Below is the rough transcript from C-SPAN of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, March 15, 2017
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is swimming against a very powerful current.
This is another rendition of the “babies being thrown out of incubators” story used to justify the first Gulf War. The frightening mindset of Washington, the drumbeats for war, the information bubble and justification for more direct American intervention are starkly visible in this hearing yesterday. Mercy Corps, a well-known aid group, lavishes praise on the State Department and American values. The International Rescue Committee also speaks, as well as masked, pseudonym-ed doctors. “Dr. Farida” is the first doctor to speak.
Historically pathological liars keep on lying; to expect the truth would be absurd, no matter how they gift wrap their message in tales of woe from anonymous sources. This hearing led to even more extreme conclusions than Congress previously held publicly. The finger pointing at Assad and Russia as the true problem greatly worsened, and there were repeated claims that Russia and Assad are responsible for chlorine gas attacks and for deliberately targeting hospitals.
Terrorists were only mentioned occasionally as “oh, yes, and the terrorists, too” The focus is on Aleppo. The hearing did not advocate changing any American direction, such as NATO or regime change. There are no surprises here, and surprises and changes of opinion would show up in a complex and real situation.
This hearing was as fake as WMDs, and the “doctors” are scripted liars.
This hearing was necessary because the Syrian people are beating back the terrorists and winning. Washington needs justification for war and to seize Syria. This was it.
March 15, 2017
MARCH 15, 2017
“Syrian Civil War’s Humanitarian Toll Three Syrian doctors were among the witnesses at a hearing on the impact six years of constant militarized conflict on the Syrian people. They and two executives of foreign aid organizations talked about atrocities seen and experienced on the ground in Syria, particularly in and surrounding medical facilities in cities such as Aleppo. David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee and some of the senators on the committee were also critical of the impact a newly issued executive order on immigration from President Trump, which they said complicated humanitarian efforts related to the Syrian conflict.
For personal security concerns, the three doctors used pseudonyms, and two of those three covered their faces.”
Transcript (from CSPAN with light corrections):
Voiceover: The Los Angeles Times reporting a suicide bomber exploded his vest inside the main judicial building they say it came as Syrians marked the sixth anniversary of the country’s bitter civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions of others. Read more at latimes.com. We take you now live to a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the Syrian civil war and the toll on civilians. Doctors who worked in that country and rescue organizers will testify this morning about the humanitarian situation there.
>> The meeting will come to order. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for attending. Today marks the sixth anniversary — i use that word guardedly — the start of the civil war in Syria.
Senator Risch: we all know it has caused the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet since world war ii. There are many, many issues regarding the conflict and today we’re going to explore some of those, and a few of them that we’ll talk about is the food shortage in syria and the substantial starvation and deprivation that’s occurred there. A recent development where turkey has revoked the permits for certain humanitarian n.g.o.’s to distribute food there. Education is a big issue, of course, for everyone in the world, and with six years of this war, there’s an entire generation that will be deprived on the educational front. There’s a number of issues regarding that, and we’re going to delve into all of those and so with that i would like to recognize our distinguised ranking member, senator cardin, for his comments.
Senator Cardin: senator risch, thank you so much. We want to point out that senator corker has commitments with president trump today in tennessee and that’s the reason why he’s not able to chair the hearing. I have talked to senator corker. I know his personal interests in regards to the humanitarian crisis in syria, and i can assure everyone this committee will work together to do everything we can to help in regards to the humanitarian crisis that exists in syria today. As chairman risch pointed out, the war has been going on for six years. Six long years. The country in many of its cities have been reduced to rubble. Loved ones have been killed and wounded. Syrians are now destitute. 2/3 extreme or abject poverty. I heard that it could cost as much as 25% of syrians’ family income to pay for water. Think about that for a moment. Spending 1/4 of your income so you have water for your family. The essential infrastructures have been destroyed in the country. Schools have been destroyed. Hospitals, sanitation systems, electrical grids. Five million syrians have fled their homeland, and it’s tragic for all syrians but particularly for the innocent children, many of whom have been killed. The mental health of the syrian children, we just received a report last week from save the children, and it’s tragic. That report points out these children have lost their childhood. They’ve been absent from school because school does not exist in many parts of syria today. Their speech has been affected, and they have many issues, including partial angina. So this is a tragic situation in syria for all. The act of war has challenged the humanitarian effort in order to get help to the people who have been victimized. We know that. I have grave concern about the trump policy as to how it is assisting in dealing with the crisis in syria. Mr. Chairman, let me just mention three points that concern me. First, we heard that president trump will be submitting a budget that has a 37% cut in the state department’s budget. If america is going to be active in dealing with the humanitarian needs, how do we do that with a budget that is already inadequate, cutting to by over 1/3? We also heard reports that humanitarian budget may be zeroed out in some cases. That’s not what america stands for. We, our country has been the leader globally in pursuing humanitarian needs, recognizing that it’s part of what we stand for as a nation but it’s also in our national security interest to make sure there’s stability in countries. Can we really do that with a budget that cuts development assistance by that size of the amount of money? Budgets talk about priorities. Is that what our priority’s going to be? Secondly, i have grave concern about mr. Trump’s policies as it relates to russia in dealing with syria. Russia has supported and facilitated the atrocities that have taken place in syria. They’ve targeted civilians. They have attacked humanitarian convoys. We know about the u.n. Convoy that was attacked, killing 14 civilians and wounding and severely injuring another 15 more. Russia has participated in war crimes. They need to be held accountable. I will be reintroducing the syrian war crime accountability act. I urge my colleagues to help us get that done so we make it clear to all who are participating in atrocities in syria that they will be held accountable for their activities. And third, let me mention the refugee policy of the trump administration. The most recent executive order . There’s been now over 14 republican and democratic national security experts sent a letter saying the president’s executive order is harmful to u.s. national security interests and beneath the dignity of our great nation. I couldn’t agree more. It’s counterproductive. Let me just share with the members of this committee the conversations we had with king abdullah of jordan. Jordan has accepted 650,000, 650,000 syrian refugees. King abdullah has made it clear that has not presented a security challenge for the country of jordan. The united states has accepted a few thousand syrian refugees. There has been no example of any security threat. These individuals are vetted as extreme as we have for anyone coming to america, taking anywhere from 18 to 24 months. I think the members of this committee know that. We talk about that frequently and, mr. Chairman, with your permission i’d like to introduce three families that are with us today because i think it’s important to put a face. These are not numbers. These are people who are escaping terror and persecution that are now making america their home to help build this great country. As many of our parents and grandparents came to this country to build a better life for their children. If i light let me first introduce mohammed and his family who arrived in the united states on november 16 of last year. Mohammed was a pastry chef in damascus prior to fleeing to jordan. His family were in jordan for four years after being rescued. Next, let me introduce alad who got here last june. He went to jordan. He was displaced for three years before he was referred to the united states for resettlement. The international rescue committee also got him here. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it. Let me introduce another and his wife who arrived to the u.s. in november. He introduced a market and homes in syria. They fled to egypt to escape the war where they remained for five years before being resettled in the international rescue committee in maryland. Welcome. I am proud that you’re here in the united states. I’m particularly proud that you’re in my state of maryland. Our state has embraced diversity. Our state, i believe, is stronger because of the diversity that we have. It’s very interesting, mr. Chairman — and i’ll conclude on this remark — thank you all, very much. When we look at maryland counties that surround d.c. We have prince george’s county and montgomery county, considered to be two of the strongest counties in the united states. Both are — have embraced diversity for decades. And is a place with which we welcome immigrants. Mr. Chairman, we need to know mr. Trump’s policies as it relates to syria and ending the conflict in syria in the national interest of the united states. We don’t have that information today. What we do have is a panel of experts who can help us deal with the humanitarian crisis that exists today and how we can be helpful in dealing with those needs. I welcome our panel.
Senator risch: thank you, senator cardin. And i think all of us are anxious to see a specific policy regarding americans moving forward regarding the syrian situation. And that i’m sure will be forthcoming. We all have our ideas about it. I think everyone is getting some input into that. Today, though, we are going to be talking about the humanitarian crisis. I suppose there will be some overlap but today is a focus on the humanitarian crisis. And certainly over the last eight years and particularly the last six years our policy in syria has been drifting, to say the least, and it really needs focus. Where if we don’t focus, we will have the same result result over the last six years and that’s unacceptable. We have three witnesses who are syrian doctors who’ve come here to testify, and dr. Farida, dr. Abdulkhalek and dr. Rajab. Our fourth witness is mr. Neal keny-guyer. Senator merkley has asked to say a few words about mr. Guyer and i’ll yield to se merkley.
