[House Hearing, 113 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN SYRIA:
VIEWS FROM THE GROUND
THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
MAY 21, 2014
Serial No. 113-149
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DANA ROHRABACHER, California Samoa
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio BRAD SHERMAN, California
JOE WILSON, South Carolina GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
TED POE, Texas GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
MATT SALMON, Arizona THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina KAREN BASS, California
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois WILLIAM KEATING, Massachusetts
MO BROOKS, Alabama DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
TOM COTTON, Arkansas ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
PAUL COOK, California JUAN VARGAS, California
GEORGE HOLDING, North Carolina BRADLEY S. SCHNEIDER, Illinois
RANDY K. WEBER SR., Texas JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III,
SCOTT PERRY, Pennsylvania Massachusetts
STEVE STOCKMAN, Texas AMI BERA, California
RON DeSANTIS, Florida ALAN S. LOWENTHAL, California
TREY RADEL, Florida--resigned 1/27/ GRACE MENG, New York
14 deg. LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
DOUG COLLINS, Georgia TULSI GABBARD, Hawaii
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina JOAQUIN CASTRO, Texas
TED S. YOHO, Florida
LUKE MESSER, Indiana--5/20/14
Amy Porter, Chief of Staff Thomas Sheehy, Staff Director
Jason Steinbaum, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida, Chairman
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
JOE WILSON, South Carolina GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
TOM COTTON, Arkansas DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
RANDY K. WEBER SR., Texas ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
RON DeSANTIS, Florida JUAN VARGAS, California
TREY RADEL, Florida--resigned 1/27/ BRADLEY S. SCHNEIDER, Illinois
14 deg. JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III,
DOUG COLLINS, Georgia Massachusetts
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina GRACE MENG, New York
TED S. YOHO, Florida LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
LUKE MESSER, Indiana--5/20/14
C O N T E N T S
Ms. Andrea Koppel, vice president of global engagement and
policy, Mercy Corps............................................ 6
Ms. Holly Solberg, director of emergency and humanitarian
assistance, CARE............................................... 18
Ms. Pia Wanek, director, Office of Humanitarian Assistance,
Global Communities............................................. 25
Zaher Sahloul, M.D., president, Syrian American Medical Society.. 31
Ms. Bernice Romero, senior director of policy and advocacy, Save
the Children................................................... 47
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Ms. Andrea Koppel: Prepared statement............................ 8
Ms. Holly Solberg: Prepared statement............................ 20
Ms. Pia Wanek: Prepared statement................................ 27
Zaher Sahloul, M.D.: Prepared statement.......................... 33
Ms. Bernice Romero: Prepared statement........................... 49
Hearing notice................................................... 70
Hearing minutes.................................................. 71
The Honorable Gerald E. Connolly, a Representative in Congress
from the Commonwealth of Virginia: Prepared statement.......... 72
THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN SYRIA:
VIEWS FROM THE GROUND
WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 2014
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa,
Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2 o'clock
p.m., in room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much. The subcommittee will
come to order. Unfortunately--well, fortunately, we will be
interrupted by votes because I like to be interrupted by
democracy. That is always a good thing. But after recognizing
myself and ranking member, my good friend Ted Deutch from
Florida, for 5 minutes each for our opening statements, I will
then recognize other members seeking recognition for 1 minute
each. We will then hear from our witnesses.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for joining us. Without
objection, the prepared statements of all of our witnesses will
be made a part of the record and members may have 5 days in
which to insert statements and questions for the record subject
to the length limitation in the rules. The chair now recognizes
herself for 5 minutes.
It is a tragedy that, unfortunately, we are all too
familiar with. By now we have seen the images and heard the
unimaginable stories of despair, of horror, of suffering, and
we know all too well the alarming numbers. More than 150,000
people have been killed as a result of Assad's war to stay in
power. Nearly 3 million people have fled from Syria into
neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq,
creating instability within those countries as they struggle to
cope with the strains that this massive influx of refugees has
placed on their security and their stability; 6.5 million, that
is the number of internally displaced persons, IDPs in Syria,
and 10 million, that is roughly the number of people in dire
need of humanitarian assistance, and sadly, the vast majority
of those hit hardest by this crisis are the women and children
We are here today to get an important assessment from those
who are on the ground who try to meet the needs of the millions
of Syrians in desperate need of assistance. I would like to say
thank you on behalf of our subcommittee to each and every one
of you for the valuable work that you do. People who need your
help and have the courage to come here today, thank you, and I
know that comes at great risk.
So far, the administration's approach to resolving the
Syrian conflict leaves much to be desired by any metric. Unless
the administration addresses the underlying root causes for
this humanitarian disaster, we are likely to be here again next
year and in the years to come asking the very same heart-
wrenching questions. Getting chemical weapons out of Syria is a
vital step forward, but more importantly, we must be working
together to ensure that Assad leaves power so that his reign of
terror ends. These past 3 years plus, the administration has
been plagued by inaction, by indecisiveness, by the inability
or perhaps unwillingness to put into motion a policy plan that
will lead to an end to this unthinkable human tragedy, and the
time for half measures and fence sitting has long ago passed.
We have been reactionary far too often where we should have
been proactive. Our response has been to provide humanitarian
assistance, and we will continue to provide it as long as
millions continue to suffer needlessly, but that is never going
to solve the problem. It is like trying to plug the holes in a
sinking ship; short-term solutions to a much larger long-term
problem. Syria is becoming the training grounds for violent
extremists, destabilizing the entire region, endangering the
security of our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel,
and posing a threat to our own national security interests in
the region as well.
To date the United States has allocated over $1.7 billion
to meet the humanitarian needs stemming from the Syrian crisis,
nearly a quarter of all international contributions to Syria,
and in his budget request for Fiscal Year 2015, the President
has requested an additional $1.1 billion.
We have with us today representatives of the five
nongovernmental organizations who have helped serve as
important, vital implementing partners, both in Syria and in
the neighboring countries. The work that these NGOs do is
important, vitally important, but it is also extremely
dangerous, and as the ones who have to face the obstacles on
the ground, it is vital that we hear directly from them about
how effective our U.S. assistance has been with the hope of
reaching as many people as possible.
Just last week, the Associated Press ran a disturbing
article on how corruption is seeping into the aid process for
Syrian refugees. It tells the story of Syrian women who are
forced to bribe middlemen in order to access some of the aid
because some of the areas are just too difficult to enter for
some of the NGOs or they simply just don't have the manpower to
do it. So they rely on these middlemen to be honest brokers,
and it seems that they are exploiting the loopholes in the
system. And it is stories like these that show us how important
today's hearing is so that we can better understand exactly
what is happening on the ground.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, these
implementing partners, and what they have to go through in
order to disperse the humanitarian aid that we provide and
learn from them what more we can do so that we can better
ensure that more people are getting the assistance that they so
And with that I am pleased to yield to my ranking member,
my friend, Mr. Deutch of Florida.
Mr. Deutch. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
I would like to take a moment to offer my sincere thanks to
the witnesses for being here today. Your organizations are
quite literally on the front lines, and while we continue to
debate policy actions here in Washington, it is the aid workers
that risk their lives every single day to provide some relief
to those suffering under the most horrendous human conditions.
We owe each and every one of them our deepest gratitude, and we
thank you for being here today.
Syria is an extraordinary challenge in terms of sheer
numbers of those in need, the lack of resources, and access,
and the devastating levels of violence. In less than 2 months,
the death toll has risen by 10,000, meaning over 160,000 people
have lost their lives in this conflict. The number has risen so
dramatically and access to so many parts of the country is
limited, the United Nations can no longer keep an official
death count. Inside Syria 6.5 million people have been
displaced; nearly 10 million are in need of aid. The U.N.
recently estimated that close to 250,000 of these people were
unreachable because their communities were caught directly in
the middle of the fighting, and there are now 2.8 million
refugees. I know we have heard these figures before, but they
bear repeating because the world needs to be reminded over and
over again of the enormity of this conflict. There are nearly
1,070,000 refugees in Lebanon, 740,000 in Turkey, 600,000 in
Jordan, 225,000 in Iraq, and 137,000 in Egypt.
The United States, as the largest donor of aid to the
United Nations, has a responsibility to help ensure
humanitarian access. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139,
which demanded that all parties, in particular the Syrian
authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe, and unhindered
humanitarian access for agencies and their implementing
partners, including across conflict lines and across borders,
is not being implemented. All of the parties to the conflict,
including the Assad regime and the network of nonstate actors,
must abide by this resolution and allow for humanitarian aid to
reach the Syrian people unobstructed.
