Thank you to all of the committee members for inviting me here today.
As you have introduced my colleagues, I will go straight to my presentation.
I think it is quite timely that this committee is meeting to talk about Syria today given that, as you know, over the weekend the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2139 calling for additional access for humanitarian workers in Syria.
We welcome the agreement among the UN Security Council members and the unanimous adoption of the resolution, which we hope will facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people who are bearing the brunt of the humanitarian situation. In particular we welcome the UN Secretary-General's recognition of the critical role of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, as he indicated in his Security Council meeting.
I'm sure the members are aware, but this is just a little footnote on the Red Cross movement. There is a lot of reference to the Red Cross movement. There are essentially three components of the Red Cross movement. There are 189 national societies of the Red Cross or Red Crescent. The Red Crescent is the Red Cross in many of the Muslim countries, but not exclusively as some do adopt the Red Cross. There is the international federation of these national societies, and there is the International Committee of the Red Cross. So this is the Red Cross family.
I have three main points I would like to leave you with today. First is the critical role played by a national Red Cross society, and, in this case, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. It is of fundamental importance that we not only fund their operations but also support their institutional development so they are able to effectively respond to the crisis and emergencies, within Syria in this case.
Second is the critical humanitarian consequence of conflict, including the inability of civilians to access humanitarian assistance, as well as the need for access and the protection of humanitarian work.
Third is the work of the Red Cross movement as a whole in Syria and in neighbouring countries, which is currently our largest operation globally.
I'd like to start by providing some observations from my time in the Middle East and my meetings with leaders of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The situation, of course, for people within Syria and for Syrian refugees is very, very serious. I can only imagine the suffering that has continued through these past winter months. In Lebanon there is little infrastructure to receive refugees. Syrians have been living in makeshift dwellings without proper sanitation systems or basic hygiene. As no new camps are being built in Lebanon, the situation for people is extremely precarious. Given its lack of basic structures, I felt almost as though I was visiting an area that had just been devastated by an earthquake. In some cases it looked similar to Haiti after the earthquake in terms of the conditions of people living there.
In Jordan and Turkey the situation was more livable for refugees as camps are being constructed and services are being provided. The Turkish Red Crescent has provided comprehensive support to Syrian refugees including relief, shelter, sanitation, and hygiene promotion to those camps and elsewhere. However, make no mistake that the medium- to long-term perspective is bleak. The possibilities of returning home or moving elsewhere for refugees are extremely limited.
At the core of the Red Cross are the mandate and responsibility to protect and assist victims of conflict. Hostilities can escalate without warning, and in the face of such unpredictable emergencies, the Red Cross attaches great importance to its ability to respond rapidly. This does not happen overnight. Our ability to respond quickly to crises such as the one in Syria is the result of many years of work and investment.
The conflict raging in Syria is one of the most violent in recent memory. Virtually the entire population suffers as a direct consequence of the conflict in one way or another. In violence-stricken areas, the breakdown of essential services such as electricity, water supply, and garbage collection and the destruction of health facilities have added to the misery. Many people struggle to make it through the day because of intense fighting and a severely weakened economy, and they are completely dependent on the generosity of fellow Syrians or on humanitarian aid.
Three years into the crisis, the situation is grim. While bullets and mortars have devastating effects on individuals and infrastructure, they also leave behind institutional failure, the knock-on effects of which are tremendous. To the point, public services have broken down under the pressure of large-scale displacements, and vast sections of the population have no access to suitable health care.
Not only are the wounded not being cared for properly, vaccination rates have dropped, and the chronically ill are not receiving the necessary treatments and medicines that are extremely scarce.
The long-term consequences are predictable: rising rates of mortality, the re-emergence of certain diseases, and permanent disability for tens of thousands. Food production is down, prices continue to rise, and more and more people are coming to depend on emergency food aid. People's ability to make a living, personal resources, and coping mechanisms have been depleted. Millions of displaced people are living in temporary shelters, and children have stopped going to school.
