entire international community do more.


      After more than two years, the violence in Syria continues unabated and the humanitarian crisis it has spawned continues to spiral out of control with no end in sight.  Sadly, and most disturbing, not only does the violence in Syria continue but, according to the most recent report of 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 its 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.”


    We must, and we can, do more to help the Syrian people.  I look forward to hearing the views of our distinguished panel of witnesses as to how we can accomplish that goal.



Witness Introductions


     On our first panel today we will receive testimony from Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Anne Richard.  Prior to her appointment as Assistant Secretary, Ms. Richard was Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy for the International Rescue Committee (IRC).  She also served as the Director of the Secretary of State’s Office of Resources, Plans and Policy, and was the Deputy Chief Financial Officer of the Peace Corps.  Ms. Richards holds a B.S. in Foreign Service From Georgetown University and an M.A. in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago.

    Our second panel consists of three experts on Syrian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).


    Dr. Michel Gabaudan is President of 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 Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Representative for the United States and the Caribbean.  Trained as a medical doctor in addition to holding a master’s degree in tropical public health, Dr. Gabaudan’s career with UNHCR spanned more than 25 years.  We welcome him back as President of Refugees International and look forward to his testimony.


    Ms. Jana Mason is Senior Advisor for Government Relations and External Affairs at the Washington D.C. office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Prior to joining UNHCR, Ms. Mason was Director of Government Relations and Advocacy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and also worked for eleven years with the U.S. Committee for Refugees.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University, a master’s degree from the University of Virginia, and a law degree from Georgetown University.


    Ms. Yassar Bittar is a 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 community.  Recently Ms. Bittar has led groups of Syrian American activists to liberated regions of Syria, taking a closer look into the camps for the internally displaced and civilian efforts in liberated areas.   She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.