The situation inside Syria is dire. Food deliveries are
held due to eruptions of violence, reports of middlemen
exchanging bribes for aid and simply not enough medical
professionals to provide care. Children are going without
needed vaccinations, sparking new cases of polio and measles,
diseases that had all but been eradicated in Syria. An entire
generation of Syrian children may not attend school because
their school no longer exists in Syria or they need to work to
support their now refugee families.
In Lebanon, where Syria refugees make up one-quarter of the
population, the school system can't physically support the
influx of over 400,000 children. Furthermore, Syrian children
are stymied by language barriers as they are not often used to
learning in English or in French. I know that several of the
organizations here today are specifically focused on children's
needs, and I look forward to hearing more about your efforts to
prevent a lost generation.
In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp is now housing upwards
of 120,000 refugees on any given day. Inside the camp we have
seen reports of sexual assault, trafficking, and child
marriages, and young men exposed to radicalization or enticed
by opposition groups to return to fight in the conflict.
We have spent the better part of 3 years now debating
United States' response and policy prescriptions for Syria. For
3 years, we have been told these are really hard decisions that
we have to make. There may not be good decisions. It is just
really difficult for us to decide. The choices are hard, but we
have to make them. We need to make hard choices, and we need to
make them now.
I am pleased that the London 11 Group last week recognized
that changes in access and speed of our humanitarian aid need
to be made and made fast. I hope that this includes the U.N.
Security Council addressing the issue of cross-border aid. We
must get the international community to pay attention to what
is happening inside Syria. I am frustrated at the pace of
humanitarian response, and quite frankly the lack of funding is
appalling. The U.N. has requested $6.5 billion for humanitarian
aid this year, yet only $1.2 billion has been pledged by the
international community. In total, since the conflict has
begun, the U.S. has given $1.7 billion. The world simply cannot
turn a blind eye to over 9 million people in need. This crisis
will not end, will not end even if a political situation is
somehow reached; 2.8 million will fundamentally alter the
landscape of the region for decades. Entire communities in
Syria will need to be rebuilt before refugees can even think of
I hope that this hearing today will continue to shine a
light on the enormity and the significance of what is happening
in and around Syria. Again, I want to extend my sincere thanks
and my profound gratitude to each of your organizations and the
thousands of aid workers who put their lives at risk each and
every day to provide relief to those suffering the most
unimaginable horrors of war.
Thank you, Madam Chairman. I yield back.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much for a very eloquent
statement. Thank you, Mr. Deutch.
I am pleased to yield to another one of our subcommittee
chairmen, Mr. Chabot of Ohio.
Mr. Chabot. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you for
calling this important hearing to examine one of the most
significant foreign policy failures of the Obama
The violence in Syria over the last few years has spiraled
out of control, yielding a serious humanitarian crisis. It was
in August 2012 that the President declared a red line, and
today over 160,000 people have been senselessly killed. There
is no end in sight to this crisis. The effort to rid Syria of
chemical weapons is bogged down, and the White House has seemed
to abdicate leadership on the issue. However, we know there are
many Americans who care deeply about this humanitarian crisis
in Syria. In fact, the organizations represented here today are
working tirelessly to help the Syrian people, but they are
facing serious obstacles that this administration needs to do
more to ensure the better flow of goods into Syria. The U.S.
needs to work closer with our friends and allies in the region,
Turkey and Jordan, for example, to facilitate the movement of
I also call on the administration to better outline what is
permitted under Syrian sanctions in terms of donations and
medical services. As the U.S. is the largest contributor of
humanitarian assistance, we here in Congress also need to be
judicious in determining who is receiving this aid in Syria and
ensuring that it reaches those people who need it most and that
it is not going into the hands of the Assad regime or into
those that are on the opposite side of freedom.
So thank you for your leadership on this, Madam Chair, and
I yield back.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much, Mr. Chabot.
And now we are so pleased to welcome our wonderful
panelists, and we are just thrilled to have you.
First we welcome Ms. Andrea Koppel--thank you--who is vice
president of global engagement and policy at Mercy Corps, where
she leads global advocacy on issues, including the Syrian
crisis and U.S. assistance reform. She has over 25 years of
communications, journalism, and advocacy experience. And she
previously served as director of international communications
at the American Red Cross following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
We welcome you, Ms. Koppel.
We also have with us Ms. Holly Solberg, who is director of
emergency and humanitarian assistance at CARE. Ms. Solberg has
20 years of experience in international relief and development
and specifically in emergency management and humanitarian
efforts. She has worked with CARE for nearly 19 years and has
been based in Atlanta, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Thailand, Kenya,
We welcome you, thank you.
Then we welcome Ms. Pia Wanek, who directs the Office of
Humanitarian Assistance at Global Communities. She has more
than 12 years of experience in the humanitarian field, having
worked for USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance
at State Department's Bureau of Population and at World Vision.
We welcome you. Thank you.
Fourth, we welcome Dr. Zaher Sahloul, who is president of
the Syrian American Medical Society. Dr. Sahloul is a
practicing critical care specialist in Chicago, and he just
returned from his latest medical mission to the City of Aleppo.
He has been on several medical missions to Syria, Jordan,
Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq and has also helped train medical
relief workers in topics like medical practices in war zones.
Thank you, sir.
Last but not least, we welcome Ms. Bernice Romero, who is
senior director for policy and advocacy at Save the Children.
Before this, she was advocacy and campaigns director for OXFAM
International and oversaw OXFAM's international advocacy
offices in Washington, Geneva, Brussels, and New York.
This is an impressive panel. Thank you all for being here.
As you know, your written statements have been made a part
of the record, so please feel free to summarize in 5 minutes.
Thank you. We will begin with you.
STATEMENT OF MS. ANDREA KOPPEL, VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL
ENGAGEMENT AND POLICY, MERCY CORPS
Ms. Koppel. Thank you, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking
Member Deutch, Mr. Chabot, and members of the subcommittee.
Thank you so much for the invitation today and for the close
attention you have paid to this incredibly complex and
protracted crisis now in its fourth year.
Mercy Corps is assisting the best we can in these
extraordinarily difficult circumstances. For nearly 2 years, we
have been delivering humanitarian assistance to civilians
inside Syria through the most direct routes, reaching more than
1.7 million people who are suffering. We are among the largest
providers of food and baking flour. We are leading these
programs with the generous support of donors, including USAID's
Emergency Food Security Program, funded through the
International Disaster Assistance Account.
Every day, hundreds of my colleagues risk their lives
delivering flour to Syrian bakeries to ensure that hundreds of
thousands of Syrian civilians have bread to eat every day. In
addition, we are also delivering a monthly supply of food
staples, things like oil, beans, rice, pasta, enough to provide
a family of seven with at least half their daily caloric
requirements. And it is worth noting that by purchasing this
food in the region, we are able to give American taxpayers more
impact for their money, ensuring supplies are delivered quickly
and at a lower cost, while also stimulating lower markets.
For Mercy Corps and other dedicated aid agencies, Syria
poses one of the most complex, hostile, and difficult response
environments in which we have ever worked, but of course these
humanitarian challenges, as you have already laid out, are not
confined to Syria. Massive refugee flows into neighboring
countries have turned a civil conflict into a regional crisis.
The pressure on host countries is immense. By the end of the
year, the number of refugees is estimated, and this is just
registered, to move from 2.8 to at least 4 million. Caught in
the middle are children, Syrian children, Lebanese children,
and Jordanian children.
With our partners UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision,
we are working to elevate the needs of children, especially
adolescents to prevent, as you said, Ranking Member Deutch,
what may become a lost generation. During focus group
discussions that Mercy Corps had earlier this year with
adolescents, we found a sense of humiliation was pervasive and
often involved physical violence. Flash points with this
violence revolved around disputes over wages, verbal assaults
while they are playing in the neighborhood or just walking to
school. One boy told us he would love to move to a country
where humans are valued. ``If I cannot go there,'' he said, ``I
want to leave this world.'' Another boy said, ``It would be
better to return to Syria and fight and die with dignity than
to continue to live here in humiliation.''
While the situation is certainly bleak, there are a number
of concrete steps that Congress can take right now to help the
people of Syria and neighboring countries. First, there was a
desperate need for funding humanitarian assistance that also
supports more strategic longer-term needs. Congress can ensure
that Fiscal Year 2015 humanitarian assistance and needs are met
by fully restoring IDA, MRA, Food for Peace to Fiscal Year 2014
enacted levels and by ensuring that IDA and MRA accounts are
more adaptable in order, where appropriate, to graduate
emergency funds into more strategic longer-term programs that
integrate both relief and development aids.