The extraordinary fact is that in the midst of this crisis, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is reaching close to 3.5 million people each month. This is only possible because of the presence of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, an organization that has built and continues to support an effective network of volunteers who are risking their lives to deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians on a daily basis. In this sense SARC is a telling story of local resilience that all national Red Cross organizations tell in this case. It's about Syrians helping Syrians.
However the tragic reality is that even in these heroic efforts, the majority of humanitarian needs in Syria are not being met. There are as many as 9.5 million people desperately in need in Syria right now. Clearly the humanitarian situation is worsening. Aid efforts need to be expanded to reach beyond the internally displaced population and there are growing needs among civilians who are still in their homes but without any means of support.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent itself was created in 1942. In the last decade alone, they have provided humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. They are a very capable, well-respected humanitarian organization that is being tested every day by a civil war that has been raging in their country for three years. To date one of the more touching statistics regarding the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is that over 34 of their volunteers and staff have been killed in the conflict in providing humanitarian assistance. So you see the challenge there about access. This is within Syria, this is the main organization delivering aid in Syria, but that has been doing it at a very heavy risk. The ability to carry out its work is due to the fact that it's a strong national society to begin with and it's often said that the Red Cross is quick to respond. But the reality is that the response capacity is directly linked to the ability to invest in building local resilient institutions and not only funding emergency operations. And this kind of advanced planning and investment makes us able to mobilize quickly in an emergency situation, be it a flood, an earthquake, or in the case of Syria, a conflict of unprecedented consequences.
Our capacity to ramp up quickly in emergencies is contingent on our partnerships and investments. A significant challenge is associated with the provision of this aid, and I will elaborate on this shortly. Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers continue to provide urgent assistance to those affected by the conflict and in need, including distributions on behalf of the UN agencies. So the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is the main distribution group of the Red Cross movement of course, but also for the UN agencies as well. In more concrete terms, this aid translates to, among other things, food assistance to 3.5 million people per month, essential household items to over 2.2 million people, and water and sanitation to 20 million people. Additionally, thanks to the contribution from the Canadian government and Canadian donors, Canada has supported effective humanitarian action through the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. We've also deployed several international humanitarian workers to assist in their effort.
However much more help is needed to meet the vastly unmet humanitarian needs. The reality is that the effectiveness of our response in Syria is under constant threat, owing to the complexity of the context and shifting political and social dynamics. Because of the way the movement works, we're able to operate across front lines, with both government forces and various armed opposition groups in Syria. The Red Cross movement has access, but not at all times because of constraints such as intensified fighting in urban and rural areas, the deteriorating security situation, and the growing number of administrative and bureaucratic obstacles.
I've talked about the importance of the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, staff, and other humanitarian workers. It's critical that they have unimpeded and immediate access to those in need and that medical and humanitarian personnel, facilities, and transport are respected and protected.
Support for the neutral and impartial delivery of humanitarian aid on the ground is essential and the Canadian Red Cross would also like to acknowledge the Government of Canada for calling on all parties to the conflict to provide to provide full, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian actors.
Let me now briefly turn to the situation in neighbouring countries, which also have been affected by this conflict. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been providing much-needed support in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. The humanitarian crisis in Syria is increasing the fragility of these states. It is important that humanitarian operations continue to be funded but also that the local humanitarian institutions be reinforced by providing core investments. These institutions can help provide a minimum of stability through the delivery of neutral and impartial aid to those who are most in need.
This is basically the same point I'm making with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The Lebanese Red Cross is a strong institution in Lebanon as well. Again, it's important that we support their core capacity, not just the capacity in humanitarian conflict. I've talked about the 34 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers and staff killed. They were killed while they were under the protection of the Red Crescent, which gives them protection under international humanitarian law. This is the difficult choice in terms of providing humanitarian aid, and they have to make the critical decision before going into or accessing a city where their staff or volunteers may be shot at or killed. Notwithstanding that, they continue to recruit hundreds of volunteers every day in Syria. This is an important institution at this present time in Syria but it will be an important institution after the conflict as well.
