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Canadian aid agencies prepare for influx of Syrian refugees after U.S. airstrikes

President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday, April 6, 2017, after the U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.
Image Credit: (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
April 08, 2017 - 8:00 PM

Canadian aid workers in the Middle East are preparing for an influx of asylum-seekers into already crowded camps, fearing U.S. military action in Syria could drive more people out of the wartorn country.

The policy director at World Vision Canada said Saturday that his agency is planning for "a new wave" of people fleeing Syria, out of concern that Thursday's American military intervention could escalate.

American warships launched almost 60 missiles at a military air base in central Syria, killing nine people. It marked the first time Washington has directly targeted Syrian government forces since the country's civil war began in 2011.

With that in mind, Martin Fischer said, he and his team have to ask themselves a number of questions in order to adjust their contingency plan.

"Where could military action escalate? What kind of populations are still in those areas? And if there were some sort of military action, how would that transpire into people moving across the border into various countries?" he said, speaking from Amman, Jordan.

"The important thing is to recognize is that if airstrikes happen, it doesn't automatically mean that people just from those areas move, but it instills a sense of fear into people that really, there's going to be more fighting. And that's when they move into neighbouring countries," he added.

Relief agencies like World Vision may need to redistribute their resources, based on the changing landscape.

The agency so far has been working in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, providing emergency intervention to people affected by the conflict — including food, water, sanitation and education.

And Fischer said the job may become even more difficult as a result of the strikes.

"The infrastructure for the current situation is there, but if you look at both communities where refugees are outside of camps, as well as inside camps, they're pretty much at capacity," he said. "So if you then have a large influx of refugees, you need to beef up the NGOs' (non-governmental organizations') capacities, but also the host countries' capacities to take these folks in."

He said for things to get better for people in Syria, there must be a political solution.

"(With) the military solution, the people that suffer are civilians," he said. "And of those, most critically, it's children."

Fischer added that Canadians at home can also help.

"Translate their shock and their despair into some form of outrage, if you will. That means really letting their elected officials at every level ... know that these kinds of attacks, either the gas attacks to begin with or counter-military attacks, are not without impact on people. They're not just military operations."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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