Senator merkley: i want to say hello to neal keny-guyer part of mercy corps. It’s a unique organization. It works in over 40 countries almost all of which are in conflict like syria or recovering from conflict or natural disaster. Mercy corps is committed to innovation. Given complex and fragile states, they work to function better so poor families can lift themselves and get themselves out of poverty. Mercy corps’ commitment is allowing to help the poorest of the poor. Their commitment to innovation is impressive but also their courage. Working some of the most difficult locations to be found on the globe. In considerable danger to their own team, mercy corps has assisted millions of syrians over the course of the war. They are one of the largest u.s. Government partners, providing assistance to syrians affected by the war and neal’s team continues to do all they can to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable individuals, vulnerable citizens. We look forward to hearing your testimony, neal. Thank you so much for the work of your organization.
Senator risch: thank you, senator merkley. Our fifth and final panelist is david miliband,chief executive officer of international rescue committee. With that i am going to recognize all five of you to make statements. We’re on a short string here, obviously, as we always are in the u.s. Senate. We ask you to keep your remarks to no more than five minutes. However, your full remarks submitted in writing will actually be included in the record of this hearing. So with that i’m going to recognize the — our three doctors from syria.
And i’ll guess i’ll let you decide on who’s going to go first to present their statement. .
Dr. Farida:>> good morning. Chairman, ranking member cardin,distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to update before you today. My name is dr. Farida and i’m an ob-gyn from aleppo. I’m here today not only as a doctor but as a wife, a mother and a syrian. Throughout the past six years i have witnessed unspeakable horrors. I work in a hospital in aleppo which was in the opposition held area of the city. There together with my fellow health workers we risked our lives every day to save the lives of the others. We didn’t leave until the very last minute. I was one of the many victims of chemical attacks, bombs and finally forced displacement. I left aleppo on december 12, 2016, along with my husband and our 18-year-old daughter. In the month leading up to our displacement, i can only describe it only as hell. In my hospital, my team and i treated many women with severe injuries. One woman came with sh rep nell which penetrated her womb cutting the 5-month-old fetus into pieces. We saved her life but her unborn baby laid dead on the nearby table cut into two from the waist down. Many other women died because they couldn’t make it to the hospital due to the lack of ambulances and fuel or because of the dangerous conditions on the road. They bled to death in their homes along with their newborn children. A hospital was the most dangerous place in aleppo. My unit was the third floor. We were subjected to a daily barrage of rockets and ammunition. One day i was performing a c-section win a missile struck the fourth floor causing the ceiling partially collapse. The surgical staff had to flee the room but the doctors because we were forced to — thankfully we were able to save her life. After my hospital was partially destroyed by air strikes, we tried to build a new hospital underground, but the siege prevented them from entering the city. I then moved to another hospital. I worked until it was targeted by chemical weapons. Throughout this, i had my daughter at my side. As a mother how am i supposed to explain all of this to an 8-year-old who knows nothing about violence, killing and destruction. How am i supposed to protect her? I remember one day back in july when there was an attack near the hospital. She came running into the operation room crying, unable to breathe. I left the patient, gave my daughter oxygen and held her close. What else could i have done? This broke my heart. That feeling of powerless to protect my child has broken me till this day. I wish i could say that this atrocity and the blyth of so many syrian families was unique only to aleppo. Sadly that’s not the case. They are happening right now in other parts of syria. More than 6 — displacing 600,000 syrians. This must end. The humanitarian access must be granted to these areas. As an international — and the international community must work together to end this practice. Air strikes have intensified and the humanitarian aid has been nearly nonexistent. The three hospitals have been targeted by air strikes in the past two weeks, and one nurse was killed by an air strike last week. It’s our duty as a human being to advocate both parties on the ground, to allow humanitarian access and to finally hold the humanitarian law accountable. Later this month, my family and i will return to syria to continue our work at a hospital in northern syria. It’s our duty as doctors. We have taken an oath to treat any and all patients regardless of their affiliation. We have a moral obligation to try and to save as many lives as possible. Even if that means sacrificing our own. The koran teaches us to save one life is to save all of humanity. Work with us to save lives. If you want to do anything do it now. There’s no time to wait. As syrians continue to die day after day, thank you.
Senator risch: thank you for your testimony. Doctor,
Dr. Abdulkhalek: My name is dr. Abdulkhalek. I am an opt moll gist from aleppo and was a director of one of three hospitals in the syrian medical societied in eastern aleppo. this hospital was built in 2014 and constructed underground to protect the patient from air strikes. M-3 was a small hospital so we were overwhelmed by the large number of patients and wounded arriving at our facility. We did our best to save as many lives as we could but we were forced to make very difficult decision. With the overwhelming number of civilians and the limited resources that was available to us, we had to face the unimaginable task of deciding who to save and who to leave to die. Can you imagine having to make this decision? Yet, my colleagues all over the city and i faced this every single day. We asked for help from the international community many times. We communicated with you and agencies — u.n. agencies. We risked our safety and that of our families by appearing on international media. We did everything we could, yet help never arrived. The u.n. System is clearly broken. As it has no means to enforce its mandates and hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes. I was one of three doctors from aleppo assigned to negotiate a plan for medical evacuation with the u.n. And world health organization. At first these negotiations were moving well. With the cooperation of many parties, including russia. However, as the region and its allies began to take more territory, the cooperation disappeared and the evacuation never occurred. Instead, the attacks on medical facilities, schools and markets escalated. Last year on december 11, as we were trying to save lives and care for victims of barrel bombs attacks, the hospital was attacked by a chlorine bomb. We immediately ran into the inner room, closed the door and covered our faces. We then heard a knock on the main door and encountered three men who were suffocating from the gas. We brought them whatever medicine we still had available. Thankfully we were able to save their lives, but many others who were outside died from the gas. After this attack, many hospitals’ staff had to leave, fearing for their lives. Everyone has — was afraid the second bomb would strike again. The previous day, another chlorine attack had hit the hospital. Most of the victims were children and we only had one unit of oxygen. The medical staff worked tirelessly to try to pass the mask from child to another. So they wouldn’t suffocate. These chlorine attacks occurred after the attempt by many after munition failed. Instead, they resulted to chemical attacks to drive us out. I’m asking you today to hold the perpetrators of these attacks accountable. IT Must be made clear that the attack on health care and the use of chemical weapons on civilians and health care workers are accountable — are unacceptable, and that international humanitarian law must be strictly enforced. This can’t be the new norm in syria. In homes, the three-year siege had blocked the delivery of medical supplies, but as blood bags, serum bags and antibiotics. In the past six months, the siege had movement for all materials and all medications, yet, the world does nothing. In an area that’s under siege by the regime, they wear more — there were more 30 patients in desperate need of kidney dialysis medication earlier this month. After their medication had run out due to a lack of delivery, we pleaded with the u.n. And other international actors to deliver the life-saving medication but it wasn’t until after three patients died that the medication was delivered. And even then, it was not a u.n. Convoy that entered the area. In three weeks, those medications would run out and the patient’s lives will once again be at risk. We need sustained humanitarian access. Constant violation of international humanitarian law, regular use of chemical weapons against the civilians, the siegement of syrian populations, forced displacement are facts, not claims. I myself witnessed or was a victim of every one of these heinous acts. I’m here today to ask the american government for help. Do not let these acts continues. Do not let more civilians suffer. Do not forget the human toll of this war, the education gap, the destruction of the health care system. An entire generation has been lost. The world failed aleppo. Now it’s your chance to help, protect and save the millions of syrians still caught in the middle of this conflict. Enforce international law, hold perpetrators of crimes accountable. Reform the u.n. Aid system. Make the protection of civilians and hospitals a priority. I ask you to be a voice of us. Do not fail us again. Thank you.
Senator risch: thank you, doctor. Dr.
Dr. Rajab: good morning. My name is mohammed rajab. I was the director of m-10 hospital in aleppo, the largest trauma hospital in the extreme part of the city. The hospital was established by the Syrian American Medical Society in February of 2013. Because of the many attacks on the hospital, they moved underground to protect the city, patients and medical workers. From the opening of the hospital in 2013 until it was bombed out of the surface on october 14, 2016. M-10 was headed — hit by 22 times in october of 2016. The hospital was targeted four times in one week. Myself was hit by shrapnel in one of the attacks. Some of shrapnel remains in my body till this day. Do you remember the young boy who was — whose photo became a symbol of the children of aleppo? It portrayed him as — thankfully he survived his injuries. Sadly, his brother, ali, died from his disease. Most of our patients at m-10 were children. So much suffering and for what? The people of syria simply want to be free. The use of bunker buster bombs changed everything. It wasn’t until the entrance of Russia into the conflict that we started to see this. Bunker buster bombs, short bombs and more, we moved from one hospital to another. As each was taken off the surface, we were — that we were going to die. When the final — began, we were scared of what would happen to us. The yearians were killing anyone who was there. We went to take a — green passes. We ultimately made our way north. We would have been arrested if we had entered a government-controlled area. This displacement cannot be allowed to continue. I left aleppo. I left syria. It is my home. It is a part of me. I dream of one day returning to my home with my family. I call on you to protect hospitals and health workers. This is a simple request. We must allow people to remain in their homes and not be forced to educate — you must help others to be free. The united states government must be always for innocent people in syria and must be a more — thank you, sir.