Second, Congress must urge the administration to push for,
as you said, Congressman Deutch, the full implementation of
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139 and to work with the U.N.
to maximize coordination and do a better job of including civil
society actors in decisionmaking.
Third, humanitarian aid must not be used as a proxy for the
lack of a political solution.
And, fourth, Congress should call on the administration to
prioritize programs that build the resilience of refugees and
host communities with a special focus on adolescents and
integrated conflict mitigation.
In conclusion, I would like to say that through our work in
partnerships in the region, we have been humbled and touched by
the grace and the dignity of the Syrian people as well as by
the generosity of their regional hosts. I wish to sincerely
thank the members of this subcommittee for its focus on this
tremendously important issue and for extending me the privilege
of testifying here today. I would be more than willing to
accept your questions later.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much, Ms. Koppel. Thank you
for your testimony.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Koppel follows:]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. And before we continue with our
panelists, we are thrilled to announce that Mr. Royce, the
chairman of the full committee, is so interested and immersed
in this topic that he is joining us today, and I would like to
call upon him to make statements if we may. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Royce. I thank our chairman emeritus, Ileana Ros-
Lehtinen for that, and I also thank the ranking member.
We are in the fourth year of this crisis, unfortunately,
and I do want to thank Eliot Engel and this committee 3 years
ago for trying to get us focused and trying to push the
administration and all of us to take more concerted action, and
I guess the frustration that we have is that the United States
and the international community continue to struggle with an
issue that shouldn't have been such a struggle, which is the
delivery of aid to Syrians most in need, and the problem
started with delivery of aid through the regime rather than to
the areas most in need. And we have solved some of that
problem, but unfortunately, men, women, children have been
besieged by the Assad regime now for about a year in many of
these cities, and others remain isolated due to the heavy
fighting between the regime and opposition groups, and a third
faction now, a faction that wasn't in this when we started, and
that was the terrorist organizations, the jihadists who came in
from outside of the country, and this was why it was important
early on to have heeded the advice of Eliot Engel and others,
for the administration to have heeded the advice and gotten
weaponry to the Free Syrian Army.
Now we are doing that, but we are not doing it to the
extent necessary, and we have not been doing it to the extent
necessary, and now we have something that Assad's regime has
the audacity to implement, this kneel or starve campaign.
So the problem is not new. The U.N.'s delivery of aid
solely through areas controlled by the Assad regime has been
the primary obstacle early on to ensuring the delivery of aid
where needed most. The U.N.'s obligations in this regard have
recently been debated legally by legal experts, but it is clear
that the U.N. could have much more flexibility if Russia would
So it is time to think of new solutions. The House Foreign
Affairs Committee last month passed unanimously House
Resolution 520, which states that the United Nations needs to
find new ways of delivering that aid, including through private
partners, to the Syrian people, who are being besieged. And
finally, I am encouraged that Secretary Kerry is now calling
for the same, and the United States has provided now $1.7
billion in humanitarian aid in response to this crisis over the
last 3, and I guess it is about 3\1/2\ years through the U.N.
Our concern for the Syrian people and our stewardship of these
taxpayer dollars requires that we ensure the intended delivery
of the assistance it funds. We need to be much more emphatic
Alarmingly, the Assad regime has not stopped at blocking
aid, but its forces routinely target humanitarian workers and
facilities, especially those providing medical care to
suffering Syrians. They target them with snipers. They have
killed doctors. They target them with shelling, and of course,
as you are reading, with barrel bombs, and somebody needs to
say something more about the additional chemical attacks, some
14 attacks, 13 or 14, that have been cataloged by the French
Government. It is time that our governments speak out about,
again, the use of chemical weapons on those civilians. Various
credible sources have reported that these barrel bombs have, in
fact, been filled with weaponized chlorine in recent weeks
despite the regime's alleged commitment to cease all chemical
weapons attacks. It is my intent to write a letter to the
President asking what he is going to do about this, and I would
urge any member of this committee to join me in that letter.
And I welcome our esteemed panelists today, who I suspect will
be able to attest to many of these challenges, especially the
regime's attacks against medical personnel and facilities, and
Dr. Sahloul, a close friend of the committee and president of
the Syrian American Medical Society, SAMS, joins us today after
recently returning from yet another trip to Syria, where he
personally provided aid and witnessed unspeakable horrors. He
along with others in the Syrian American community have
contributed heroically to the American and international
response to this humanitarian disaster. And I applaud their
efforts and I encourage the administration and the U.N. to work
more closely with Syrian American groups. That is where we
should be moving the aid, through Syrian American groups.
Frankly, if we moved all our aid through Syrian American
groups, to me, that would be the ideal solution. I have
communicated that to the administration. That ensures that our
assistance reaches those Syrians who most need it.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much, Mr. Royce, Mr.
Chairman, for joining us. It is always a delight to have you
with us. Thank you.
I would like to yield for a minute opening statement at
this time, Brad, if you would like.
Mr. Schneider. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses for being here. We all know
how large and significant the crisis is in Syria. I am looking
forward to the testimony. I know that we need to make sure we
are doing all we can to take care of the refugees, to take care
of our allies in the region, and to make sure that we bring a
political end and a peaceful end sooner rather than later to
So, again, I thank you for being here.
And I will yield back.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, Mr. Schneider.
Mr. Kinzinger, if you have an opening statement for 1
Mr. Kinzinger. Well, thank you, and thank you to the
panelists for being here and thank you for holding this
hearing. I am just very interested in hearing obviously about
the situation on the ground. I am a big believer that it is
high time for the United States and the West to get involved
and to ensure the overthrow of the Assad regime and to support
the Free Syrian Army. So I am interested in hearing ways that
we can do that but also through the humanitarian crisis ensure
that everybody is taken care of. So thank you for holding this
hearing, and I will yield back.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you. Thank you to all the members.
Now we will continue with our witnesses.
Ms. Solberg, you are recognized.
STATEMENT OF MS. HOLLY SOLBERG, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY AND
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE, CARE
Ms. Solberg. Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member
Deutch, members of the subcommittee, thank you for holding this
important hearing and for inviting me on behalf of CARE to
testify before you today. My statement today is a summary of
the statement I have submitted for the record.
The United Nations Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs
and Emergency Relief, Valerie Amos, has described the crisis in
and around Syria as the biggest humanitarian crisis the world
today faces, with little signs of abating. I can assure you
that her statement is not an exaggeration. CARE has decades of
experience responding to humanitarian crises, and this is by
far one of the worst we have seen. CARE works in 87 countries
around the world, supporting poverty-fighting development and
humanitarian assistance projects. Between 2012 and 2013, CARE
responded to 53 emergencies in 34 countries, reaching over 4
In our response, we place support for the needs and rights
of women and girls at the heart of our humanitarian
programming. Of the close to 3 million Syrian refugees, 75
percent are women and children. I want to focus my remarks
today on three areas: First, a description of what CARE has
witnessed on the ground in and around Syria since the conflict
began and its impacts on Syrian refugees, internally displaced
people, and neighboring countries; second, CARE's response to
this crisis; and, third, the important role of the United
As you know, the Syrian crisis has shattered millions of
lives, the economy is in ruins. Every aspect of social and
physical infrastructure has been seriously damaged with long-
term erosion of livelihoods, assets, and access to education.
More than 220,000 people remain trapped in besieged areas, and
several million more Syrian civilians are prevented from
reaching life-saving humanitarian assistance inside Syria. The
high intensity of the conflict has led to new ways of large-
scale displacement, both within Syria and in neighboring
countries. Syria's neighbors are generously hosting almost 3
million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes, a
number that is expected to rise to over 4 million by the end of
This has placed an inordinate pressure on these hosting
nations. For example, in Jordan, with a population of just over
6 million, is hosting nearly 600,000 refugees. The protracted
nature of this conflict not only increases tensions between
refugees and host communities, it also weakens the development
opportunities of those displaced as well as the stability of
the region. CARE's goal is to ensure the dignity and resilience
of those most affected by the Syrian regional crisis so that
they are empowered to support the social and economic recovery
of their communities. To date, CARE and our partners have
provided life-saving services to more than 400,000 people in
Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and to the people inside Syria. Some of
our intervention areas include emergency cash assistance,
provision of food and other basic necessities, and psychosocial
support to name a few. We have set up urban centers where
refugees and vulnerable host community members can have access
to available services as well as be referred to specialized
external services. This approach also helps to reduce tensions
between refugees and host communities. Our support to families
affected by the Syrian crisis is based on humanitarian needs
alone, regardless of religion, political affiliation or
ethnicity. While CARE is working to scale up our response in
Syria, we have so far reached more than 170,000 people, much of
our focus is to assist refugees living in urban or noncamp
settings because they make up the majority, approximately 80
percent, of those living in neighboring countries. In addition
to our focus on urban refugees and people displaced within
Syria, CARE has partnered with UNHCR and the Jordanian
Government to establish the newly opened Azraq refugee camp.