In order to expand and to continue our work, first we call for the protection of humanitarian workers, staff, and volunteers and access to humanitarian assistance for civilians of the conflict and the war. We ask you to continue to provide financial support to the Red Cross movement so we can continue this vital humanitarian effort. On this note, it's important to remain flexible as the situation remains extremely fluid. As we commit dollars to these efforts we need to be reminded all the time that the situation can change quite rapidly. Although the needs remain the same, the place where that need might be required could change.
I want to thank you again for this opportunity to speak to you.
I look forward to your questions.
My colleagues and I are ready to answer.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank you, Mr. Chair, and the distinguished members of the committee, for the invitation to speak to you today about the situation in Syria and in the region.
I am going to make my presentation in English, but I can answer questions in French.
I returned from Lebanon and Jordan on the weekend so the situation is very fresh in mind, and I'll speak to some of the key issues that I observed during my visit as well as some of the issues we've been monitoring over the last three years.
As Conrad noted, currently some 9.5 million people inside Syria are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and some 2.4 million more refugees are now displaced into neighbouring countries. Over 130,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed since the start of the conflict with millions more deprived of basic services, livelihoods, safety, and security. The Syrian crisis represents the largest and most devastating humanitarian crisis of its kind in recent years with refugee numbers surpassing those at the peak of the Rwandan genocide. In the face of these staggering numbers we have a collective duty to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of those affected.
CARE is a non-governmental organization working across humanitarian assistance, recovery, and development in 80 countries with a focus on women's empowerment and gender equality. CARE's response to the Syria crisis has reached more than 356,000 beneficiaries in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen. We're focusing on supporting both host communities and refugees living in urban and rural areas, by providing cash assistance, water hygiene and sanitation support, shelter, food aid, and psychosocial assistance.
Last year, CARE, along with other members of Canada's Humanitarian Coalition, launched a joint appeal that raised approximately half a million dollars. While Canadians who responded to our appeal were very generous, the number of Canadians who made donations was significantly lower than what we see in cases of crises caused by natural disasters. Experience has taught us to expect this discrepancy but it means that the responsibility for financing the humanitarian response will continue to lie heavily on government. To date, CARE has benefited from the generous support of the Government of Canada in support of our operations in the region for a total of $5.2 million, and we are incredibly grateful for this support that allows us to respond to the refugee needs in the region.
I'll speak to three key issues for your urgent attention, and they are: first, the situation of refugees in urban areas and their host communities; second, the importance of self-reliance and livelihoods for Syrian refugees; and third, the specific needs of women and girls affected by this crisis.
To begin, an estimated 83% of Syrian refugees are currently living outside of refugee camps, dispersed across cities and smaller communities throughout the region and mostly living in host communities. In Lebanon, more than 800,000 refugees are now registered with the UNHCR. With a total population of some four million people, this represents a huge number of refugees and is placing important pressure on basic services, schools, rental accommodation, and even the local economy.
In neighbouring Jordan, they now host close to 600,000 registered refugees, representing 10% of the total population. In some areas, refugees represent as much as 50% of the local community. For example, last week I was in Mafraq in northern Jordan where CARE is providing urgent humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees and their host communities with Government of Canada support. CARE staff told me that the city had a population of 85,000 people before the crisis and now hosts more than 85,000 refugees. As you can imagine, this is causing rent to skyrocket. It's putting pressure on local schools, water, sewage, waste management, and even on low-skilled jobs in the informal economy. Many schools are now reporting class sizes of 50 students per class even where schools have introduced a second shift for Syrian refugees.