Senator risch: thank you very much, doctor. We’ll now move to mr. Keny-guyer.
Dr. Keny-Guyer: Chairman Risch, ranking member cardin, senators, i think i should stop right now after this human face and the courage of our syrian friends. I just want to thank doctors Farida, abdulkhalek and dr. Rajab for their courageous work in upholding humanity. He touch us all. Thank you. I also want to say what a privilege it is to be with my friend, david miliband, and his great organization, i.r.c. We work closely together and proudly around the world. And also i have to thank my friend, jeff merkley, for his incredible friendship and for his incredible support to mercy corps, to our state and to our country. And finally, to tim kaine, for all he’s done on behalf of mercy corps and of course for his friendship as well. While the politics on the ground in syria have changed, the one thing that remains constant is the suffering of the syrian people. And at this point i really want to thank the u.s. government, usaid, the state department for years of leadership in supporting the syrian people. I think we need to recognize this, the u.s. Has been the largest donor, largest supporter, a leader in upholding whatever aid there can be for syria over these years. Now, if i may, and chairman risch referred to it, senator cardin referred to it, i want to begin with mercy corps’ situation in turkey where recent events have diminished our ability to alleviate the suffering inside syria. We’ve conducted one of the largest humanitarian operations from turkey to syria with the permission and full cooperation of the turkish government over the past five years. As you all may know, just a few weeks ago the turkish government revoked mercy corps’ registration to operate in turkey or to deliver cross-border assistance. That is disruptive life-saving assistance for 360,000 syrians that we reach every month inside and has effectively ended support to 100,000 people in turkey. Syrian and turkish citizens. To date, our situation remains unresolved. We continue to seek a dialogue with turkish officials so we may resume our operations as soon as possible. We stand ready to correct any technical mistakes we might have made. Meanwhile, we’ve had no choice but to shut down our presence in turkey while working closely with our partners and donors, including usaid and the state department, to quickly fill any gaps in our assistance. Now, we all know turkey has been a generous global leader in humanitarian action. It welcomed more than three million syrian refugees and boost one of the world’s most important policies on refugees, allowing them to earn a living for their families and offering them a path to citizenship. Like the united states, turkey is a signatory to international and humanitarian laws, requiring protection of innocent civilians caught in the conflict. As an independent and impartial humanitarian organization, mercy corps’ mandate is to deliver essential aid to civilians in need on all sides of the conflict. And i can tell you that we are very proud of our principled humanitarian efforts in syria and around the world today. Of course, we all know the only solution to the suffering of syrians is a political resolution. Humanitarian aid saves lives and it sustains hope. Only peace saves societies and nations. Strong, smart u.s. engagement remains a critical component. Distinguished senators, i know this issue is tough, but please remain resolute in your push for a durable peace in syria. Meanwhile, the scale of suffering is staggering, the dark statistics defy description. Imagine the combined populations of oregon and tennessee in need of humanitarian assistance and that is syria today. At a recent helsinki conference on supporting syrians, a young syrian who works for mercy corps, told the assembly. He said, i am waiting for the war to stop so i can go back and rebuild syria. I believe that we can rebuild syria better than before. I feel i have a lot of power and i can bring my skills. I can now speak out and lead. I want the same for other youth as well. And friends, let’s remember homan, let’s remember the human face involved and let’s never lose hope, regardless of how complex or how dark sometimes the days seem. Thank you very much.
Senator risch: thank you. And finally, the honorable david miliband.
Mr. Miliband: chairman risch and senators, it’s a real honor to be back in front of this
Committee sitting alongside some extraordinary humanitarian leaders. I want to echo what neal has said about the really humbly work that’s done by the syrian doctors. We’re proud to work alongside them inside syria. I also echo his — the mutual admiration society that we’re creating for each other. Mercy corps is an organization that we’re proud to stand alongside and admire. I won’t take long for this opening statement. You got the 10-page version i think in your papers and i know there will be many questions. I also need to apologize that given the slightly later start time i will have to leave at 1:00 and i have to apologize for that. The international rescue committee is a resettlement agency in 29 cities and we are an humanitarian staff. We have 20,000 staff inside syria and 2,000 in the four neighboring states. In the south of syria, we are proud to be the largest supplier of health care, but our efforts are currently impeded by a recent uptick in fighting between syrian forces and opposition groups, by air strikes on medical facilities. We lost eight of our hospitals in 2016 to air strikes. And by a local isis affiliate capitalizing on the chaos in the south. In the northeast, i was in iraq seeing some of the cross-border work last week. In the northeast of Syria we support iraqis fleeing violence from mosul entering syria and syrians displaced by counterISIL operations. 400,000 more people could be affected as raqqah operations continue to intensify. In the northwest of the country of syria, we provide safe classrooms and those forced from eastern aleppo. Increased infighting among opposition groups and air attacks from the regime and their Russian supporters are threatening civilians and our ability to serve them. I won’t repeat all of the statistics that you’ve heard or that you know. I do want to point to one statistic that still shocks me in the evidence i supplied. Subsequent to three u.n. Security council resolutions, the head of u.n. Operations has reported that less than 1% of those syrian civilians under siege inside Syria have been reached by humanitarian operations. Not because of inefficiency in the u.n. But because of deliberate blockage by the regime and in some cases by opposition forces. You’ll also know the five million syrian refugees have fled to jordan, lebanon, turkey and iraq. From my visit to lebanon last week, the priorities are clear. Work, protection for women and kids and education. Chairman and senators, we point out in our statement that there are three fundamental choices that now face the united states government and the senate. The first is about politics and diplomacy because the truth is the U.S.. has been absent from the recent public diplomatic efforts. Russia, Turkey and Iran have put themselves center stage. There is not just a war without end in Syria. There’s also a war without law and a principled American voice is needed to articulate support for international humanitarian law and accountability for those who violate it. The truth is if the U.S. does not provide this voice, no one else will. The second is about foreign assistance. We understand that major cuts, proposals for major cuts for foreign assistance will be announced tomorrow. This will be a tragedy for the syrian people. It will set back u.s. strategic leadership. I hope you allow me to say from my time in u.k. government and now running an n.g.o. I know u.s. humanitarian leadership is second to none bilaterally and through the united nations. The U.S. provides 40% of support for U.N.. — for the united nations high commission on refugees. The U.S. genuinely drives the global system. They project American ideals and protect American interests. All for less than 1% of the federal budget or for .2% of national income. The usda estimated some 6.9 million syrians in fiscal year 2015 were helped by the united states. That should be a benchmark for the future. It will be a genuine tragedy for the U.S.. administration to lose faith in the value of humanitarian aid just as it’s proving its worth. Finally, the third choice is about refugee resettlement. Suspending the resettlement program is a stark message to syrians and to allies in the region, including including, i’m sorry to say, iraqis who worked with and risked their lives for the united states. The uncertainty about its future is a gift for those that would argue that the united states will not help refugees in need if they happen to be muslim. That is not true but it’s put around day by day around the region. In lebanon, iraq, i spoke with people affected by the executive order. These are the most vulnerable people — some of the most vulnerable people in the world and the most vetted entrance into the united states. There already is extreme vetting for refugees who want to get here. The review that’s being done is perfectly within the rights of any new administration. What is wrong is the suspension of a whole program that will lead to people going to the back of the co-2. I would urge the — back of the queue. I would say a 20 or 30-day review and allow the program to continue. Just remember this, after 9/11, the program was only two months. There is now four months despite the 20 leaders who said the program stands. Mr. Chairman, senators, there can be no effective foreign policy without effective humanitarian policy. I hope this is a message this committee can take up with pride and gusto. Thank you very much.
Senator Risch: thank you. We will proceed with a round of five-minute questions and answers ebbs — and i will reserve my time to interject and i will recognize senator cardin.