I want to conclude by offering CARE's recommendations for
how the U.S. Government can continue to play a leadership role
in responding to this humanitarian crisis. While my testimony
has focused on CARE's work in Syria's neighboring countries, we
are working very hard to also support civilians inside Syria.
That said, humanitarian access into Syria is significantly
restricted and greatly limiting humanitarian organizations from
reaching the millions in need. We ask Congress to work with the
U.N. to find solutions to unfettered humanitarian access.
Lastly, CARE greatly appreciates the U.S. leadership in
addressing the Syrian humanitarian crisis, providing more than
$1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance to date. We also ask
that the Fiscal Year 2015 proposed budget cut is respectfully
restored to its critically needed funding.
Let me conclude with this: The Syrian conflict is the most
catastrophic humanitarian crisis of our time. The U.S.
Government and its partners have a pivotal role to play, not
only in helping to bring an end to the conflict, but in saving
millions of lives in the process. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Solberg follows:]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Ms. Wanek.
STATEMENT OF MS. PIA WANEK, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF HUMANITARIAN
ASSISTANCE, GLOBAL COMMUNITIES
Ms. Wanek. Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen, Ranking Member Deutch,
members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to
testify today on the important topic of the Syrian refugee
crisis. I will present to you now an abridged version of our
I am the director of humanitarian assistance for Global
Communities. Global Communities is working in Lebanon in
partnership with UNHCR to assist Syrian refugees and Lebanese
host communities. Our organization has worked in Lebanon since
1997 through many conflicts and disastrous situations. This
crisis, however, is of a scale, new scale altogether. In April
2014, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon exceeded 1
million, nearly 40 percent of the total Syrian refugee
population in the region. Among this million are more than
300,000 unschooled children working or begging in the streets.
Syrian refugees in Lebanon constitute 20 percent of the total
population of the country. This is as though the entire
population of Canada was uprooted and moved into the USA twice.
There is no other country in the world today that hosts such a
high proportion of refugees compared to its own citizens. My
remarks today will address the situation in Lebanon
specifically along two main points.
My first point: Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens are
competing against each other for the same resources. We must
increasingly focus our support on longer-term solutions for
host communities and Syrian refugees, as shared services have
reached a breaking point. Before the Syrian war, Lebanese
communities across the country were already poor, with 23
percent living below the poverty line. The influx of refugees
has exacerbated the situation. With the bulk of assistance
going to refugees, Lebanese communities are worse off than
ever. The World Bank estimates an additional 170,000 Lebanese
have been pushed into poverty by the crisis and that, by the
end of 2014, 75 percent of Lebanon's 4.1 million citizens will
be in need of some form of financial shelter or food support.
With the refugee crisis accelerating, we must consider the
situation in Lebanon to be longer term. We must position the
aid that is being supplied so that we are providing durable
solutions for the needs of the refugees and their Lebanese
hosts. This goes beyond shelter, food, and medicine into
providing assistance to reduce the strain on Lebanon's shared
housing, energy, education, and water resources.
This leads to my second point. Failure to support refugees
and host communities will create a destabilizing effect in
Lebanon and throughout the region. The more than 300,000
unschooled Syrian refugee children are vulnerable to
recruitment by radical groups. Disenfranchised Lebanese youth
are also vulnerable to such recruitment. Where there are gaps
in refugee and host community assistance, extremist factions
are stepping in and exploiting vulnerable populations. Our
experience on the ground is that Lebanese community members are
reporting an increase in disputes relating to Syrian refugees.
Law enforcement officials believe an increase in the crime rate
is linked with the growth of the Syrian population, and whether
these claims are rumor or fact is difficult to determine, but
the perception alone is damaging enough to relations between
Syrian and Lebanese communities. Syrian refugees will be in
Lebanon for many years to come. Aid needs to be focused on
easing the divide between communities, identifying common
interests, and creating shared benefits. Failure to do so will
allow simmering tensions to escalate and destabilize a country
already deeply vulnerable to conflict. There is a tremendous
danger of the Syrian conflict erupting in Lebanon and then
spiraling outwards into a regional conflict, engulfing U.S.
allies, such as Israel and Jordan.
In December 2013, UNHCR released projected funding needs
for 2014. The plan appealed for $4.2 billion to cover
assistance to refugees and host communities across the region.
It is the largest donor pledge in history. The total U.S.
humanitarian commitment is more than $1.7 billion, the largest
of any nation. Nevertheless, the appeal is only 25 percent
funded. Unfilled, there is not enough assistance for refugees
or host communities. We recommend that the U.S. Government
continue to support the needs, immediate and longer term, of
the people affected by this conflict. We strongly encourage the
U.S. Government and other governments to live up to their
pledges to ensure that the response to the crisis is fully
funded. We recommend that the United States Congress in
particular provide robust funding for the humanitarian
assistance accounts of the Fiscal Year 2015 Federal budget as
detailed in our written testimony. We commend the U.S.
Government for its leadership and commitment to protecting the
vulnerable communities around the Syrian conflict. We ask that
you continue to provide this support as an example to the
international community. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much, Ms. Wanek.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Wanek follows:]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Dr. Sahloul.
STATEMENT OF ZAHER SAHLOUL, M.D., PRESIDENT, SYRIAN AMERICAN
Dr. Sahloul. Good afternoon. Thank you, Chairman Ros-
Lehtinen and Ranking Member Mr. Deutch for sponsoring this and
for inviting me.
Thank you for my friend Mr. Schneider, we worked in Chicago
for interfaith dialogue with the Catholic Theological Union,
and we are here today on a different occasion.
And thank you for Mr. Kinzinger, who worked closely with
the Syrian American community in Illinois also.
To me, it is very personal because I am the only Syrian
American on this panel. I have family in Syria, and as you have
mentioned, I have gone several times to Syria as a medical
mission to make sure that our friends, our colleagues, the
Syrian American physicians and nurses have what they need in
terms of medical supplies and medications and equipment. And I
can tell you that with the help of our Government, SAMS and
other Syrian American organizations are able to get any medical
equipment or medical supplies or medication to any place in
Syria across the border, and we would like to urge our
Government to support expansion of these cross-border
operations because we think that this is the only thing that
can save millions of people from illness or from food
I can tell you also that by the end of this hearing,
unfortunately, we will have 800 more Syrians who are displaced,
among them 600 women and children and among them 400 children
who will not have education. By the end of this hearing, also,
we will have another 200 people in Syria who are killed. By the
end of this hearing, we will have 500 more people in Syria who
have lifelong disability. We are talking about a scale of
disaster that is unencountered in our life. This is the worst
disaster that you will have in your life. The number of people
impacted in Syria by the crisis by the disaster are more than
the total number combined of the disaster in South Sudan and
Central African Republic, in Bosnia, and Rwanda combined. We
are talking about the worst humanitarian disaster in our time.
I came recently from Syria. I am a critical care
specialist. I go there and take care of patients in the ICU,
and I brought some pictures, so I hope that you can bear with
me in looking at these pictures. I want to first mention some
of the stories that I have encountered. The first one is about
a child, his name is Mohamad Alabrash. He was preparing to go
to school. He is 6 years old. And then he heard the sound of
helicopter. He looked at the sky, and then the helicopter threw
a barrel bomb. Then he saw yellow smoke coming out, and then he
started choking, him and his mother, who was pregnant, also.
They started choking, and they have respiratory symptoms, and
they were taken to the emergency room of a field hospital where
they had to be intubated because they had fluid in their lungs,
they had respiratory failure. They were transported to a border
hospital that were supplied by ventilators and monitored by our
organization. Unfortunately, the child, Mohamad Alabrash, has
died; his mother, who was pregnant, was saved. This happened in
April 21st, only a few weeks ago.
Yesterday, there was another chemical weapons attack in the
City of Kafr Zita north of Hama, and one person who is 14 years
old with special needs died, another person who is 70 years old
also has died. Most of the people who were exposed to chemical
weapons attacks in the last few months were civilians.
According to our report that we combined in the field, 1,000
people had symptoms related to exposure to chemical agents.
Among them, 12 people who were killed because of exposure to
chemical agents. This is not sarin gas. This is not nerve gas.