Recognizing this important dynamic, CARE is not only providing humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees, but is also supporting host communities in Jordan and Lebanon. In Jordan, some 30% of our programming targets vulnerable Jordanians from the host community who are also impacted by this emergency. Continued funding in support of humanitarian efforts assisting both refugees and their host communities will be fundamental to ensuring Syrians continue to have access to asylum and protection in the region.
Second, life-saving humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees continues to be urgently needed with only 13% of the regional refugee response plan funded to date. This has left significant unmet needs across the region.
We must recognize that this crisis is protracted and that refugees are unlikely to be able to return home in safety and with dignity in the near future. To this end we must continue to ensure sufficient funding is made available to meet the urgent needs of the most vulnerable with continued support for NGOs, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and UN agencies.
During my recent visit to Lebanon and Jordan, I met countless families who had lost everything. One mother told me that when they left Syria they thought they would only be in Jordan for a few weeks. Now, two years later, she says she's not sure if she'll ever be able to go home. She's depleted all of her savings, and without a source of income her family is unable to meet their basic needs from one day to the next.
Many families indicated that they're sending young children between the ages of 12 and 16 into the streets in search of informal work in the informal economy in order to meet household needs. With some 65% of children out of school in Jordan alone, the conflict is in the process of compromising the future and prosperity of an entire generation.
Recognizing these challenges, CARE believes that we must ensure that our interventions are increasingly focused on promoting livelihoods, education, and training. The goal is to empower those affected by the crisis and ensure that families continue to develop and maintain skills while in exile to prepare them for solutions, be it voluntary return, be it resettlement to third countries like Canada, or be it local integration where they currently live. This will need to take place alongside programs to address the concerns of host communities regarding the impact of refugees on the local labour market and the local economy.
Finally, I'd like to speak to the specific needs of women and girls affected by this crisis who are often at particular risk due to family separation, lack of basic structural and social protections, and limited availability of safe access to services.
There is a tendency to think that once a woman has crossed a border she is now safe. However, women often face a different kind of violence once they become refugees. CARE has noted with particular concern that families are reporting an increase in the early marriage of girls, which is being used as a coping mechanism by families with the hope of better protecting girls in the absence of male family members, or with the view to lessening the financial burden on the household.
Families are also increasingly keeping girls out of school due to the perceived risks involved in travelling to school and the need for girls to help with household duties at home.
Single female-headed households reportedly struggle to find rental accommodation as landlords are reluctant to rent to an unaccompanied woman because she is perceived to be unable to pay the rent.
Other refugee women have indicated that with increasing financial pressure, unemployment, lack of livelihood opportunities, and pressure on male heads of family, they are facing increased intimate partner violence at home.
In addition, women and girls have specific needs that are not always well addressed by traditional humanitarian assistance. With the view to meeting these specific needs of women and girls, CARE is distributing hygiene kits to women and girls, which include sanitary materials and diapers for babies under the age of two.
During my recent visit, I met women who were collecting these kits, often with a newborn baby on their hip and a small child in tow. They emphasized how important diapers were, as they can be an unaffordable luxury under the current circumstances.
To conclude, as the third-year anniversary of the Syrian conflict approaches, we must recognize that this is a protracted crisis and we need to start thinking about durable solutions for refugees, for their host communities, and for those trapped inside Syria. No one organization can meet the massive needs alone. We will need to work together as NGOs, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, donors, host governments, and UN agencies if we're going to be able to meet the basic and urgent needs of the rising number of refugees.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
I am honoured to be here today on behalf of the International Republican Institute. We thank the committee for its kind invitation to speak about our work in Syria, and are grateful for this opportunity to share our insights.
Mr. Chairman, tragedy is really the only word that adequately describes the situation in Syria. With a bitter sectarian war now in its third year, jihadist fighters in the ascendancy, and no end to the killing in sight, the conditions could hardly be worse. According to the United Nations, 9.3 million Syrians, or 44% of the population, need assistance; 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced. Nearly 2.5 million refugees are dispersed throughout the Middle East in tent camps, abandoned buildings, or other makeshift conditions. The latest estimate is that more than 140,000 people have been killed in this conflict. Sadly, the international community has proven largely ineffective in this crisis. No wonder Syrians have little faith in the Geneva negotiations; they have failed to reduce the violence, let alone produce a political solution.