Senator Cardin: thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank all five of you for your testimony. I Want to join my two friends and paying special tribute to the three doctors that are here today. You really are inspirational to all of us. I grew up in a generation watching “m.a.s.h.” On television and mar velled how they performed in combat situations. They were soldiers. You’re not soldiers and you are performing with great personal sacrifice to your own safety in order to save lives in your community. Under conditions you should not have to put up with. So i just really wanted to express our deep appreciation for your international humanitarian efforts which inspires us and i think the global community to do more. What we do is not a personal sacrifice to our lives. What you did did. I thank you for being here. It’s extremely valuable to the effort. And i want to assure you that i’m going to do everything in my power to make sure those who have committed these atrocities , bombed hospitals, targeting hospitals with their bombs, attacking humanitarian convoys in order to stop you from getting the medicines you need to keep children alive, every one of those individuals who committed these war crimes, from the assad regime to the russian involvement are held accountable for their activities. And of course, the number one thing we need to do is end this war. And that’s not today’s hearing and i agree with the chairman. That’s not what we’re here today, but the way to stop these atrocities and the humanitarian crisis is to resolve the civil war, to deal with the terrorists that are in the country and to return stability to the people of syria by a government that represents all of the communities in syria. So, mr. Miliband, thank you for your extraordinary leadership. We had a chance to talk about these issues. I couldn’t agree with you more about the impact of president trump’s executive order. Just quick from your testimony, those affected, there are family members of those who served american troops. There are unaccompanied children, widows struggling to make a new life and those in need of urgent medical care. There are those under persecution for their religious beliefs. A two-month delay is too long for these people. As you said, there was no need for this four-month period. We hope that it is much shorter than that. I just really want to talk a little bit and ask your impact on the potential impact of the executive order in the region. We have turkey. We have jordan. We have lebanon that have literally millions of syrian refugees that border syria. If they decide, well, the u.s. policy is they are not taking refugees, maybe we should send these refugees back to syria? What impact could that have on an already unsustainable humanitarian need that exists in syria?
Mr. Miliband: thank you, senator. THE Truth is the numbers in small countries in the region are staggering. Lebanon has a population of 4.5 million. Jordan has a population of 7 1/2 million and 600,000 refugees. And turkey, obviously, a much bigger country. 2.7 million refugees. I think there are three things to have very clearly in your mind. First of all, conditions for refugees on the ground are getting tougher by the week. They’re running out of savings. They are having to reregister which sometimes has fees associated with it. Kids not in school and becoming more desperate. Second situation is the political backlash against u.s. Allies in the region like jordan is very real. The unemployment rate amongst jordanians is 26%. Never mind the fact the poverty rate amongst syrians is 78%. So there is a political management difficulty and the short-term of the humanitarian system compounds the difficulties for the government of jordan. We are working with them on an employment program to try and help their companies take advantage of free trade access to european markets but that requires 15% of the employees to be refugees. We are trying to work with them to help square that circle. The third aspect, the third consequence that i think relates to the first two is that many refugees giving up the hope of legal resettlement in the u.s. Are frankly going to take their lives into their own hands and try to get to europe. The european refugee crisis is not over. And the push factors that are driving people from syria and from the neighboring states to get to europe remain very strong indeed. And obviously the great danger is that there is a domino effect from a u.s. decision, historically the u.s. has been the largest refugee resettlement country, the domino effect goes through the european states and also leads to a series of actions by hosting states like jordan and lebanon but also, frankly, kenya, uganda, ethiopia. That means the global ramifications become real and instability is the result. Senator cardin: thank you. In regards to mercy corps, i want you to know, i hope today we are going to hear ways we can help deliver humanitarian aid effectively to those who are involved. Clearly what was done in turkey needs to be reversed, and i’m sure we will try to assist you. I’ll certainly be working with senator merkley and senator kaine and others in our committee to see how we can engage the turkish government to resolve your issues so you can get that aid back to the people of syria. I want to you know that. We’ll be beginning communication turkish government.
Senator risch: senator johnson.
Senator johnson: thank you, senator. I want to thank the doctors for your courage, for spending time with me in my office yesterday. Mr. Keny-guyer said the policies have changed. I want to ask you, dr. Abdulkhalek. With the involvement in russia, you have been witness of chemical attacks, you’ve been present. Can you talk about the change intactics, the change in weapons the minute that russia got involved?
Dr. ABDULKHALEK: after the russians got involved in the conflict, we noticed a new development of weapons like bunker buster. They can destroy the underground structures. And partial bombs. We notice the use of the bomb lasted three months of the siege. And also cluster bombs. We have photos by our own phones to that cluster bombs and the bunker busters — partial bombs, i mean.
Senator johnson: was there more frequent targeting of your hospitals when russia became involved?
Dr. Abdulkhalek: yes. They are locating the hospitals . They are locating the hospital’s position and they started targeting it many times until we had to leave that hospital fearing of our safety and the injuryment.
Senator johnson: you talked about two attacks, the use of chlorine. Any other chemicals that have been documented that have been used?
Dr. Abdulkhalek: just the chlorine attacks.
Senator johnson: do you know how many?
Dr. Abdulkhalek: on m-3, there were two attacks because m-3 was not known to the government. The last month they discovered its place. So they started targeted it by many weapons until they used the chemical weapon chlorine gas. But they targeted earlier m-2 hospital with the chlorine gas.
Senator johnson: so, doctor, you said the world failed syria, i couldn’t agree more. It’s shameful. Mr. Keny-guyer, you said the politics have changed. Describe that. Describe the reality. It’s great we are going to say we are going to hold people accountable. Describe the reality on the ground right now. What has changed?
DR. Keny-guyer: well, i don’t find myself commenting on the politics of the situation, but i will say what has changed, we all know as an organization that had a significant commitment to the city of aleppo, we had team members who were in aleppo and actually were on the last evacuation bus out. And we’re very proud of them. They were given the opportunity to leave, like many of these doctors, earlier on and chose to stay out of solidarity. But obviously the situation in aleppo has changed. In the north you now have itlib is vulnerable. Many of the cities of aleppo are now there. You clearly have the government of turkey has come down into its euphrates shield area, those areas and obviously the concern over raqqah. What has also happened in the southern part of the country i think we should all be aware of . And it’s very difficult and that is there has been efforts that have passified some areas but of course along the jordanian border we have seen an increase in conflict. What has remain the same and i think is critically important is the staggering need of innocent, innocent syrians. And just if i may in particular comment on, you know, all lives are really important but at the same time we are particularly concerned about young syrians. Nearly 4.8 syrian refugees in the region are — million syrian refugees in the region and there are more than 8.5 million children in syria that are in need of immediate support. Never mind education.
Senator johnson: i appreciate that. I have 135ekeds. The point being is the world has failed. We stood by the world for six years and watched the slaughter of half a million at least syrians. And i’m all for diplomatic solutions but diplomacy follow facts on the ground. The facts on the ground are such that russia, iran and assad have conkerd aleppo. They are winning — concurred aleppo. They are winning the world. Isn’t that how the politics changed and what kind of diplomatic solution can be when the facts have changed so dramatically on the ground?
Dr. Keny-guyer: well, i am not sure i would go as far as you did in that situation. I spent more than 30 years working in and out of the middle east and i’m always cautious to draw any firm and fast conclusions that relates to the middle east. But what i will say is that it — we are no closer to a political solution. I think you are right in that. And in fact in many ways the situation is more complicated than ever. The one thing i am sure of is that those who suffer the most are innocent civilians and syrians and especially the children.
Senator johnson: i agree.
Senator risch: thank you very much. Senator coons.
Senator coons: thank you, senator risch, senator cardin, thank you, doctors. Thank you for your incredible testimony. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for what you continue to do to risk your lives in the service of humanity. It is hard to hear your testimony. It is hard to endure the images and the sounds and the stories of unspeakable suffering and unthinkable human rights violations in syria that continue week in and week out, month in and month out, over years. And the hundreds of thousands of innocents who have been killed in a way that just cries out for the world to respond, should shock the conscience of every senator here and everyone who listens. Thank you. Delaware just welcomed its first syrian refugee family in a small but important act, i think, a christian church, a muslim mosque and jewish family services in partnership welcomed a refugee family that had fled an area close to where you’re from because of a chemical attack years ago. The united states has done a great deal but nowhere near enough. My first visit to confront some of the reality of this was with senator mccain and a number of other colleagues to a well-known refugee camp in jordan where we had memorable meetings with syrians who said we don’t want sympathy, we don’t want tears, we don’t want blankets, we want action, we want action, we want accountability and we want engagement. It is encouraging to be reminded that american humanitarian assistance did help seven million syrians last year, but it is heartbreaking to realize that a likely dramatic cut in our humanitarian assistance that may be announced tomorrow may significantly affect hundreds of thousands if not millions of syrians in the whole region. And i am gravely concerned that a pause and a travel ban sends exactly the wrong signal about our values and our willingness to welcome and embrace and support exactly the sort of work you have done. So to mr. Keny-guyer, thank you for the dedication of mercy corps. Along with senator cardin whose statement i think speaks for itself and was powerful about the importance of welcoming refugees to this country and about the importance of supporting mercy corps, i will only say amen and i will be forward to trying to work with you to right this situation in turkey. If i might, mr. Miliband, i’d be interested in hearing what you think would be the actual human consequences on the ground of having the united states nearly abandon its humanitarian assistance obligation.