This is what is called a choking agent. It is called chlorine
gas according to our experts in the field.
We urge President Obama to use all of his powers to stop
the chemical weapon attacks on Syrians and also to stop the
barrel bombing attacks on the City of Aleppo. Two things that
are hurting Syrian civilians more at this point, chemical
weapon attacks and barrel bombing attacks. In the City of
Aleppo, I went there in October and the streets were bustling
with people and civilians. Right now, 75 percent of the people
in the City of Aleppo have deserted this place because of the
barrel bombing campaign that started in December of last year.
I have seen hospitals that were bombed. I have seen schools
that were bombed. I have seen neighborhoods that were full of
people that right now are ghost towns. And I have seen
physicians and nurses, you know, struggling to save their
patients, and they are asking for all kinds of assistance. One
of the physicians in one of the hospitals told me, Please send
us everything that you can, antibiotics, gloves, and also send
us body bags because we run out of body bags.
I believe that our Nation is able to do much more than what
we have done in the past. I urge you to support humanitarian
assistance to the Syrians, but I urge you also to do much more
to end the crisis and force a political settlement. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much, Doctor. Thank you
for your work.
[The prepared statement of Dr. Sahloul follows:]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Ms. Romero.
STATEMENT OF MS. BERNICE ROMERO, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF POLICY AND
ADVOCACY, SAVE THE CHILDREN
Ms. Romero. First of all, I just want to thank Chairwoman
Ros-Lehtinen and Ranking Member Deutch and the members of the
subcommittee for the hearing.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Can you put the microphone a little bit
Ms. Romero. Does that work?
The Syrian conflict has taken a devastating toll on Syria's
children; 4.3 million need assistance and more than 10,000
young lives have been lost. Save the Children has worked in the
Middle East for decades, providing assistance to over 1.6
million people, including 1.2 million children.
My remarks draw on our experience addressing the needs of
children affected by the Syrian crisis. I will focus on two
issues. One, education, particularly in Lebanon, and, two,
child protection, especially child labor in Jordan. I will also
mention two crucial issues, humanitarian funding and improved
Continued education in crises is critical. It can give
children a sense of stability, provide protection, and tell
children they have a future, but many Syrian children face huge
barriers to continuing their education. In fact, 3 million
children have now dropped out of school in Syria, and 68
percent of refugee children are not in school. There are many
challenges in host countries--overcrowding, high dropout rates,
and lessons in languages the children don't even understand.
For many, just getting to school is too expensive or they don't
want to go because they are afraid of being bullied.
Educational challenges are especially acute in Lebanon, which
has received a staggering number of refugees, somewhere between
1 and 1.5 million. Lebanon would have to more than double its
current education infrastructure to meet the needs of Syrian
children. Less than 20 percent are currently enrolled, and
dropout rates reach up to 40 percent. Children are being sent
instead out to work in fields for $2 a day or others as young
as 3 can be seen begging in the streets. Skills training for
youth is limited, leaving them with unstructured days, few job
opportunities, and little hope.
We need to start having hard conversations on how to tackle
the problems that are stopping Syrian children from learning,
not just in Lebanon but throughout the region. That needs to
happen now. Already most have lost up to 3 years of school. A
long-term plan that prioritizes, protects, and enables refugee
education in host countries needs to be developed urgently. The
international community needs to fund it and help host
countries shoulder the burden. We urge the U.S. to work with
others and support host country efforts to expand educational
infrastructure, vocational training programs, and nonformal
learning centers. Host governments can't do it alone, and
Syria's future depends on the skills and knowledge these
children gain today.
Inside Syria children are being killed and injured and
witnessing or experiencing atrocities. Three out of four
children have now lost a loved one to the conflict and reports
of early marriage, sexual abuse, and domestic violence are
According to UNICEF, 1 in 10 children across the region is
now engaged in some form of child labor. The problem may be
greatest in Jordan where children are often working in
hazardous industries. Eighty percent of girls working in Jordan
are in domestic labor or agriculture, both known for high
levels of sexual exploitation. The main reason children are
working is to support their families. Syrians can't officially
work in Jordan and a number of studies show a direct link
between the lack of livelihoods, opportunities, and the high
levels of child labor. Namely, it is easier for a child to find
work, and the ramifications for a child caught working
illegally are less severe. As a result, Syrian refugees rely
heavily on child labor to supplement family income. Of the
households that reported paid labor in the past month, 47
percent reported that some or all of this income was from
children. The Government of Jordan has been generous, but the
problem requires U.S. and other donor support to ensure policy
reforms that protect children in informal labor and programs
that provide job training and opportunities and provide
Children inside Syria face additional protection challenges
to deal with the direct violence of war. The U.S. should use
its influence to ensure parties to the conflict agree not to
target or allow military use of schools or health facilities
and agree not to use explosive weapons in populated areas, the
primary reported cause of children's deaths.
Despite the challenges, aid is making a difference. We urge
Congress to protect U.S. humanitarian accounts against cuts. We
also need improved access to people living inside Syria, U.N.
Resolution 2139, to allow humanitarian access was a political
breakthrough, but nearly 3 months after its adoption, only a
trickle of the aid is making it through. Every day that goes by
without access is another fatal day for children. Congress
should send a clear message about the importance of
humanitarian access, pushing for the resolution's full
implementation and encouraging U.N. agencies to fund cross-
border aid and increase their important coordination role.
There is a risk that Syria will become just another
conflict that we all view as hopeless and therefore ignore, but
the children of Syria deserve better. We look to you for the
support needed to reduce current suffering and improve the
future outlook for Syria's children. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much, Ms. Romero.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Romero follows:]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, all of you, for being here to
discuss the important work you do, the challenges that your
organizations face, and what we need to do or change in order
to ensure that our relief efforts are being maximized.
I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to each and every
one of you and your organizations, who, in many instances, have
caregivers and are risking their lives on a daily basis in
order to get supplies to those in dire need. It is a dangerous
job, and I am sure it is a rewarding job, but it is often a
thankless job, at least by those who aren't directly impacted
by your work on the ground in Syria. So thank you so much.
What more do you need from the U.S. and other donor
countries? What is the most pressing issue that isn't being
Ms. Koppel, we will start with you.
Ms. Koppel. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I would say, as
many of my colleagues have already cited, to fund the--
basically, for Fiscal Year 2015 funding, to restore the
humanitarian assistance cuts that were made in the Fiscal Year
2015 request by the Obama administration, restore them to
Fiscal Year 2014 levels, especially IDA, MRA, and Food for
Peace. We would also urge you to use your influence with the
administration to get the U.N. to fully implement 2139. But in
doing so, with the U.N., if it were to move toward cross
border, we need the U.N. to work on coordinating this cross
border. We need to, as we heard some of the members mention,
there are about 240,000 people who are estimated to be living
in besieged communities. We have no idea how much, if any, aid
is getting in. We need assessments to be made before we start
delivering aid, and we need post distribution of reviews and
monitoring to be made to ensure that the aid is reaching the
most vulnerable. We need to be accountable for that. These are
humanitarian principles that all of us must abide by. Thank
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you. Anyone else? Ms. Solberg?
Ms. Solberg. Thank you. Thank you very much. I would just
complement that by saying as well, I think, what we need is
around the coordination with the United Nations, but really
also support with developing a comprehensive strategy, so one
that is actually addressing the humanitarian needs today but
looking further into the future and supporting for livelihood
opportunities as well, so it does fit in very closely with the
need for the funding levels to be brought back to the levels
that they were before.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you.
Dr. Sahloul. A few things. The first thing that the United
Nations distribution of aid has been changed in the last year,
and according to the reports, that 85 percent of food
distribution and 75 percent of medical aid is distributed only
through the regime-controlled areas. That means what is left to
the 9.5 million people who live outside of the regime-
controlled area is less than 15 percent of food supplies and 25
percent of medical aid, and these are the population who are in
much need. So somehow we need to change this formula so we can
support the organizations, the NGOs that are assisting the
people who are in much need, not probably through the United
Nations but through different ways. We have to change this,
reverse this formula.
The other thing that I urge this committee and all House
Members to support House Resolution 520 that calls the
administration to expand humanitarian assistance and stop the
attack on civilians. The attacks on civilians and hospitals and
infrastructure is continuing unhampered, and it is causing more
destruction of hospitals and clinics and bakeries and schools
that we can build and that we can support. So unless we can
stop the barrel bombing, unless we can stop the bombing of
hospitals and schools, then whatever we do will not be able to
sustain and support the population. The population in the City
of Aleppo, which is the largest city in Syria, needs to
breathe, needs to care about development. The civic society
needs to work. And if you have 20 barrel bombs raining on you
every day, no matter what we do, we cannot support them, so
they are forced to be displaced. They are forced to be leaving
to Turkey or to neighboring countries, and this is a huge
problem. So somehow the administration has to stop that from
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you.