As the civil war has become steadily more sectarian, it has polarized the conflict inside Syria and is having a destabilizing effect outside the country's borders, most notably in Lebanon and Iraq. Equally troubling is the new generation of jihadist converts the Syrian conflict is producing, converts with battle-hardened fighting experience. The intelligence community estimates there are between 75,000 and 115,000 fighters in Syria, including more than 20,000 affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda affiliate. All told, there are up to 11,000 individuals from 74 outside nations fighting in Syria. Most of these extremists come from elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. We haven't even begun to understand the long-term impact of their eventual return home and the destabilizing effect they may well have on their countries of origin.
The security vacuum left in Syria has allowed al-Qaeda to establish a new geographic base of operations on the borders of key western allies like Israel, Jordan, and NATO-member Turkey. In short, I cannot think of a more urgent crisis in the world today. If the war goes on for another year or two or three, one is hard-pressed to adequately capture the immense human suffering that will be left in its wake.
As for IRI, we are a non-partisan, non-profit organization that was founded in 1983 along with our sister organization, the National Democratic Institute. Our mission is to advance freedom and democracy internationally by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, democratic governance, and the rule of law. We currently work in over 80 countries and maintain offices in more than 30.
IRI empowers men and women working to bring liberty to their lands. We know that they, not IRI, will make their countries free, but as many we have worked with will attest, IRI can help. IRI does not export or implant western democracy. We understand that nations will adopt and adapt democratic methods to fit their own unique historical experiences and culture. It's for this reason that we offer global experiences and knowledge. This has included sharing the Canadian experience through a number of highly qualified IRI staff who call this great country home and a number of election observers who have come from this country, including members of Parliament.
With the terrible situation I've described in Syria, you might think a democracy NGO like ours has no place in the midst of a civil war, however our Syrian program is one of our most active in the entire region. Often at great risk to themselves, the Syrians we work with consistently tell us they want and need our partnership. We have found that there's a strong constituency for democracy inside Syria, but one that is under extreme pressure and deserving of more support.
IRI currently helps in four ways. First, a schools of politics program provides political know-how to grassroots moderate leaders, those who oppose both the Assad regime and radical Islamists. We help them build strong political and civic movements. Second, a democratic governance program helps improve the ability of local councils in opposition-held areas to inform citizens of their important work and to work together in a unified way.
Third is our efforts to build the credentials of women leaders in Syria so that when the “day after” comes, there will be a broad network of women who take part in decision-making. Fourth, we support the Syrian Youth Congress to encourage collaboration among student and youth groups.
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to focus briefly on our work with Syrian women, a demographic that has been disproportionately impacted in this conflict. IRI's Women's Democracy Network has trained and supported nearly 500 Syrian women, first by providing tools to ensure that women's equality and rights are enshrined in all levels of transition decision-making, and, second, by building the skills of local women to initiate peace-building and reconciliation efforts. These efforts have led to the development of the Syrian Women's Network, a unified umbrella organization committed to ensuring that women have a place at decision-making tables. SWN coalesces women from opposition and citizen movements that represent a cross-section of Syrians. Currently, SWN is actively campaigning for the release of detainees by raising awareness about the number of detainees, as well as their specific locations. SWN representatives have taken this cause to Geneva several times, and plan to continue utilizing every opportunity to engage decision-makers on this issue.
At the local level, women-led peace-building circles, trained by IRI, exist in eight of 14 provinces. They are another effort to promote women's inclusion in local and provincial decision-making. In a Damascus suburb, for example, a women-led peace circle negotiated and achieved a 20-day ceasefire. WDN also initiated a hotline to Geneva to connect Syrian women with international negotiation and mediation experts.