MR. Miliband: thank you, senator. I think u.s. Assistance should be seen in three or four key areas. One is obviously the food for peace program that is a significant food contributor to syrians. We are working with the u.s. Government across borders on that program. Secondly, the u.s. has distinguished itself by the flexibility and speed with which the foreign disaster assistance bureau works with n.g.o.’s like ours to reach those in grave need. One example is inside syria, but I draw your attention to mosul. I was about 15 kilometers from mosul at the end of last week. It’s thanks to u.s. support that when isis is driven out of an area of mosul, humanitarians are the first to go in after, including from the organizations represented here, supported by the usns doing that. That work is beginning to put together the elements of a functioning city. So in the east of mosul, there’s some reconstruction work that’s allowing people to have basic services that they can go back to. Thirdly, u.s. foreign assistance is distinguished by its ability to target the most vulnerable. Often that is women and girls. It’s often labeled as protection work, quote-unquote, protection work. We’re certainly proud to be partnering across the region with the u.s. In protecting women and girls from the unspeakable levels of abuse that are often associated with emergency humanitarian situations. I think the very important to flag that. The final thing i’d mention is that it’s a scandal to me that less than 2% of the global humanitarian budget is spent on education. That speaks to the short-termism of the humanitarianism. There’s a conviction that’s convenient for donors that these situations are short term and it’s a fiction that’s embraced by the host countries for their own political reasons. The short-termism leads to a neglect of something like education. But the u.s. Is willing to support education. I was able to see some kids been traumatized refugees, who i had met three or four years ago, in the same informal settlement, so-called, being helped by an education program that’s giving them the chance of rebuilding their lives.
Mr. Coons: thank you if. If i might in conclusion. 15 of the last remaining doctors in aleppo, including you, sent a letter to president obama detailing atrocities of the sort we’ve heard testified to here today. And asked for to us take action around accountability. I just want to commend senator cardin, senator rubio for re-introducing the syrian war crimes accountability act. And all of us who are joining as co-sponsors to insist on accountability. For the unspeakable war crimes that are being committed in syria against the syrian people. Thank you for your testimony today.
Mr. Young: thank you, chairman. Thank you to our doctors. Thank you for your constancy of purpose, for your courage and for bringing light to an otherwise very dark situation in syria. I agree with mr. Miliband. We do indeed have a fundamental choice to make on this authorizing committee. About our level of assistance. We’ll continue to provide you and others — we’ll continue to provide you and others who are on the receiving end of international human rights violations. I would like to elicit from your testimony here a few things that i just thought were incredibly powerful. I’ll start with something mr. Miliband said. He indicated that the introduction of russian air power ushered in a new phase of this conflict. Devastating and deliberate effects on civilians, civilian infrastructure, the air strikes destroyed or otherwise rendered all hospitals in eastern aleppo out of service. That despite u.n. Security council resolution 2286 condemning attacks on medical facilities, hospitals and humanitarian operations. Then the doctors. You each spoke in a very personal way to the tragedies you’ve seen on the ground. Dr. Farida, you note that, quote, a hospital, a hospital was the most dangerous place in aleppo. Dr. Abdulkhalek, you highlight the repeated attempts by the regime and its allies to destroy the hospital where you worked using barrel bombs. Using cluster munitions. Dr. Rajab, you noted that in the hospital where you served as director in aleppo, the hospital was bombed out of service on account of 22 air strikes. You were hit five times in one week. I can’t imagine operating under these conditions. I can’t imagine being in one of these hospitals. I can’t imagine living in an area of the world where you’re constantly under this sort of attack. Who do we blame for this? There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around. Certainly the russian interference complicated matters. The council adopted a resolution in may of 2016. Given russia’s permanent seat on the security council and habit of vetoing resolutions aimed at the murderous assad regime, no matter how egregious and deplorable assad’s actions have been, i was curious, so i went back and i looked at the comments of the russian representative in may of last year during the passage of this security council resolution. You know what the russian deputy permanent representative emphasized in his comments? It’s really duplicitous,, Breath taking what he says. He says, that it was unacceptable that medical personnel continue to suffer attacks since people’s lives depended on their work. He says, protecting humanitarian personnel is one of the most important aspects of the whole issue of protecting civilians. He further said, members of the u.n. must do more work to protect medical personnel. This again coming from the russian deputy permanent representative. The russian representative also tried to cast doubt regarding russia’s conduct in aleppo by emphasizing the need for the security council to be guided by reliable information. He said, quote, it’s unacceptable that unverified reports of attacks against hospitals taken from unreliable sources are fed to the media and then used for political pressure. Unquote. I’d just like — doctors, do you have any thoughts about the russian representative’s comments at the u.n.? His assertion that reports of attacks against hospitals are unreliable?
Dr. Abdulkhalek>> we noticed that attacks being more aggressive in the last month, after they make the siege in the eastern aleppo. At that stage, russia was very involved in the process of attacking the more civilian areas.: so, russia started to make a big effort to damage the hospital and to let us flee from that area to another area until we had to evacuate all the city of aleppo.
Mr. Young: thank you, mr. Chairman.
mr. Menendez: It’s truly a tragedy that we are holding a hearing today to mark the beginning of what was a peaceful uprising in syria. That has turned into the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. And we have all seen the heartbreaking images of children and families suffering under the barbaric attacks of bashar assad. His brutal oppression. Isis, the network of actors, including valdimir putin in russia, iranian terrorist networks, who continue to support his ongoing war crimes and human rights violations. and it’s unconscionable and reprehensible that a leader of any country can orchestrate bombing campaigns against innocent civilians and institutions, hospitals, schools, aid convoys whose sole purpose so provide support to communities. I have the utmost respect for all of you and all the work you’re doing. Particularly the doctors. You truly honor your profession globally. And in the darkest moments of man’s inhumanity to man, as we have seen in syria, you have shown us what humanity truly — you have shown us what humanity truly is all about. We honor you. The mere fact that you have to wear masks to protect your identity speaks volumes. Of the challenge that you face. But i have to be honest with you. I am concerned that in the midst of listening to all of the comments of comfort and solidarity and sucker, that the reality is — that that means nothing if we’re going to have a 37% cut in our budget, nothing if we are going to deny refugees to come into the united states, nothing if we are not going to continue u.s. Leadership in the world. In this regard. So all these statements of solidarity will only mean something to me and certainly more importantly to those who are fleeing syria when we act in ways that actually embrace the cause and that actually shows our solidarity in meaningful ways. In meaningful ways. So this is why i have a real concern, our humanitarian programs operate out of the state department. Mostly the bureau of population, refugees and migration. And a whole of programs under usaid. I am deeply alarmed by the administration’s proposed budget plan to slash these agencies, which accounts just for 1% of the overall budget. I think it’s not only morally reprehensible, these kinds of drastic cuts are squarely against the national security interests of the united states. It abdicates our global leadership, it puts our allies at greater risk. We want to say to other countries in the world, europe and elsewhere, when the king of jordan comes here, thank you for housing the refugees from syria. And yet we’re going to cut the very assistance that ultimately gives that a possibility. So i hope my colleagues when it comes time to follow up the words of solidarity will do so with their votes. I want to go particularly to mr. Miliband. I appreciate what your organization does. The i.r.c. I thought the title of senator was pretty significant. But the right honorably a real heck of a title — the right honorable is a real heck of a title. On a serious note.
Mr. Miliband: it’s not a her edtary thing.
Mr. Menendez: new jersey has received refugees and i.r.c. has a network in new jersey that has enriched the state. What happens when we take a different course? I know that you had an organization — head an organization and of course you head your own — had your own distinguished career in great britain, but as one of the greatest allies the united states has, what would you say to us is the consequences of us cutting in half the number of refugees to come to the united states? Whales the consequences of decimating the budget that ultimately helps? Why would it not be in the national interest of the united states and its security to do so?
