The UN Plan to Help Syrian Refugees: A Major Challenge?

20 avril 2015
Due to the Civil War in Syria, there are to this day 3,2 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country [1]. They are taken in in large part by the neighbouring nations: Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Their situation continues to degrade and during 2014, they were around 100,000 to arrive per month in these countries. Around 85% of them live not in organized camps but are welcomed by the local communities or dispersed in the countries which they have managed to enter.

To come to their aid, the United Nations (UN) has called for a “3RP” plan, or Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan intended to be applied for a duration of two years over 2015 and 2016 [2]. This plan is part of the Global Regional Strategic Framework of the UN, and also fits into the UN’s SHARP or Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan.

The 3RP is characterized by its will to link humanitarian aid to development: “The refugees are of course a humanitarian question (…) but is also directly linked to development questions. There should be no separation between humanitarian aid and aid to development.” Affirmed the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on October 1st 2014 [3].

The 3RP acts through planning, awareness, fund raising, information management and surveillance. The actions will concern the refugees, the citizens of host countries, over one hundred and fifty actors of humanitarian aid and aid to development, civil society, and the governments of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

The plan consists of five plans in the five countries, developed at a national level while consulting each government. It also has a regional and global dimension with the “3RP Regional Overview” which coordinates and harmonizes the five nation’s actions.

The UN will intervene in matters of health, food supply, hygiene, housing, education, basic needs and social cohesion. The help will be directed not only towards individuals but also small companies, to try and integrate refugees into the host nation’s economy.

The notion of “basic needs” is an old key notion for the UN. In the 1970’s the organization had garnered much economic criticism over this notion of “basic human needs”. It was the idea that the fundamental needs of a human being in terms of food, health, housing, education, transport, clothing, employment, the list goes on, must be met. This strategy consisted of proposing development policies that combine economic growth with reduction of poverty, job creation, and a better distribution of revenue. No longer would objectives be limited to economic growth as it was noticed that economic growth wasn’t a proper indicator of a population’s quality of life. Indeed many developing nations have positive economic growth while maintaining generalized poverty (“growth without development”) [4]. In the UN itself lies the ILO (International Labor Organisation) which played a key role for promoting this new strategy counting from the 1960’s. The director at the time, American David Morse, had worked hard towards this notion [5]. He promoted a human dimension to the ILO’s actions and launched the 1969 World Employment Program, WEP. This program incarnated the “basic needs” approach. However the “basic needs” concept was quickly abandoned during the 1980’s due to a return of orthodox neoliberalism.
Among the modules planned by the 3RP, there is also the “No Lost Generation” initiative, which intends to focus itself in the education and protection of children. For this, the UN can count on its long acquired experience with the 1949 UNRWA/UNESCO program: at this time, UNESCO had pledged to work in favor of educating Palestinian child refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The aim was to allow these children to be educated despite their conditions as refugees. UNESCO led this action along with UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, created for this exact purpose. Despite the immense difficulties due to the tense situation and moments of war between the communities fighting over Palestinian territory, the education program UNRWA/UNESCO has realized, from 1949 to our day, many projects and established a true schooling system for young Palestinians. In 1972 this system counted 250,000 students in 500 schools and 7000 teachers [6].Today UNRWA, which still exists, is by far the largest UN agency with a personnel of over 25,000 people, essentially Palestinian refugees recruited locally and working as teachers, doctors, or social workers. Through this the UN can use its experience and help other refugees in the Middle East.
Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, president of the UN group on development, underlines the UN’s will to promote through the 3RP “an integral and multi-section approach, and global coordinated strategies” to assure “a transition between humanitarian aid and sustainable development” [7]. Antonio Guterres, High UN Commissioner for refugees, affirmed that “the situation in Syria underlines the urgency of adapting the way we work together (…) to find ways to combine humanitarian assistance and aid to development to stabilize the situation and construct long term resilience among host communities and refugees.” He hopes that the lessons learned from this Syrian crisis will serve the UN in handling other issues later on, notably to better link humanitarian aid and aid to development together in the future [8]. Indeed, the UN has often drawn criticism in its assistance to populations in need of help, as they provide help in time but do not prepare any long term development. The UN has thus decided to work harder to improve in this domain: this is how the notion of “post-conflict peacebuilding” appeared in 1992 in the Peace Agenda of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to complement the “peacekeeping” introduced in 1956 to the UN by Canadian politician Lester Pearson.

According to the UN there are 13,6 million refugees due to the wars in Syria and Iraq. This is a major risk and challenge that the UN plans to tackle head on with their 3RP. Will this lead to reintroducing the humanist strategy based on “basic needs”? Will the international community be willing to give the UN the financing it needs?

[3] United Nations, 20 November 2014, available online at
[4] Multiple books or articles have this title ou express this idea in their development from 1960 onward. Ex: R.W. Clower et alii, Growth without development. An economic survey of Liberia, Northwestern University Press, 1966.
[5] Cf. Biography of David Morse by Daniel Maul, in Bob Reinalda (dir.), Biographical Dictionary of Secretary-Generals of International Organizations,
[6] UNESCO archives, file 37:362.92 (5-011) UNRWA/A 045 UNDP, part I: Doc Institute of Education, Beyrouth.
[7] 3RP Key Reference Documents & Updates, United Nations, 20 novembre 2014, disponible en ligne sur
[8] Ibid.

Translated by Emilia Capitaine and Elie Khoury, students at IRIS Sup’.