The goal of IRI's Syria programs is to help emerging leaders represent the needs of Syria's moderate middle, the plurality that subscribes neither to the regime's propaganda, nor radical Islamism. It also ensures that marginalized groups, especially women and youth, can participate fully in decision-making. Many of our Syrian partners have come to view IRI as a lifeline to the outside world. They literally risk their lives to take part in our programs, but they do so because they believe we can help their voices be heard.
Canada has already made a major contribution to Syria's future through its generous $353.5 million contribution to humanitarian assistance, as well as assistance on security and development. Yet, as we would all agree, more help is needed. IRI has several recommendations.
The international community provides extensive humanitarian assistance, but it must do more to recognize the importance of the day after. We must help prepare Syrians who do not aspire to the world view of al-Qaeda and other extremists by providing the skills and resources moderates need to positively impact Syria's transition.
Going forward, to further build the foundations conducive to a democratic Syria, we believe support for local and provincial councils should be increased. These councils can serve as working models of democratic governance in areas outside the regime's control.
As a bulwark against jihadist recruitment, we think efforts in teaching democratic values to young Syrians should be strengthened. We also think additional support for inclusive peace-building is needed so that equal opportunities are presented to all Syrians, especially women, to take part in rebuilding their country.
IRI's chairman, Senator John McCain, recently noted that, “The Assad regime has accelerated its attacks against the Syrian people with more Syrians killed in the three weeks since peace talks began than at any other time during the conflict.”
Mr. Chairman, a negotiated settlement at this point is as elusive a prospect as ever, but it does not preclude efforts to develop democratic values and institutions that are worthy and necessary. We need to give the moderate opposition a better chance to succeed on the day after Assad. At IRI, we believe the best way to achieve this is additional support for democratic governance in the areas outside the regime's grip.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I want to thank you for this opportunity and for your attention, and I look forward to any questions you may have. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for the invitation.
I'm very happy you were all privy to the testimony of the humanitarian organizations first and foremost, because that's the most important element in understanding Syria. We've heard a lot of numbers, but the few numbers I haven't heard, I have to reiterate. I hope you don't mind. Of that 130,000, there are 11,000 children who have been killed by this conflict. We have six million internally displaced within Syria. What does that mean? That means they're living outside, in parks, in schools, in backyards. Families of about 40 people are crammed into a single apartment. It is a catastrophe and it continues. These three years have been very hard on the Syrian people, so I appreciate that must be first and foremost on everyone's mind.
If I may, I'd like to talk a little about the dynamics on the ground because it's also very important to know where things stand. The Syrian army is still very much in control of the centre and western parts of the country, they have been refreshed with ground troops from Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Free Syrian Army, which the west hoped was to be the secular army that we could support, so to speak, has been in control of parts of the south and most of the north. That said, as Mr. Green has noted, we've seen the encroachment of two new actors, particularly the ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq, as well as the Islamic Front, which have taken over the eastern part of the country. Both ISIS and IF, one has to point out, are not al-Qaeda, and this is really important. ISIS is perhaps, let's call it an affiliate or has affinity to al-Qaeda. Islamic Front, which is the much larger group, does not and does not pledge allegiance. That's not to say they are the most open-minded people, they are still very much Salafist conservatives, but if they want to grow their beards and have their pants short, that's up to them. The point is, they're not a threat to the west, and I want to point that out.
The Kurds are in control of the northeast. And as was pointed out earlier, based on some of the assessments to you all as noted by Professor Landis a few weeks ago, he did raise concerns about the Kurds. They have gained a lot of autonomy, they are set to claim some sort of autonomy, and I'm going to talk about the consequences on the region, because that's an important part of the fallout of what will happen with Syria. Although I disagree with Landis on this point, the rest of the country is not up to be fragmented. The rest of the country is not homogeneous and is pretty heterogeneous. Look at cities like Hama and Homs. All major religious, ethnic, and sectarian groups are represented. It's not easily divisible per se.