Ms. Romero. Yeah, I mean, I would support everything
everyone has said already, particularly around the need for
sustained funding and the need to support the access
resolution, the implementation of that, and the emphasis on
cross-border aid, adding to that the need for more funding
specifically for cross-border aid, more flexible funding models
than what we have at present, but also the use of the U.S.'s
good offices in terms of diplomatic pressure on other donors,
particularly nontraditional donors. It is outrageous that we
are fronting like almost 25 percent of all of this, and also
more support to host countries in a more long-term sustainable
way, particularly around child-specific issues. I mean, they do
represent 50 percent of those that are being affected, and they
are the future of Syria and of stability in the region, so a
bigger investment in children.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much.
Thank you to all of you. I think we have time for Mr.
Deutch's questions before we will be interrupted by a vote. Mr.
Deutch is recognized.
Mr. Deutch. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
First, thanks to all of you for testimony that was as
powerful as the work that you are doing on the ground.
I learned a new term a couple weeks back. Perhaps you have
heard of it. Psychic numbing. Are you familiar with the term? I
wasn't. And it was used in response to a question that I asked
about how we make this awful tragedy, the worst humanitarian
crisis that most of us have seen, how we make this relevant to
so many people who don't think about it. So that, as, Ms.
Romero, you said, this doesn't just become another conflict
that we all view as hopeless.
Ms. Romero. Yeah.
Mr. Deutch. So how do we do it? This is a really important
discussion about funding and putting pressure on others to step
up. But how do we--all of you work with groups and are there on
the ground every day.
Dr. Sahloul, let me start with you. You discussed what
happens when chlorine is used. I just hope that you can spend a
minute telling us what a barrel bomb is. What is it? Who is it
dropped on, and what does it do?
Dr. Sahloul. I have seen it, and actually, one of the most
common scenes and bizarre scenes that you face in the City of
Aleppo that when you are walking, and I walk in the street in
some of the neighborhoods, you see people pointing to the sky
and then you see this small dot which is a helicopter, and then
suddenly this small dot will throw another dot, and it takes
about 20 to 30 seconds for that dot to come and explode, and
this is a barrel bomb. Barrel bomb is a barrel that is stuffed
with TNT. We are not talking about a small amount of TNT; 200
to 500 kilograms of TNT, that can cause the destruction of one
whole block and a lot of killing. I have seen the consequences
of that in the hospital when you bring patients who are injured
and amputated and killed because of this, and lately, these
barrel bombs have been stuffed not only with TNT and shrapnel
and petrol but also with chlorine gas, according to the report.
I have talked with physicians who are treating these patients
who are exposed to chlorine gas. It is a very choking gas, and
it can cause death, and it is a chemical agent. It is a
prohibited agent. It is one of the agents that is prohibited by
the conventional chemical weapons convention that Syria has
signed on it, and it has been used frequently in the last few
months, and we are not doing anything.
Mr. Deutch. Dr. Sahloul, what happens when it is dropped on
Dr. Sahloul. I have seen children, pictures, of course, and
I have talked with physicians who have treated these children,
people start to choke. Then they will start to have coughing,
and sometimes you will have irritation of the skin and the
eyes. Then they stop breathing, and many of them are
transported to the emergency room and the hospital that are not
equipped to treat chemical weapon attacks and chemical weapon
agents. We are talking about a country in crisis, where the
healthcare system has been already destroyed, and then you have
chemical agents dropped on them on a daily basis, and the world
is not paying attention. I mean, I agree with you that why is
it that the world is not paying attention to this? I mean, I
know that the crisis has been going on for 3 years, but we have
children who are dying every day, we have people who are
affected every day, more than the people who are affected by
Boko Haram. I mean, we are not seeing policymakers speaking
about the issue in Syria. I think we have to have leadership in
this country that cares about the Syrian fight, which I believe
that they care, but also make sure that this is in the public
sphere. When the President of the United States or the
Secretary Kerry talk about what is happening in Syria to the
American public, I think they will care. You will see more
support to humanitarian assistance, you have churches and
synagogues that will donate, as they have donated to Haiti, for
example. They are not doing that for Syria because Syria is
away from the public eye.
Mr. Deutch. Okay. Let me just ask, and anyone jump in, but
there are--you know, what we hear all the time, and this is my
concern, Ms. Romero, when you talk about the way the crisis in
Syria is viewed, what we hear all the time is, well, it is
really hard for us to know what to do, because there are so
many different people fighting one another and it is hard to
tell who we can support, who are the worst parties, and so,
therefore, we will try to help on a humanitarian level.
What can any of you tell us to make this more urgent, to
make all of us understand what you devote so much of your time
to this crisis? Ms. Koppel.
Ms. Koppel. Ranking Member Deutch, we struggle with this as
well. Many of us in--when there is some kind of a natural
disaster, like the cyclone in the Philippines or the earthquake
in Haiti, are surprised by the extent of the generosity of the
American public. This is a protracted crisis. We are in our
fourth year, and people have become numb. I think it isn't, as
the good doctor mentioned, in the public sphere.
You are going home for the Memorial Day recess. I would
urge you to talk to your constituents about the fact that if
this were the United States, that would be the equivalent, if
you are looking at Lebanon with 25 percent of its population
being refugees, of 79 million refugees in the United States.
Who would be there to help us?
Mr. Deutch. Let me----
Ms. Koppel. And if I could just add one other thing. The
solution--as much as we as humanitarian actors are responding
to the need of the civilians, but the solution is a political
one. We need to replace the special U.N. Envoy, Lakhdar
Brahimi, as quickly as possible. He just resigned last week.
There must be a political process and ultimately a political
Mr. Deutch. I appreciate it, and--but just before I yield
back, Madam Chairman, I appreciate trying to show us what the
scale would be in this country. I would just suggest that for
all of us who are going back to our districts, the school year
is coming to an end, and the fact is that if any of us imagined
any school in our district, any school in this country with
kids on the playground looking up at a helicopter waiting for
that dot to grow, knowing that it is a barrel full of TNT and
shrapnel and perhaps chlorine that could strike at any moment
and kill and maim and do grave damage, that would be enough,
that would be enough to rally everyone in this country.
And I--again, I just have so much respect for what you all
do and I really appreciate your being here. And I hope your
being here and sharing the important work that you do and the
horrible situation on the ground will help propel this debate
forward so that we can plan----
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much, Mr. Deutch.
And we have zero time remaining for our votes, and so our
subcommittee will hover, and we will vote and come back.
Mr. Schneider. Madam Chairman, if I can just have 2 seconds
for one open question, not for an answer.
But as you said, Ms. Koppel, the only solution is a
political solution; a military solution on either side would be
a catastrophe. On the day that there is a political solution,
if you could submit for the record, or just I invite for an
ongoing conversation, what the scope, the scale and the
duration of the ongoing work after that political solution to
make sure that Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the future of the region
is one that has a positive future and not as a spiral downward.
Thank you very much.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much. So we will vote and
come back with--we have members to ask questions. Thank you.
Please excuse us.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. The subcommittee has reconvened. Thank
you for your patience.
And we are honored to recognize Mr. Kinzinger, who is one
of our many American heros on this panel. Thank you for your
Mr. Kinzinger. Oh, that is kind. Thank you very much.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. You deserve it.
Mr. Kinzinger. Thank you.
And to the panel, as I said in my short opening statement,
thank you very much for being here. This is a situation in
Syria that is only going to get worse. You know, you look at
what is happening, for instance, in Ukraine and Russia, and you
know that if the worst happens there at some point, there will
still be an end game to what is happening.
In Syria, you are only going to continue to see the problem
grow and grow and spread and spread into places that we have
always considered to be good allies, places that we have
considered to be safe in the Middle East. Just look at Iraq. I
believe it was an epic mistake to pull all the troops out of
Iraq--that is for another hearing--but what you see in western
Iraq right now is the increase in Al Qaeda and ISIS in part of,
and partially because of, what is happening in Syria today.
This is a very big deal.
