Friday, August 19, 2016

The Guardian view on Syrian civilian casualties: Omran Daqneesh – a child of war

It is a heartbreaking image that ought to bring the combatants to the peace table. It won’t, but at least Britain can do its small bit for the lone child refugees

Guardian Editorial


Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy from Aleppo, sits in the ambulance bloody and dusty. His legs stick out in front of him, too short to reach over the edge of his seat. Beneath the thick dark hair, his eyes are blank. It is the face of a child in trauma. The image provokes such a visceral reaction that it feels uncomfortable, even exploitative.
Almost exactly a year ago, another picture of a small child, also a victim of Syria’s civil war, dismayed public opinion around the world. The picture of Alan Kurdi’s small body, face down on the Turkish beach, drowned when the boat on which he and his family were trying to reach Europe capsized, personalised the great human tragedy of Syria. For a few weeks, people reached deeper into their pockets to support aid agencies working in Syria, and read the news a little more closely.
But Syria is not responding to normal international pressures. The war is fought with a callous disregard for humanitarian conventions that is almost unprecedented in modern times. And, it often seems, it is fought without any sense of a future in which the combatants might be held to account for their actions. The UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, appointed after two predecessors gave it up as a hopeless task, seems to convene meetings with an elegant futility. Today (by one of the grim little ironies of timing, tomorrow is World Humanitarian Day) was the weekly meeting in Geneva of the humanitarian taskforce. Mr De Mistura was so frustrated that not a single aid convoy had managed to reach besieged areas of Syria since the start of August that he suspended the meeting after a mere eight minutes “as a sign of deep unhappiness”. The Russian military has subsequently said it will back the possibility of 48-hour aid-enabling ceasefires that he mooted if convoys travel to both rebel- and government-controlled parts of the city; the UN envoy says he will count on the international backers of both Syrian forces and the armed opposition to hold them to the plan.
It is hard to be optimistic. Though Russian airstrikes seemed to stop for short periods last week, the pauses were much too brief to allow deliveries. As Mr De Mistura admitted, any progress will take some heavy lifting by Russia and the US, which neither side appears willing or able to do. The UN says this is a war fought with an unparalleled degree of cynicism, by parties that refuse to engage in any meaningful way with attempts to pursue a peace process. When the envoy took over two years ago, he observed that both the government and rebels thought they could win, and they still do. They regard any successful aid delivery to civilians in territory held by opposing forces as a potential weakening of their own position. No party to this conflict has avoided serious human rights violations, though the regime is responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths.
Mr De Mistura, whose career has mainly been in finding innovative routes to get aid into even the most fraught and difficult places, appears defeated. Every proposal that may have had some success in the past to bring a degree of safety and security to non-combatants, such as no-fly zones, or safe zones for civilians, has quickly foundered on the suspicion that it will work to the advantage of the other side. Syria is becoming what one old hand called “a forever war”. Russia’s deal with Tehran for its bombers to take off from Iranian airbases will mean more intensive bombing in the Assad cause and few think meaningful progress will be possible until after the US elections.
There is one small thing that Britain could do, with widespread public support. Hundreds of lone children are seeking asylum in the UK. Many of them are living in appalling conditions only a few miles away on the French coast. Today councillors – who will have the direct responsibility for their care – visited to try to speed up their arrival. The most positive response to the trauma of Omran Daqneesh would be the swiftest delivery of care that these lone children need.

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