In addition to that, I would like to talk a little about the Free Syrian Army, which, as I said, was our hope; they have been shortchanged. Senator McCain has brought this up, and he's absolutely right. We have shortchanged them in terms of weaponry, while the Syrian army continues to be replenished by the Russians, by intelligence from Iran, particularly its Revolutionary Guard. I have to point out this is not against any international law. Because there is no UN Security Council resolution to prevent them from doing so, the Russians are allowed by international law to continuously replenish the Syrian regime with arms. ISIS and IF have been getting some weapons, much of this is private through individual donors from the Gulf. Some Gulf countries are directly supporting these two factions, but a lot of this is private money. In some cases it is almost a competition between ISIS and IF for the most gruesome videos as a way to get paid by their paymasters. So this is also blazing a new fight online to get donors, and often these donors have very radical views themselves.
The situation of the neighbourhood is something that those who testified noted, and it needs to be pointed out. Lebanon is the size of Connecticut; it has taken the influx of a population that's about 20% to 30% of its own. Lebanon is extremely fractured, it underwent its own sectarian and civil war, very similar to the fault lines we see in Syria. They refuse camps, we did not hear this in the earlier panel. They refuse to have camps, they do not want to have a permanent fifth column based in their country. So we're seeing the craziest things. Many Syrians are not allowed to create four walls because that creates a camp. So we're seeing teepees created throughout Lebanon to circumvent the rules of creating a camp. There are plenty of camps, they're just squalid slums. They're not organized camps as we see in other parts of the region.
Jordan, one of our free trade partners, has taken on more refugees than it has citizens in some cities, as has been pointed out. Putting this into the bigger context of Jordan I have to point out that it's still a catastrophe. Syrian refugees today account for 10% to 20% of the population. Why is there this range? We have everything, from those who have been accounted for, who have been documented by the UNHCR, to many who are making their way through undocumented, crossing through a very porous border, but most importantly, they are not reporting to the UNHCR. They must do this voluntarily to be identified as a Syrian refugee. We're not getting all the numbers. Palestinians still account for 50% or more of the population. Do the math and that means Jordanians are the minority in their country.
What does this mean for Jordan and Lebanon? These are two very taxed economies in the sense that they are very much under high public debt. As you can see, the influx of all this labour that's undercutting local wages means that we have high unemployment. We have inflation because the price of everything has gone up, from food to rent, to all basic goods and services. These countries are both under IMF loans today. That's just an example of how stressed they are.
I'll talk about their political situation because that can't be ignored. Iraq has taken about 500,000 refugees, 98% of whom are Kurdish. They are not feeling nearly the same kinds of challenges partly because they are going into Kurdish communities and they don't have a financial burden per se. Nevertheless, it only strengthens what we're going to see as the resolve of the Kurdish people in Iraq to eventually call for their autonomy, which I will talk about.
In Turkey, 300,000 are in camps and 700,000 are outside of camps. Turkey felt very strong financially three years ago. It had a current account surplus. I don't know if you are watching the financial news but Turkey is in a huge crisis today. It's become an enormous financial burden. The southern part of Turkey is facing the same kinds of issues that we see in Jordan and in Lebanon, i.e., high unemployment, inflation, and very much a sense of resentment. I have to point out that all these countries have been so gracious. The local people have been gracious to the refugees in bringing them into their home in many cases but three years is a lot to expect of anyone. Keep that in mind. These are really welcoming societies that have been so giving but it's been very taxing.
