Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary at dusk in Roszke, Serbia. Photo: Getty Images
Working on humanitarian crises and aid relief in the Middle East has been heart wrenching and incredibly eye opening as I've faced hard realities. The region is filled with armed conflict and as a result there is sadly is no shortage of human suffering and devastation. Brutal regimes, extremist groups and proxy wars have devastated civilian life and caused even more civilian death. The region is riddled with complexity and the aftermath of bad policies –some the design of western governments.
I've witnessed the power of aid in transforming lives and building resilience, especially for women who have survived sexual violence and are the breadwinners of their family, many of whom remain displaced . Aid has also meant the difference between life and death for the women who are in need of protection of their rights, safety and livelihoods. It's a story I've seen throughout the region.
Nothing is certain in this ever-changing context but there are truths we can't deny: Armed conflict has desolated Arab countries , bringing about their collapse . Civilians pay the ultimate price of armed conflict within their countries and outside while on the perilous journey to seek refuge. While arms are awash in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, international aid is marginal. The instinct of western government intervention in these conflicts is more bombing and further arms transfers.
F/A-18A Hornets from Australia's Air Task Group fly in formation with a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft.
And so against these realities, the Australian government's participation in the international bombing campaign in Syria remains baffling. The announcement of further Australian government airstrikes in Syria and Iraq against ISIS targets raises many questions and answers few.
Putting aside the legal ambiguity of this military decision, strategic and humanitarian concerns must be flagged, especially given our dark past in the Iraq war of 2003. The lesson of our recent past in the Iraq war should be that a lack of exit strategy, no clear idea of what success looks like and the inevitable destruction of civilian life must rule out any such military option. However it seems the current government would prefer denying the truths of the past with pursuing further militarization in Syria.
And after a year of the U.S dropping bombs in Syria and Iraq, civilian losses and causalities have risen, with little evidence suggesting ISIS has lost ground. In fact what has increased is the number of Syrian refugees. The Assad regime's use of barrel bombs, atrocities committed by ISIS, along with internationally –led bombing raids have forced millions to flee and left many displaced. The conflict in Syria has produced over four million registered refugees and one million more expected to be displaced within Syria by the end of the year. The blatantly obvious fact is that bombs and armed conflict fueled by both sides only create more refugees and mass displacement.
While western governments seem to be rather generous with the provision of airstrikes, they have been less generous with the provision of humanitarian aid in Syria. $11.1 billion is the approximate amount needed to respond to the Syria crisis, yet international aid has fallen short of meeting that target. Australia's fair share of aid would be $149 million but we are nowhere near providing that even with recent additional increases. This is particularly damning as UN and humanitarian agencies have been forced to decrease life saving aid services in Syria due to funding shortfalls. With the help of Australian airstrikes, Syria may see more bombs than life-saving aid.
Undoubtedly ISIS along with the Assad regime have committed atrocious crimes, humanitarian violations and caused unspeakable human suffering. Syria and the Middle East would be clearly better off without the brutality of the Assad regime and ISIS alike.
However the lessons of our recent military past haunt us with an undeniable reality: further militarization , arms and bombing raids wont get us any closer to ending the Syria conflict and human suffering- something I'm sure we all want to see. To have effective impact on the Syria crisis, more government investment in humanitarian aid and international peace efforts may serve greater good.