Haley wants UN to shift aid focus to nations hosting Syrians

President Donald Trump’s UN ambassador called Monday for the UN and aid agencies to shift focus in how they support Syrians in need by boosting support for roads, schools and hospitals in neighboring countries that have been overwhelmed by millions of refugees.

Speaking in Jordan, host to some 660,000 Syrian refugees, Nikki Haley argued that lack of coordination among aid agencies has led duplicated efforts and inefficiencies after seven years of civil war in the Arab country. She drew a distinction between short-term humanitarian aid — like food and health supplies — and development assistance that allows countries to boost their infrastructure to accommodate the conflict’s uprooted civilians.

“You’ve got a lot of different organizations trying to do the same thing,” Haley said. “The humanitarian organizations don’t need to get into the development business. They need to do what they’re good at, and that’s the humanitarian role. We need to bring in the development organizations more.”

Haley, who is touring refugee camps and cross-border aid missions on a trip to Jordan and Turkey, said she planned to work on changing the situation when she returns, starting at a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. She said she would press countries to provide more money directly to Jordan, rather than funneling it through aid organizations.

The ambassador’s call for reform reflected the unpleasant reality that after years of bloodshed, Syria’s civil war shows few signs of ending. Neighboring countries that have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis had hoped the situation would be temporary and that peace would allow Syrians to return home. Now these governments are confronting the possibility of hosting hundreds of thousands people for the extended future and what that would mean for strained health care and education systems, and transportation and electric grids.

“We don’t know how long this conflict’s going to last,” Haley said before flying to Turkey. “What we do know is that whether it’s Jordan, whether it’s Turkey, the sustainability of the situation as it is should keep evolving.”

Some 5 million Syrian refugees are living in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, countries whose infrastructure needed improvement even before the influx. Unlike in Africa and other parts of the world that have experience refugee crises, the vast majority of Syrian refugees aren’t living in refugee camps but among the citizenry of host countries.

That’s a positive development, aid groups have said, because it means resources devoted to helping refugees can benefit broader populations as well. Still, host countries are often wary of integrating refugees into their workforce, schools and cities, fearful of creating conditions that would lead the refugees to stay for good.

Haley, who met Syrian refugees in Jordan and discussed the issue with King Abdullah II, appeared to adopt Jordan’s argument for greater infrastructure funding. Jordan has long insisted that as a host for Syrian refugees who would otherwise continue on to Europe or elsewhere, the least the international community can do is contribute generously.

Haley said she’d be “pushing for bilateral support from other countries to help support Jordan in this process,” and possibly in Turkey, too.

Before departing the Jordanian capital, Haley floated the possibility of three-way Syria talks involving the US, Russia and Jordan. Russia supports Syria’s government, and the US and Jordan have backed anti-government rebels. But Washington and Moscow have strived for years to resolve the crisis diplomatically. Jordan has participated in some of those efforts.

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