Mr. Miliband: thank you, senator. I think the simple answer to that is that america helps create a more stable world. And american retreat leads to more instability that is not just an afwront to america’s moral values but also to her interests. And both in respect to foreign aid and in respect to refugee recesslement, this country has good claim to be a world leader. Makes it takes a foreigner to recognize the good things about a country. One of the areas where america undoubtedly has claimed a global leadership in its refugee resettlement program. It’s definitely the most successful refugee resettlement program in the world. We’re working in germany and elsewhere where they want to learn the lessons of your refugee resettlement program. So i think that there is an affront to american moral values but also the strategic leadership that you offer. This global system that we have this global order that we have, for all of its faults is upheld by american leadership. And when that leadership is in retreat, then both international humanitarian law, but also global stability are threatened.
Mr. Menendez: thank you, mr.Chairman.
Mr. Rubio: thank you all for being here. For all the work you do. In particular for the doctors who have risked so much to be a part of this. I want to touch on the narrative that some have put out. Since you’re on the ground and you’ve been there and you’ve seen this reality up close, you can hope to enlisten us about this reality. And all of you i think can comment on it. The narrative you see in some of these outlets around the world, which i don’t know where they’re getting their news from is the following. And that is that aleppo was a city divided between areas controlled by rebels and areas controlled by the government. And that these benevolent russian forces, combined with the regime, went in and liberated them. This part of the city held by rebels. Who by the way, i don’t think anyone here is a fan of many of those ements. Many of which were radicals and who themselves committed all sorts of atrocities against humanity. And that these very benevolent forces came in and liberated this part of the city and rescued all of these civilians and are doing these phenomenal things and you saw this in late december. Images of churches opening and people know where i stand on russia. People know how i feel about assad. I see a lot of these emails tell machine gun he — telling me, what are you talking about? Look at all these things happening in aleppo in these quote-unquote liberated areas. In context of all this, what is lost is apart from the rebel forces, many of whom are criminals themselves, is the reality of the suffering of the people that had nothing to do with either side. They just happened to live in this area. They happen to be families and children that were going about their lives, not involved in the internal politics of any nation, including their own. And somehow were targeted. Which is what you’ve now described. Tell us the reality. If you happened to live in one of these areas, the reality of this notion of liberation, this notion that somehow these benevolent forces have come in and now liberated and are helping to reconstruct a part of the city. How would you characterize the way this was conducted by assad, by russia, and even by some of the rebel elements as they Left? And and i can tell that you in the eastern —
dr. Abdulkhalek: i can tell that you in the eastern part of aleppo, now, the u.n. Maps, about 1/4 of the buildings are destroyed completely. The other buildings are damaged. There’s no life now in the eastern of aleppo. After the repeal the guns away and after the civilians had fled to other parts to live. No electricity, no clean water until now. Not all, most of the soldiers are not rebels in the beginning of the revolution. They were civilians like us. And they had to raise their weapons against the government because the government started killing every one uprising against the government. So they were not soldiers from the beginning of the revolution. And they deal with the civilians like their brothers. Most cases, of course. They are afraid of our lives. They let us evacuate before them. They don’t — ok. We don’t involve by targeting us or killing us.
Mr. Rubio: you may have alluded to this earlier. I didn’t see it in the written testimony. I see two of you are concerned about being identified for your own safety. Who are you fearful of?
Dr. Abdulkhalek: we are fearing the government. From the government. Because if they discovered our identity or they may send someone to get rid of us. Or they can capture our relatives in their area.
Mr. Rubio: these medical facilities you worked in, were these medical facilities being used by anyone to conduct war against the government? Or were they just places —
dr. Abdulkhalek: no. They were just a place for operations and helping civilians. Sometimes injured soldiers came to us. But we don’t know which kind of rebels he belongs to, which one he belongs to. That group or that group. We don’t know.
Mr. Rubio: the bottom line is, these are facilities that were treating people with medical conditions. And you have no doubt in your mind that these buildings, particularly after the russian engagement, were specifically targeted.
Dr. Abdulkhalek: yes. Yes. Because many of these hospitals are well known to the government. They start targeting it one at a time. Then repeated it until they destroyed it. Then they stop targeting it after they destroyed, they knew that it has been out of service. So they stop targeting it.
Mr. Rubio: thank you.
Mr. Markey: thank you, mr. Chairman. Let’s get right to the heart of this. President trump wants to cut the state department budget by 37%. Then move the money over to the defense department. In order to build more bombs. That’s going to create a dynamic that is very dangerous inside of the country. Right now russia, turkey and iran are gathered in to shore up the ceasefire and geneva talks are scheduled to run into this week, but the — resume this week but the united states doesn’t appear to be prepared to have a significant role in any of the upcoming discussions, even though the united states has been a part of this war almost from the very beginning. So, secretary miliband, how long can america remain absent from these discussions? If we’re going to be able to reinforce a ceasefire, protect civilians, allow medical and other relief to go to victims?
Mr. Miliband: thank you, senator. First of all, i think it’s important to recognize what the doctor said earlier. That the notion that there’s a current ceasefire is an abuse of the term ceasefire.
Mr. Markey: i agree with you.
Mr. Miliband: there is significant activity still taking place. Secondly, without a u.s. voice speaking up for the protection of civilians, there will be no voice doing that. Thirdly —
mr. Markey: we need u.s. Diplomats at the table, is that what you’re saying?
Mr. Miliband: i would argue very strongly for that. I think there’s something senator rubio and cardin have started this accountability bill that they’ve introduced. It could very powerfully be linked to a recent resolution in the u.n. General assembly for bringing together trial-ready material to hold accountable those who commit war crimes. While the true that the u.n. Security council is deadlocked, the u.n. General assembly is not deadlocked. There’s a massive majority of companies — countries ready to support that kind of initiative.
Mr. Markey: mr. Keny-guyer, child soldiers, it’s not just isis, the also the free syrian army. That are engaged in con scripting children into their armies. What would you recommend that the position of the united states should be in terms of what we use our influence to try to ensure is the policy in syria?
Mr. Keny-guyer: thank you, senator. Well, obviously with respect to child soldiers anywhere, anywhere, whether that’s in africa, whether that’s in the middle east or other parts of the world, we have to have a firm policy, that is unacceptable and those who engage should be held accountable. I think senator rubio described it very well. In his description. Syria has devolved into a situation now where any fair-minded person looking at it is going to go, it’s hard to sort out who are the good guys and who are the bad giles. It is not crystal clear who the good guys are. But what is crystal clear is that stability in syria, stability in the middle east is critically important for every interest that this country has in that part of the world and is critically important to our national security. And as the doctors reminded us, the only solution going — there’s not a humanitarian solution. Frankly, there’s not a military solution. We know the only solution is one that is diplomatic going forward. I certainly would urge and believe that we’ll end up with a lot better solution, one that’s more in u.s. Interests, to the degree that we are engaged in at the table.
Mr. Markey: so you’re reinforcing this point. Whether it be the ceasefire or it be the conscription of the child soldiers, all the way down the line, the longer the war goes on, the more each side begins to engage in activities that are atrocities by any definition. That’s why the united states can’t abandon the diplomatic pathway. It’s the only solution. Ultimately to this problem. — solution ultimately to this problem. Can you talk a little bit about the programs that we can put in place in the country for — to protect women and girls, if you’ve got any suggestions to us that the united states government should be trying to advance.
Mr. Keny-guyer: the biggest protector of women and girls are the community norms and structures that already exist inside syria. To the degree that we can support — and all of us work with this. I.r.c., Mercy corps, there are credible civilian local councils inside syria that aren’t involved in the politics, aren’t involved in the fighting, and believe one day they’re going to have the opportunity to build a better syria. It’s in that context where you support organizations like ourselves who work through local syrian groups. That’s the best way to ensure the protection of girls and women.
Mr. Markey: do we need to be talking to the russians to get this resovened, in your opinion?
Mr. Keny-guyer: i think one needs to talk to anyone —
mr. Markey: including the russians?
Mr. Keny-guyer: yes, sir.
Mr. Miliband: definitely. But progress depends on what you say to them.
Mr. Markey: i appreciate that. But you have to have the discussions with them. If you don’t have the discussion, it’s just repetition syndrome. WE’RE Just going to see this go on year after year. You agree with that?
Mr. Miliband: i do. I think the other thing to say is that russia and iran are not natural allies. And we should not take it as a matter of definite cause that they are cleved together in an alliance that’s unbreakable. And there are some signs that russia and iran are sending different messages into the system. It’s in the american interest that they do not cleve together.
Mr. Markey: thank you. I agree with you.
>Mr. Flake: > thank you, mr. Chairman. It seems that absent diplomatic political solution, we’re not going to see an end. I think that’s agreed here. We’ve been pursuing that for six years now without success. Humanitarian situation has been well documented. I’d like some indication of where that goes from here. how much worse it can get or what we’re likely to see if no political solution is reached in the coming months. Mr. Miliband?