Doctor, when you started talking about and documenting the
use of chemical weapons--and hello, by the way, and thanks for
being here--it really breaks my heart to see that this is still
happening. America has always held that there would be a red
line against chemical weapons use. In fact, we had two no-fly
zones over Iraq for 10 years because of the use of chemical
weapons, and I have been well documented in saying it was an
epic mistake not to enforce the red line that the President put
down, but let me ask you, sir, could you briefly talk just a
little bit more about what you have seen and how often are
these chemical weapons being used, even though it may be
chlorine gas and not gas that we necessarily--well, why don't
you just talk about what you have seen and a little more on
Dr. Sahloul. Well, thank you very much for raising this
point, because it is very important for the American public to
know that the chemical weapon is still being used in Syria, and
it is used against civilian population, and it is causing death
and injuries among civilian population.
Since the beginning of this year, 2014, there were 16
incidents of chemical weapon use. The first few ones were
around Damascus and the City of Harasta, and it did not attract
that much attention because few people had symptoms or died. In
the--since April 11th, where you had the largest attack in Kafr
Zaita, which is a village north of Hama, Hama is the city--a
major city in Syria, which I am sure that people are aware of,
you know, it had a lot of population death at the time of the
father of this President, Hafez al-Assad, and about 200 people
had symptoms, respiratory symptoms, and one or two died because
of that. And this is the City of Kafr Zaita.
Since then, and the city--I mean, someone may ask, why is
it this city? Because it is on a strategic supply road that
connects Hama to Aleppo. Aleppo is a major city where there is
a lot of fighting, and this village that is under the control
of the opposition falls on that access road. And this village
has been attacked five times so far. The last one was
There is also another village in the city of--in the
governance of Idlib that also had a major attack. We believe
that it is chlorine gas, because of the symptoms. We believe
that this is against the prohibition of chemical weapon
convention, and we believe this is against the red lines that
we put, and we believe that this is something that the world
community and the United States administration has to pay
I made sure that when we received the medical report, to
share it with the National Security Council, with the State
Department and with Ambassador Power about 2 weeks ago. So
every information that we get about chemical weapons use--and
mostly it is medical and testimonial physicians and so forth--
we share it with the administration.
Mr. Kinzinger. Well, thank you very much. And I just want
to be very clear, too. As bad as chemical weapons are, we are
also seeing, as you discussed, a terrible weapon being employed
called barrel bombs, something that I had never heard of until
this conflict, and now I realize how absolutely indiscriminate
it is in who it kills and what it clears. I believe that the
cost of Assad of using chemical weapons and using barrel bombs
needs to exceed any benefit he gains from that, and that would
be through, in my belief, military strikes.
Let me ask everybody on the panel, what impact would--I
want to make one point, and then I will ask everybody on the
panel. First off, I want to make it very clear that the Free
Syrian Army has diverted resources against Assad to fight
extremists, so there is a belief somehow in the American public
that the opposition is all extreme. The Free Syrian Army has
been very clear that they are fighting a two-front war at this
point, both against the Assad regime and against the extremists
Let me ask the question to all the panel, and then I am
sure my time will be up. If the United States and the West were
able to implement a no-fly zone over Syria, how would that
impact the ability to deliver aid, both to populations outside
of Syria and to populations within Syria?
And, Ms. Koppel, I guess we will start with you.
Ms. Koppel. Thank you, Congressman. I hope you will
understand that as a humanitarian--representative of a
humanitarian organization, we leave it to those experts in the
military to provide advice on that, but what I can say is that
in light of this very fluid theater and in light of the
increasing danger in this theater inside Syria, it is
incredibly important that we not politicize humanitarian
assistance, that we keep these channels separate.
Organizations like ours operate on a community-based
acceptance level. That means we don't drive in the MRAPs. We
are not in armored cars. We don't have weapons. Our security,
our insurance policy is the fact that the community knows that
we are impartial and we are independent and we abide by the
utmost humanitarian principles.
Mr. Kinzinger. Under----
Ms. Koppel. And so if humanitarian aid is given to those
who have a political agenda, that puts a bull's eye on the
backs of my colleagues who are risking their lives inside
Syria, and, Congressman, it puts a bull's eye on the backs of
the Syrian civilians who are receiving this assistance. So----
Mr. Kinzinger. So do barrel bombs. Those put a bull's eye
on the back of Syrian civilians, too.
Madam Chair, can I ask for----
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Of course, you can.
Mr. Kinzinger. Ms. Solberg, would you talk about--and,
again, my question is just simply--you don't have to get into
the politics of should we do a no-fly zone, but if we did a no-
fly zone, how would that that help in terms of administering of
Ms. Solberg. Thank you, Chairman. I would--sorry--
congressman. I would say that I completely agree with what my
colleague, Ms. Koppel, has said from that perspective.
What we know is that we are reaching maybe 10 percent of
the people who need assistance inside Syria. The numbers
continue to grow in neighboring countries. If we can have
increased access from a very specific humanitarian perspective
to get in and reach those people in need, that is what we are
trying to do. And I would say from, again, following
humanitarian principles, impartiality, reaching those in need,
that is our objective.
Mr. Kinzinger. Right. Well understood.
Ms. Wanek. To echo my colleagues as well, as a humanitarian
organization, we very much don't--don't comment on nor have----
Mr. Kinzinger. I understand all that; you guys can't
advocate, but would it happy in terms--is your access limited
because people are being bombed and killed?
Ms. Wanek. I think we had need to do everything we can to
provide humanitarian assistance in an impartial manner to those
that are affected that are the most vulnerable.
Mr. Kinzinger. And, Doctor, what about you?
Dr. Sahloul. I can tell you that in the last 6 months, we
had four of our hospitals that were supported by tax money
bombed by barrel bombs. One of them actually was bombed by a
guided missile. So, definitely, if we have a way to reduce the
impact of these weapons of mass destruction, I mean, I am
talking about barrel bombs, 500 kilograms of TNT, then that
will make it easier for us to perform our operation, and also
it would make it easier for refugees and displaced people to
come back to their neighborhoods and give also breathing room
for the civic societies so they can operate in the areas that
are not able to do that right now.
Mr. Kinzinger. Understood.
And, Ms. Romero, do you have any comments on that?
Ms. Romero. Yeah. I mean, I have to be boring and say we
have to be impartial, too.
Mr. Kinzinger. I understand.
Ms. Romero. However, I will add a couple of things.
Mr. Kinzinger. It is not boring. It is okay.
Ms. Romero. We have been calling for humanitarian
ceasefires and pauses, because we share the view, yeah, we need
to be able to get through, and insecurity means that we are not
able to get through with aid. So we do need measures taken by
both parties to the conflict, or more than both--than two at
this point to allow access to civilian populations to deliver
But no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors, all of those,
they have had mixed results in the past. We would urge that if
they are looked at, that we consider past experiences, that we
learn from those lessons and weigh whatever the benefits are
against the cost to civilians.
Mr. Kinzinger. Thank you.
And, Madam Chair, there are 180,000 people that have died
in this conflict and, sadly, more to come that I would believe
if they could today would thank you for having this hearing. I
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much, sir. Thank you.
The chair recognizes herself for some other questions, if
that is okay. Mr. Deutch will later as well.
How much of your work is done primarily through middlemen
or through direct assistance? And if you use intermediaries,
what sort of vetting process do you have that--not that you can
guarantee that the aid will get to the right people, but how do
you manage that? Ms. Koppel.
Ms. Koppel. Madam Chairwoman, thank you for the question.
We have a ``do no harm'' approach under guiding humanitarian
principles, as we have said, of independence and impartiality.
Mercy Corps has been working inside Syria for the last almost 2
years, and while we did have some expatriate staff working
inside the country, as it became more dangerous, they have had
to withdraw. And our staff are entirely Mercy Corps staff, but
they are almost 100 percent Syrian, and so we work directly
Our reviews and the compliance and accountability that we
put in place with all of our employees is of the highest
standards. We ask, when we are working through these relief
committees and through community-based organizations, that they
provide us with a list of the most vulnerable people. We then
vet that list with them. We have Mercy Corps staff that are
there for at least 60 percent of the distributions that take
place. We then follow up after the distribution with a random
sampling of about 5 percent of the people who receive the aid
to ensure that in fact they were the ones who got it.
We have other standards in place such that if any check is
going to be signed, the person who made the--who issued the--
for example, if it was a purchase of some kind, that they are
not the one, then, who follows up to ensure that the money was
paid to the right vendor. There are three people who would be
involved in that, all of whom were not engaged in the initial
Following up after a distribution, we usually then have
every 3 to 4 months meetings with the civil society actors, the
relief committees to see how things are going, to get feedback
from them, and to ensure that we are able to adapt as we go.
