Those who risk everything to find safety deserve a sense of security
Earlier this year, I learned the story of a Syrian woman named Nour.*
Nour, like many of those affected by the conflict in Syria, was forced to flee her home and take up residence in a neighboring country. But once there, Nour was involved in a serious accident in which another driver disobeyed traffic laws and crashed into her car. While Nour survived, her family was killed, and the heartache of having lost her home was now immensely compounded by losing her loved ones.
Nour reported the incident to the police station and sought help from the authorities to bring those responsible for the accident to justice. But instead of being heard and assisted, Nour was met with resistance and was herself blamed for the wrongdoing. After all, she was the displaced, the refugee. The outsider. To date, Nour has yet to see those who killed her family held responsible.
This is just one of the myriad of stories we are hearing from the people affected by the ongoing crisis in Syria. Millions have left their homes, livelihoods, and even families behind in search of safety, only to continue lacking effective protection wherever they find themselves.
In some cases, the justice and security institutions responsible for protection do not have capacity to deal with the pressures caused by substantial refugee and migration flows. In others, the influx of forcibly displaced people have exacerbated tensions in communities already prone to social divisions and corruption. Oftentimes both circumstances are present. What is clear for us as the international community is the urgent need to respond with assistance that fosters viable rule of law solutions to the problems people face.
Strengthening the rule of law, even in the middle of the ongoing crisis, is critical to these ends. We can partner with host communities and refugees alike on areas such as providing protection, improving responses to crimes such as sexual and gender-based violence, and strengthening legal aid and access to justice. We can help build the capacity of host communities to resolve tensions before they escalate. Our aim with this work is to help foster stability and safety for all people in affected communities.
For instance, in Lebanon, we work with the municipal police to reduce friction and prevent the occurrence of violent incidents between Syrian refugees and the Lebanese themselves. We also support authorities in their work to alleviate the pressures and increased workload of the overcrowded Lebanese prison system (which estimates currently place at nearly 330% capacity).
We can also assist those who have experienced abuse and human rights violations to seek reparations. Supporting civil society and non-governmental organizations to track and document abuses is an important component of this work. Additionally, we can work with national and local stakeholders to increase access to justice and free legal aid services. In Jordan, we partner with host communities – including Sharia and other religious courts – to improve access to justice specifically for the most vulnerable women, girls, men and boys.
Justice, security and respect for human rights are not goals to be eventually realized once a political settlement is in place. No – the need for rule of law is immediate. It determines whether or not women, children, and men who have already risked so much to find security are able to feel safe in their new environments (even if temporary), and build new livelihoods for themselves and their families. For Nour and so many others like her, experiencing peace after enduring so much hardship absolutely depends on it.
* Not her real name