Mr. Miliband: thank you, senator. I’d say two things about that. First of all, i think you’re going to see more and more people leaving syria. I mean, you’ve got seven million internally displaced already. In addition to five million refugees. We haven’t seen the end of the refugee float. Frankly, the bombardments still taking place will drive further people out. The second point is to pick up something that senator markey was saying. I remarked to him that iran and russia are not natural allies. Neither are turkey and russia natural allies. Remember turkey is a member of nato. And a significant part of the future of the conflict depends on the relations between turkey, russia, the syrians, and the u.s. In respect to the raqqa situation. And so if it’s correct as the U.N. says that 400,000 people could be displaced by the attempt to retake raqqa, then the way in which the u.s. engages is absolutely critical to that.
Mr. Flake: any other thoughts on that? What would be manifested in just increased refugees outside of the country then? Is that the agreement?
Mr. Keny-guyer:. No as i said earlier. I worry greatly about a generation, now going on two generations of young people who have not been educated, who had have not had a chance to contribute positively to their societies. And particularly in that part of the world, where there are competing ideologies, some of them as sinister as they come, and should not be allowed to continue to exist in a civilized world, yet those who become pathways for people out of the mix. The longer this goes on, the more the instability continues. I think the more we need to worry about those kinds of issues. That’s why it’s so important to bring this to a close as soon as we can.
Mr. Flake: the u.s. And the e.u. And other organizations and countries have been certainly helpful with the humanitarian effort. Can anybody give any idea what have russia has done with regard to humanitarian efforts?
Mr. Miliband: that’s not their focus.
Mr. Flake: i know that’s not — is there even an attempt to make it look like they are concerned about the humanitarian situation?
MR. Miliband: i did raise this with the now famous russian ambassador. Some time ago. The russians talk about their support for the u.n. System. And that’s wait in which they would see their humanitarian aid going forward.
Mr. Flake: but not independently, unilaterally?
Mr. Miliband: no.
Mr. Flake: all right. Thank you, thank you, mr. Chairman.
Mr. Merkley: thank you very much, mr. Chairman. Today here we are six years from march 15, 2011, the day of rage, where mass popular demonstrations occurred against the syrian president, triggered by the syrian secret police torturing young boys who had spray painted anti-assad graffiti. Six years in which we now see half a million people who are dead and a quarter of the 21 million people in the country have fled, destabilizing neighboring countries, certainly having a big impact on europe. U.n. Secretary general gutierrez, when he was high commissioner of refugees, characterized the war in syria as, quote, the great tragedy of this century, a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history. Our witnesses today, the doctors, and i.r.c., And mercy corps, have been there in these horrific circumstances trying to assist with medical care and nutrition and support and i commend them all for this tremendous effort individually and with their organizations. I am disappointed that turkey has revoked the registration of mercy corps to provide assistance through turkey to over 300,000 syrians. I do appreciate that the government of turkey has been a leader in the refugee response and a close partner to mercy corps over many years before. So, mr. Keny-guyer, i’d like to ask, what are the immediate steps that would be helpful, that you might like to see taken by the government of turkey?
MR. Keny-guyer: thank you, senator. Thank you for your efforts as well. In this matter. When the revocation came, we were frankly stunned and deeply saddened. I say saddened because of the hundreds of thousands of syrians that we help each month inside the country and have been such a critical life line of support and hope. And then secondly, for particularly for our syrian team members who have put their lives on the line through all of these years in the toughest times, darkest days to make a difference. And we’ve always enjoyed a close working relationship with turkey. So our approach right now is, we presume and we’ve not been given an official reason, but we presume that there’s some technicality and that our sole aim is to enter into discussions and negotiations that will allow us to restore our ability to operate. The governors in turkey have been extremely supportive of our work. The local authorities have been supportive. The turkish red crescent have been supportive. And so we thank the senators here for all your support. And at this stage we’re working night and day to ensure that we can get back to work there as soon as possible.
Mr. Merkley: has our state department been helpful in facilitating a conversation?
Mr. Keny-guyer: our state department, our ambassador have been extremely helpful. I want to commend them for their efforts. Particularly in these difficult times.
Mr. Merkley: so at this moment with the supply chain of significant assistance to over 300,000 inside syria. With that disrupted,, can you paint for us a picture of the challenges being faced by those who would otherwise have been assisted by the water and support that you all provide?
Mr. Keny-guyer: a large substantial portion of our aid going cross-border was wheat flower that went to bakeries — flour that went to bakeries. We were trying to use markets to keep the price of bread affordable for ordinary, normal citizens there. And those — and through those bakery, really vulnerable people got vouchers so they could pay a very little amount for their bread. So that was a critical life line. In addition to that, we have been providing — there are a number of internally displaced camps for syrians along the turkey-syria border. We had been providing clean and freshwater for those camps to more than 100,000 people on a weekly basis. So, immediately those abilities have been cut off. In addition, because, again, we see the resilience of syrians, we see their desire to help themselves, even at this time. We had been supporting inside syria the recovery of agriculture land so that syrians could get back to growing their own food and not be as dependent on the outside. Again, wherever you can restore markets, it’s so important for people, it’s so important for any chance of recovery. All of those programs are at risk.
Mr. Merkley: thank you very much.
Mr. Kaine: thank you, mr. Chair. I want to thank some colleagues on the senate, senators murphy, rubio and mccain joined with me today introducing a resolution commemorating the challenges of the last six years and encouraging all of us, the global community, to do more. I want to thank the organizations here, i.r.c., Mercy corps and SAMS . SAMS does wonderful work. You’ve been praised as individuals but i know this organization, and i met with SAMS’ physicians in the united states and also in elsewhere, really a strong organization. Thank you for what you’re doing. A comment and then maybe a question or two. In november, 2015, right before thanksgiving, the house of representatives here bassed a bill called the — passed a bill called the securing america against foreign enemies act. That was the bill that blocked syrian refugees from coming into the united states. This is a body that won’t have a vote to declare isis an enemy. But it would label syrian refugees an enemy. I was very proud of my senate colleagues when that bill came over here, we wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Because refugees are not the enemies of the united states. And i’m extremely discouraged that after the senate had the good sense not to do that, this administration came in and perpetrated the same thing. It issued these immigration orders in january with the title, executive order protecting the nation from foreign terrorism. That was the title. The revised immigration orders aren’t much better. Because they hit refugees in three ways. One, by a temporary suspension of the refugee program. Two, by a temporary suspension of syrians being able to come into the united states. And three, by a dramatic reduction of the number of refugees that the united states will take. Refugees are not terrorists. Refugees are not enemies. When the administration issued the initial executive orders i was in roanoke, virginia, far from an international airport, far from worry being this issue, doing events about the affordable care act there. And i had somebody come up to me at a reception and said, hey, my family helped a syrian refugee family resettle in rone he can — roanoke working with catholic charities a year ago. Let me tell you how great they’re doing. The husband’s working on a construction crew and everybody loves him. All the construction workers of different political persuasions banded together to buy soccer shoes for all the kids at christmas and you can never say anything bad about this guy in front of any of those construction workers. This family’s been a credit to our community. But what they were asking me was this, here’s what they said. But we have a second syrian family arriving at the roanoke airport in four days. They’ve been in a refugee camp in jordan for four years. Getting vetted and finally approved to come to the united states. What’s going to happen to them? They haven’t been able to come to the united states. The notion that this administration is perpetrating, that refugees are enemies, is just absolutely contrary to the values of this country. I second comments made that the slashing of the foreign aid budget would be a horrible thing. Even if the foreign aid budget doesn’t get slashed by a penny, perpetrating a stereotype about refugees or syrians, that they’re our enemies, is deeply troubling to me. A question. The u.n. Security council in february of 2014 passed a resolution, 2139, calling for cross-border delivery of aid, safety for people receiving aid, and safety of medical facilities. I think the enforcement and i implementation of that’s been a disaster based on the testimony that’s been given. What does it say about the u.n., What does it say about the security council, what does it say about the nations that are members of the security council, that a resolution that called so clearly for there to be delivery of aid, and protection of medical facilities, Has been so poorly enforced in the three years since it passed?
Mr. Miliband: if i might, mr. Chairman. I think that there are two very important things to say about that. First of all, you made a distinction between the u.n. And the u.n. Security council. And there’s often a confusion between the agencies of the u.n., The officials of the u.n., And the countries that stand it up. I know from my own experience, a divided security council means a weak u.n. And the truth about these resolutions is a divided security council has weakened the hand of all those trying to implement the resolutions. Second point. I don’t know which is worse. The fact that the 2014 resolution hasn’t been abided by or that a resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons on the 2th of feab this year was vetoed by the russians. I think it’s important to see the two of them together. It points to the fundamental challenge that now exists. Because we’ve never been in a situation before where a permanent member of the security council was unwilling to uphold fundamental aspects of international humanitarian law.