We also make sure from the outset that our partners know
that we will not allow, if we have any sense and an inkling
that there is divergence of aid or the possibility of
divergence of aid, Mercy Corps will not work in that
neighborhood. So--and the other piece is that we do not
negotiate with any armed actors. So we are only working with
civilians and people from the community.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Very clear. Thank you.
Anyone else? Ms. Solberg and then Dr. Sahloul.
Ms. Solberg. Sure. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I would
just say in terms of our work in Syria, we are working through
partners, through local partners who we identify through a
process of referrals. We carry out very, very in-depth due
diligence processes, and, again, following our humanitarian
principles, and we do a lot of capacity building and working
hand in hand with those partners.
We also have developed third-party monitoring systems,
which, in fact, we are sharing with other humanitarian
organizations who are doing work in Syria as well, so we can
learn from each other and really also trying to strengthen the
coordination amongst the different organizations who are
working in Syria.
In terms of our refugee programming, we do direct
implementation ourselves as well as working with partners to
do--and a lot of that has to do with making sure we are
identifying the differing needs of women, men, boys and girls.
And we also enlist the--or give opportunities for Syrian
refugees to also volunteer and be participants in our
programming in our urban refugee centers.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Congratulations.
Ms. Wanek. Thank you. I just wanted to add in as well the
dynamic of speaking about Lebanon as well when we speak of this
crisis. Global Communities also strictly adheres to all the
U.S. legal and regulatory requirements to ensure that no
support is given to any organization or person that is in any
way connected to terrorism.
So some of the ways that we ensure this compliance would be
through the vetting of all organizations and individuals with
which we work through the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign
Assets Control, or OFAC, through the System for Award
Management, or SAM, and any U.N. sanction lists, as well as
being vigilant and following all executive orders and other
legal parameters that prohibit transactions with a provision to
aid to those associated with terrorism.
And I think it is important as well to note that we have
been working in Lebanon, for example, since 1997, and so being
very much present in the communities, having a community-based
approach very much makes it possible for us to rely on the deep
knowledge of the people that we work with to ensure that the
assistance that we are providing there goes exactly where we
want it to.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Very good. Thank you.
Dr. Sahloul. I just want to mention that the Syrian
American Medical Society, or SAMS, besides sending medical
missions, we have about 120 of our physicians who went into
medical missions in the last year or so, but we also send
medical supplies. In the United States, we have about 1,600
members who are members of the Syrian American healthcare
professionals, but we have regional offices in Turkey, Lebanon
and Jordan. For example, the Cuban American community sent
about 4 tons of medical supplies with our help. So we sent it--
we have an agreement with the Turkish Red Crescent, that they
will receive these supplies, they will put it on the border,
and then our network inside Syria will take the supplies and
distribute it to hospitals in Aleppo. We take pictures, we take
reports, we take--and our network also tracks the numbers of
patients who are benefited. And we have extensive reporting,
because we are responsible to our funders, to our donors and
also to the grantees. Some of them are United States aid, of
course, organizations. And we have several ways to make sure
that every piece of equipment or supply that is sent is also
reported and documented to our donors and to our funders.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you so much, Doctor.
Ms. Romero. Yes. Similar to our colleague organizations, we
have a mix of direct implementation. We also work with
ministries of health and education and their local offices, and
we work through partners. Where we have a history of working,
we are working with organizations that we have worked with for
a long time and ministries that we have worked with for a long
time, but we do have vetting and other standards for vendors
and for other partners that we work with, as well as evaluation
and monitoring mechanisms.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you to all of you.
Mr. Deutch. Thanks, Madam Chairman.
I wanted to get back to the broader funding issue. I am
appalled by the lack of response to the U.N. appeal. And a
number of you have spoken generally about the need to speak up
and push to ensure that others from around the globe are
meeting their obligations. Can you speak in--can you be more
direct? Where can we be the most helpful? Who should be doing
more? Who isn't? What is the rationale? How do we engage in
this in a way that will actually ensure that others do what
needs to be done in order to help address this dire situation?
Any of you. Yes, Ms. Wanek.
Ms. Wanek. I think an important tenet that we need to face
this with is to sort of understand that prevention is cheaper
than intervention, that very much we need to approach this as
these are just the types of issues that we can approach now to
provide the humanitarian assistance that is needed to be able
to somewhat stabilize what could really be a critical situation
out there between refugees and host communities. So, I mean, I
would continue to ask for you to put pressure on your
colleagues and on other governments to uphold their pledges.
Mr. Deutch. Okay.
Dr. Sahloul. A couple of comments. First of all, I just
want to make sure that we make sure that our administration
appreciates the effort that is done by the neighboring
countries, especially the Government of Turkey, because they
have spent $3 billion for refugees. The healthcare provided is
for free education. It is for free. It is a model country in
terms of hosting refugees. Of course, to some extent also the
same thing with the Government of Jordan and Lebanon and Iraq.
Lebanon probably is the most needy country among the four
neighboring countries in terms of Syria, because the scale of
the refugees and the fact that it has limited resources,
followed by Jordan.
I think we need leadership from our administration, because
the funders or the countries that are able to fund the
humanitarian assistance listen to what we have to say. So if we
pressure the Gulf countries, for example, and tell them, why
don't you increase your support, and they have done it before
when we asked them to do that, I think they will increase their
support; maybe not through the United Nations, because they are
hesitant to send supplies or assistance that will go through
the regime ways, but maybe through other NGO's.
Mr. Deutch. So just play that out a little bit, the
difference between funding through--funding through the NGO's
and governments and the U.N. What is--how best to engage the
countries? Look, it is the request was for $6.5 billion for
this year, right, and just over $1 billion has been pledged.
Now, the balance of that--you are not telling me the balance of
that--they haven't stepped to the--they haven't stepped to the
table with the balance of that, because they don't like where
the money is going?
Dr. Sahloul. Well, that is part of the issue, in my view,
that they feel that the assistance that is provided through the
United Nation agencies are going only through the regime-
controlled areas. I mean, I can tell you that you have people
died of starvation 10 minutes away from the United Nations
headquarters in Damascus, and when people hear these reports
and see the pictures of patients dying of starvation 10 minutes
away from the heart of Damascus and you have all of United
Nations agencies in the heart of Damascus, they will be
hesitant to support these operations. But they know, for
example, that other NGO's that are going through the borders
from Jordan or Turkey are able to reach any population, of
course, except for the population who are under complete siege;
that is very difficult to get to them. There are 250,000 people
who are under siege at this point.
Mr. Deutch. Ms. Romero, you had, I think, spoken, not as
directly as I hope you might now, about where we might exert
that pressure to be useful.
Ms. Romero. Yeah. I mean, I agree more pressure on the Gulf
probably makes sense, but I was just looking at the list in
front of me of who has funded and who hasn't. And, you know,
traditionally we have really kind of relied on Europe to kind
of step up and be the next big humanitarian donor. With the
crisis there, I think, unfortunately, we are in a place where
we are being expected to give a bit more, but some countries
have been less affected by the crisis there, you know, are
quite low, Norway, Finland, or going to further south out of
Europe, Australia hasn't given that much.
So I think, you know, we can look at some traditional
allies that have given generously to other crises and to other
parts of the world and really target our diplomatic pressure in
Mr. Deutch. And in the past, who has taken--who has taken
the lead in galvanizing the support for addressing other
Ms. Romero. I would say the U.S., the U.K. and ECHO, the
Mr. Deutch. Anyone else? All right.
I would appreciate it, if there are some specific
suggestions that you would be more comfortable making in a
different setting, I hope that you will feel free to reach out
to us, because there is such an enormous amount that needs to
be done, all of you, again, know better than anyone.
And, Madam Chairman, it is disheartening for us to have
these hearings as often as we have to, but the fact is that the
situation on the ground is only going to worsen, so I commend
you for calling this hearing and I appreciate the time.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, Mr. Deutch. And what was that
phrase that you used, the numbness, psychic----
Mr. Deutch. Psychic numbing.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Numbing.
Mr. Deutch. Is what----
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Yes. I think that what we see--because it
is sort of like a Whac-A-Mole foreign policy crises. We are
sending 80 boots on the ground to Nigeria, as well we should--
it is a terrible situation--but we move from crisis to crisis,
and we have forgotten what stirred our conscience just as
recently as this terrible situation, humanitarian crisis in
Syria, and now we are focused elsewhere, and it seems that we
do have some of that psychic numbing, but we can do better. We
must do better.
Thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your
testimony. Thank you to your organizations. Those caregivers,
those workers, what they do day in and day out, it is
inspiring. So thank you very much. And with that, this hearing
[Whereupon, at 3:48 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
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