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For Immediate Release

PHR Submits Statement on Syria’s Refugee Crisis to Senate Committee

United States Should Convene Humanitarian Summit and Help Resettle Syrian Refugees

Media Contact

Vesna Jaksic Lowe, MS

Media Relations Manager, New York
Tel: 917-679-0110

New York, NY - 01/07/2014

The United States should immediately convene a humanitarian summit with Russia and other nations in order to improve humanitarian aid in Syria; take steps to allow more Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States; and provide funding to address their health and other needs.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) submitted these recommendations for today’s hearing on the Syrian refugee crisis by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights subcommittee. PHR’s statement discusses how attacks on the medical community (specifically health workers, facilities, and patients), cases of sexual violence and torture, and a range of unmet humanitarian needs have contributed to the crisis, and provides additional recommendations to help improve the situation.

Syria’s medical system has been under an all-out assault, with government forces destroying over 100 medical facilities, leaving untold numbers of people without access to medical care, which had led to increased numbers of infections, disease, and death. More than 100 health workers are estimated to have been killed, some 450 others have been detained, and approximately 15,000 medical professionals have fled the country altogether.

“The systematic attack on health facilities and personnel in Syria is unprecedented, making an already devastating situation on the ground even worse,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “The United States needs to do everything it can to stop these and other abuses from taking place on a daily basis and make it easier for Syrians trying to escape the crisis to come to the United States.”

PHR called for heightened attention to the targeting of the health care system and assurance that such attacks are considered as part of crimes against humanity and war crimes. PHR is also asking for increased quotas for resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, as well as greater flexibility for Syrians applying for asylum or other immigration statuses. Many applicants cannot provide the required original documents – such as birth certificates, passports, and diplomas – because they have been lost, stolen, or destroyed in the conflict. The Syrian government has also refused to supply identity documentation to some individuals deserving of asylum.

In its statement, PHR also discusses the ongoing need for humanitarian assistance, including support for psychosocial and trauma counseling and referral services on Syria’s borders, as well as for Syrians arriving in the United States. PHR is also calling for the U.S. government to negotiate with the Russian and other governments to establish a humanitarian framework that will allow aid in besieged areas, where many civilians lack access to basic medical care, food, or clean water, with some facing the threat of starvation.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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