Mr. Keny-guyer: if i may add quickly. The u.n., even the best of the operational agencies often reflects the politics of the security council. AND Discourages them sometimes from take the kind of bold, clear action that they should be taking. We have encouraged them, along with i.r.c. And others, we encourage them from the day of that resolution to now tested and push, push, push for cross-border humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately that did not happen. I think that just reinforces why and how important it is that the importance of organizations like mercy corps, i.r.c. And SAMS, in order to reach people in need in some of the toughest places in the world. But particularly those environments that are plagued by these kind of politics. We’re often the only last mile and the only life line.
Mr. Kaine: i have one more question. If you’d like to each ask questions before i do. If i might. The u.s. Is currently engaged in the major military action with other nations against raqqa. There has been a prediction that that might lead to another 400,000 refugees out of the area. I don’t want to ask you about the military side of it. But what would be your prediction about, if this military operation is successful , walk down the road with us a bit and tell us what we, a, might see in terms of the humanitarian challenge, and, b, what that might mean in terms of opening up space for either a greater or lesser likelihood of a political resolution in gentleman neeska and talks about finding a ceasefire and hopefully a next chapter in syria.
Mr. Keny-guyer: very quickly. I don’t know any of us who don’t hope deeply that groups like daesh, isis, have no place to operate anywhere. They’re not in the interest of anyone, they’re certainly not in the interest of innocent syrians. I think one would welcome through that kind of action that raqqa could become a normal city. In terms of the humanitarian impact, it really is going to depend on obviously how the military action unfolds. There were great predictions that mosul would produce a million-person humanitarian disaster. It still might. It has not up to now. I think we’ve all appreciated some of the great care that’s been taken. The real concern for civilians. Again, there’s suffering, but some of the harshest predictions didn’t come true. I think we all hope that for raqqa as well. If there is effective coordination on the ground, if there is upholding humanitarian principles and rights, if there is respect for the actors like ourselves, i think actually we could move in very quickly, restore essential services, and meet critical humanitarian needs. If there’s also the funding availab that.
Mr. Miliband: first of all, i think it’s very important to emphasize the degree of trauma it means to live under isis for two or three years. THE People i met last week coming out of mosul have lost some brothers to execution, they’ve got relatives who are in hiding, literally not coming out of their own house for years. There will be a massive degree of trauma. Certainly — secondly, i don’t see raqqa being a quick win at all. You’re going to be debating this in a year’s time, i would guess. And i think it’s very important to recognize that. Thirdly, we’ve learned from — we know from history and we can see in it the position of civilians in the definition of military operations is absolutely key to the way in which the peace is then built after the war has been won. And the way in which you win the war defines whether or not you can build the peace. Civilian casualty rates in mose really currently running at 47% — mosul are currently running at 47%. That’s obviously a dangerous down payment on any attempt to rebuild the city afterwards. That’s one reason that the humanitarian, political and military all come together. A final point on the political options. The great danger is that the options get worse rather than better. And the options become increasingly stream opposition groups that chairman rubio has referred to, versus an assad regime in its pomp and quote-unquote claimed victory asserts itself in an even more bloody way. That’s a recipe for continued instability inside syria.
Mr. Cardin: i really wanted to thank the panel. Mr. Miliband i think will make the 1:00 deadline. I would point out that in mosul we have a government that we can at least work with and communicate with, whereas in raqqa we do not. So there is i think a much greater risk in raqqa. I would also point out that clearly we need to deal with the responsibility and accountability to the assad regime, to russia’s involvement in syria. To the terrorist groups that are operating in syria. All of that are continuing to add to the humanitarian crisis. So, we need to engage the international community more effectively. In dealing with this. But it starts with taking care of business at home. What we do here in the united states. Many of my colleagues have talked about this. Our refugee program is not only directly important for refugees, but it is a signal to the international community as to america’s leadership. It’s very much — will effect policies in other countries. You mention what had europe decides to do wharkts neighbors countries of syria decide to do. We also in congress have our responsibility, we’re the ones who passed the budget. President trump can submit a budget, but we’re the ones who pass the budgets. We have a responsibility. Republicans and democrats have been speaking out about the importance of our foreign assistance budget. And i hope we’ll do the right thing there. We also need to deal with atrocity preventions. We mentioned many bills today, we also have an atrocity prevention bill that’s bipartisan that we’re working on trying to get done. Senator rubio’s been one of the key leaders on that. War crimes accountability, we also have that. Senator rubio’s been instrumental. But it’s also u.s. Global leadership. Where is america? We do that by our policies but also by our priorities that we set globally. We know that displaced families are at risk. We know that it’s difficult to get humanitarian aid to those who are at risk. And we all need to do a better job. I thought today’s hearing, i want to thank again the doctors particularly for being here. But i want to thank all of our witnesses for providing i think a very helpful information as to what we need to do to help not only the syrian humanitarian needs, but the whole region, which is involved. >> i thank the ranking member and all those who came today. Everyone on the panel. Including and especially the doctors here who have taken great personal risk. Not just in their conduct on the ground, but even being here today.
Mr. Rubio: there was a statement made earlier, i know exactly what you meant to say. I believe it was mr. Ken guyer who said, we don’t know who the good guys are. And i understand exactly what you mean. But i know who three of are. — of them are five of them are. They’re here today. We thank them for the work that they have done. The other part that comes striking today, and say this to my colleagues who remain is, there’s a lesson to be learned. We didn’t have to be here today. This didn’t have to happen. This began as has been pointed out by syrians themselves standing up against the government. And when we talk about some of these horrifying actors on the ground, it’s amazing how many of them aren’t syrians. How this vacuum in syria became a magnet for foreign fighters from all over the region to come in and use it as a playground for their broader aims and goals. How the assad regime has invited nonsyrians to come in and slaughter their fellow countrymen. And it was stunning in this committee, two months ago, we had a hearing and i asked a very direct question of the then nominee for secretary of state about whether the russians have been involved in the commission of war crimes and he said he was not aware. The been two months so i think hopefully by now he has been made aware of the reality that targeting medical facilities, no matter what, s happening in that area — no matter what is happening in that area, is a war crime. And that that targeting would not have been possible had it not been for the assistance and potentially the direct attacks conducted by the putin regime. Moving forward, i i think that this is an ongoing crisis for the world. To those who have argued in the past that america’s got a lot of problems and we should be focused on our problems and let other countries take care of their own problems, doesn’t work that way. That’s not how the world works, especially now. As interconnected as it is. We’re having debates in this country about refugee programs and the like. Because we have refugees. If we didn’t have refugees, if we didn’t have people who needed to leave there wouldn’t be a refugee issue for us to be debating in this country. And the other is, this is what the be a sense of american leadership looks like. Sadly i believe it’s a bipartisan absence in many cases that has led to this situation. So sometimes in foreign policy, it’s not enough to do the right thing. You have to doed right thing at the right time — to do the right thing at the right time because if you don’t those options are forestalled and you reach the situation we’ve reached here today. Our obligation is to take this message back to our colleagues and ensure that these ideas are not reflected in not just what we do now with respect to syria but the role america decides to play in the world in the years to come. Having this hearing today and hearing the testimony of all of you, in particular those who risk their lives before they came and risk their lives now upon their return, i hope will serve as an inspiration turnover member of this committee, every member of the senate, and those of us who care deeply about the anares of the world. About the way forward in the years to come. I thank you for hosting this hearing and i want to thank all of you for being here. The record for this – hearing is going to remain open until the close of business on friday. That includes time for members to submit additional questions for the record. We ask the witnesses if possible, obviously given the circumstances, to respond as promptly, because they’re going to be made part of the record, which we can refer back to as we debate some interesting topics in the wreeks and months to come — in the weeks and months to come. I want to thank every member of the committee who came and this hearing is adjourned. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. Visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] >> hopeful that we can restore our relationship and continue to support work. I want to say one final thing. We felt so strongly about our relationships in turkey that last summer we actually chose istanbul as the site of our next global leadership gathering. We were going to bring 200 of our top leaders around the world . And we chose istanbul for one main reason. To show solidarity with the government and the people following those horrible acts of terrorism, following the political upheaval this last summer. We wanted to say, look, you have supported us, we want to support you. So we still remain hopeful.
Reporter: what’s happened after five years? [inaudible]
mr. Keny-guyer: i can’t wait to sit down with the right authorities and have a positive conversation to restore our efforts to work there. And i’m confident we can do that. Thank you.