What's the worst-case scenario? I hope we recognize that Syria is not just imploding, it's exploding. If we start thinking about it exploding, the status quo is just not acceptable. Lebanon, as I pointed out, has these fault lines of sectarianism. We've already seen the result of that, which is tit-for-tat bombing. The city of Tripoli, for example, has some of the most awful kinds of fault lines. Literally, there is a street, which, ironically, is called Syria Street. It is now a battle zone. If you cross that street from one to another community you will be killed by sniper fire. That will not end well. The country is slowly on its way to a political collapse. Add to that the economic burden. Jordan is also facing this. The Jordanian population that is native to the country is sick and tired of being the hotel, if you will, for all these international refugees from Palestine, from Iraq, and now from Syria. They are calling on their government and their king for an enormous number of reforms that not only include liberalization, which I would encourage, but more importantly eliminating some of the rights given to some of the other minority groups there. That is not a healthy situation. Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq, is one of the most enormously successful economic beacons of Middle East prosperity, and it really needs to be encouraged. It is sick and tired of being attached to a dead weight. That's the rest of Iraq today; the central government is a mess, the rest of the country is a mess, and it would only take time for Iraqi Kurdistan to ask for independence.
When do we watch for this? This April we will have presidential elections in Iraq, which I think are going to be very important. Chances are the Malaki government has been continuing its grip on much of the country, and corruption is at an all-time high. Why does this matter for Syria? He's taken this out on the province of Anbar, which has been taken over by ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. They have an affinity for each other. Now he is asking the Americans to give them as much weaponry as possible to blast Anbar away. I can tell you there is going to be a lot of blowback. If anybody remembers anything about Iraq, Anbar province does not go down quietly.
How can Canada help? Global resettlement. We need to come to terms with the reality that this is a refugee crisis that is not going away. People are not going to go back. How can you know? It's simple. Just look at the aerial pictures that we've seen of Syria today. There are no homes to go back to in many of these rebel areas.
So for parts of Dara'a, in the southern part of Syria—much of the Zaatari camp in Jordan today has many of its people—there is no Dara'a to return to. There needs to be a real global international refugee resettlement, and Canada can help. Canada has claimed that they will take 1,600. Only 200 have come. That is a pitiful amount.
I have to point out.... I have written a book on this, so please bear with me here. The Syrian immigrants who came to this country in the 1800s built parts of Montreal. They are an important fabric of this society. We have maybe 100,000 Syrian Canadians who have businesses, who are open and wanting—I meet many of them in my day-to-day interactions—and who say, “Please, how can I bring my family?” They say, “I do not want a thing from the Canadian government. I just want to bring them here.” We need to start seriously thinking about that and to open our arms, as we did so many times to many immigrants throughout the world.
We need to open our doors to students. That's the best dollar that you can invest in public diplomacy. I've tried to work with an agency called Jusoor to try to get some recognition in my university for Syrian students. It's such an uphill battle. Basically, we need to have a million dollars in a bank account for our university to accept a foreign student. That's unacceptable. We need to do something about that. Again, it's the best form of public diplomacy you could ever invest in.
We need to expedite applications for skilled labour and for family reunification. We need to support the human corridor. I disagree with the previous panel. I think this is unfortunately an important reality. If we want to alleviate the stress on the neighbours that Syria has...we need to start making the Syrian government responsible for the territory that it is going to have to give up for those refugees. Let's not forget that the Syrian regime is very happy to basically kill another 21 million people to stay in power. That's the essence of the problem.
Finally, if we're going to do some things that I think are useful, we need to have the doubling, the matching funds. It is a signal that our government cares. It's not just about the dollars earned. It's to say that, yes, we care. If you just put the numbers on the map, it's absolutely vital that we think about that.
I just came back from Washington recently, where I was looking at how we, as a civil society, can support counter-narratives against hate speech. We need to invest in this. There is an enormous amount of sectarian hatred in the Syrian Canadian community, in the Syrian community writ large. It has spilled over into the Arab community. We can invest money. There are some fantastic programs, which I'd love to talk to people about if they're interested, on how to support counter-narratives to counteract all that awful hate speech, that sectarianism that's brewing in the region today as a result of political dynamics, not as a result of people who have not been able to coexist. Quite the contrary, they've coexisted very nicely for thousands of years.