Ben Stiller spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday at a hearing dedicated to the humanitarian impact of the war in Syria, which began in March 2011.
The actor and Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees delivered statements on the refugee crisis and his experiences at refugee camps.
“During my recent trip to Lebanon, and my earlier trip to Jordan, I heard over and over from refugees about their desire to go home. Despite the aid that they receive from UNHCR — including access to legal services and civil status documentation, cash assistance, and emergency supplies — coupled with the generosity of host countries, many Syrian refugees are living on a knife edge,” said Stiller during his testimony.
“Making ends meet has become more difficult with every passing year of displacement. Until they can return home, life is a daily battle to prevent slipping deeper and deeper in to poverty and destitution.”
The Syrian war has led, as of March 2019, to roughly 5.7 million Syrians fleeing the country and more than 6.1 million people displaced internally. President Donald Trump has seemingly given up on helping the Syrian refugees as he announced his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria late last year. As of March of this year, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed to CNN that Trump’s plans have not changed.
Fighting has also increased in the country’s northwest province Idlib, a rebel stronghold which lies between the grip of Syria’s president Bashar al Assad, who is also backed by Russia, and terror groups like al-Qaeda’s affiliate. The United Nations said 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed there in March, according to Al Jazeera.
Stiller addressed the impact of the war on children directly, explaining that “Syrian refugee families throughout the region often have no choice but to resort to harmful coping mechanisms such as child labor and early marriage in an effort to reduce financial pressure.”
“They are also at risk of trafficking and exploitation. It’s clear that children have been, and continue to be, among the most heavily affected by this crisis — losing out on education and other childhood opportunities,” he said.
Stiller went on to explain a four-step plan in how to help the Syrian refugees.
“First, we must increase support to refugee-hosting countries — such as Jordan and Lebanon — in ways that will allow them to not only help refugees but also improve the well-being of their own citizens who have taken these refugees into their communities,” he said.
“Second, refugees in these host countries need more opportunities to go to school and earn a living, in order that they can become self-sufficient and contribute to their host communities; we cannot let entire generations be uneducated or waste their potential.”
The 53-year-old’s third and fourth efforts included an ask from the international community “to provide more opportunities for resettlement and other pathways of admission, such as work visas or scholarships for higher education” and an effort to “redouble our efforts to achieve the conditions that enable refugees to return voluntarily to their home countries.”
Stiller closed out his statements by calling the United States the “most generous donor to many refugee crises and to the Syrian humanitarian situation” and that “eight years into this crisis, we must not look away.”
“We cannot let Syrian families go deeper into destitution and cannot let children be part of a lost generation. We need to ensure that these families can make ends meet, live in dignity, and look to the future with hope,” he said. “We need to ensure that these kids — like my kids and your kids — can have a childhood and achieve their dreams. Ultimately, we need help create the conditions that will allow the majority of Syrian refugees to return home — when the time is right—as they so desperately want to do.”