Middle East humanitarian crisis will worsen, says Unicef chief

Agency says extremism and growing economic divide has created ‘perfect storm’

Boys stand by a wall in the old city of Aleppo in Syria. Unicef predicts by the end of 2015, the lives of over 8.6 million children across Syria will have been torn apart by violence and forced displacement. Photograph: Jalal Al-Mamo/Reuters

Boys stand by a wall in the old city of Aleppo in Syria. Unicef predicts by the end of 2015, the lives of over 8.6 million children across Syria will have been torn apart by violence and forced displacement. Photograph: Jalal Al-Mamo/Reuters

 

The humanitarian crisis in Syria and the Middle East and the growing number of African migrants making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean seeking asylum is only going to get worse in 2015, aid body Unicef said.

Peter Power, executive director of Unicef Ireland, said climate change, a rapidly increasing global population, the rise of extremism and the growing economic divide between North and South had combined to create “a perfect storm”.

“The refugee crisis this year is just a symptom or a manifestation of the geo-political tectonic plates that are moving around the world at the moment,” he said. “All of these factors are really coming together in an almost perfect storm that is going to play out, not just in 2015, but for many years to come where there may be a breaking point.”

The Syrian conflict, which was now recognised as the biggest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the second world war, was forcing millions of refugees to leave their homes in search of asylum, he said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Power said: “We have to deal with millions of people who have now left Syria and are leaving the Middle East, coming from the middle of Africa, the north of Africa, and making that incredibly treacherous journey into the European Union via Italy.

“I see that perhaps as being the biggest challenge both for Europe in terms of how it deals with it.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) announced in December that more than 200,000 people have died since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. At the beginning of 2014 the United Nations said it would stop updating its death toll due to concerns about accuracy.

However, in August 2014 the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reversed that decision and released a report saying 191,369 had died since the beginning of the conflict until April 2014.

Unicef predicts by the end of 2015, the lives of over 8.6 million children across Syria will have been torn apart by violence and forced displacement.

Meanwhile the Islamic State militant group, which has thrived on the Syrian conflict, continues to attract tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian recruits, as well as 15,000 foreigners from 80 countries, including Ireland, Britain, France, the US and the Russian Caucasus.

Mr Power says the Syrian conflict is only one of the handful of international humanitarian crises which exist in today’s global society, highlighting the rapid growth of extremism around the world.

“Only recently we saw over 100 children being killed in a school in Pakistan. You’ve got the rise of Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, extremism right throughout the world and political instability.

“I frankly cannot see any way out of the impasse that now prevails in the Middle East... I have to say I’m pessimistic because I think we’re now in a momentum of political instability around the world.”

On Christmas Eve the United Nations released a statement highlighting the conflict, disease, human rights abuses and food insecurity that had combined to make 2014 a year marked by “untold human misery”.

“From the rise of violent extremism to the spread of Ebola, from war in Gaza to unrest in Ukraine, UN peacekeeping, diplomacy and humanitarian capabilities were pushed to the limit,” it wrote.

However, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon remained optimistic in his speech marking Human Solidarity Day on December 20th when he highlighted the importance of the 2015 sustainable development agenda which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals.

“The new agenda will centre on people and planet,” he said. “It will be built on a foundation of global cooperation and solidarity.”

“Only through collective action can we address such far reaching issues as poverty and growing inequality, climate change, chronic poverty, and major health challenges such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.”

Next year also marks 2015’s European Year for Development which will urge people around Ireland and the rest of the EU to spread awareness of global humanitarian issues such as poverty, inequality and climate change.

While the UN meets to agree on the new sustainable development framework in September 2015, and world leaders meet in Paris to set new climate action targets in December 2015, a series of projects will be rolled out to encourage EU citizens to play a role in influencing and improving our global society.