Thank you so much, Chair and members of the committee, for inviting us to contribute to today's briefing on the situation in Turkey and northern Syria.
World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization working to create lasting change in the lives of children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. We work throughout the world in nearly 100 countries on the basis of need, with no strings attached. Here in Canada, we're supported by a network of 650,000 individuals and partners, including churches and university clubs.
The humanitarian consequences of a decade of fighting and displacement are clear: Humanitarian needs across Syria have risen by 20% since last year, with an estimated 13.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021.
The rights of Syrian girls and boys to be healthy, educated, protected and empowered are being severely undermined. Cross-border humanitarian assistance is a vital lifeline in helping to ensure that at a minimum, the right to assistance for Syrian children and families is upheld.
Children can be astoundingly resilient, but in Syria they have faced more than 10 years of relentless injury, death and destruction. As a result of a decade of war, they have lost their education, safety and family income, and their hope in a peaceful future. Children and their families live in constant fear of violence that threatens death or sexual assault, particularly against women and girls. World Vision's most recent assessment in northwest Syria indicated that every single girl we spoke to lives with the fear of being sexually assaulted and raped.
At least 1,435 schools and hospitals have been attacked—grave violations—preventing children from having the most basic rights to health care and education. Children who survive the air strikes, barrel bombs, ground attacks and siege strategies consistently face an unsafe reality and an uncertain future.
Of course, it's key to situate our response, as well as the broader operational environment, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial and health impacts of COVID-19 on communities already impacted by the decades-long conflict are devastating, particularly for those living in displacement and refugee camps and collective shelters in areas with limited health care.
An estimated 2.45 million girls and boys—or one in three—were already out of school by the end of 2019. The COVID-19 crisis has pushed an additional 50% out of education in the north of the country, resulting in two-thirds of children being out of school in northern Syria. Sadly, we know, of course, that girls are least likely to attend or return to school.
The Government of Canada is an important partner for our work in Syria, and we appreciate the financial commitments made to the Syria crisis in the recent budget. Our Canadian grants in northwestern Syria have focused on providing life-saving protection, health, water and sanitation, but I really want to stress the importance of dedicating sufficient funds to address the staggering humanitarian needs and ensuring the protection of children's rights.
I'd like to turn our attention to the important issue of cross-border humanitarian operations between Turkey and Syria.
The ability to provide cross-border assistance in Syria, initially through UN Security Council Resolution 2165 in 2014 and then its subsequent renewals, has been a vital lifeline to millions of people in Syria. It has allowed organizations like ours to reach people in spite of continued fighting and insecurity and in spite of severe access constraints, and has enabled humanitarian actors to ensure that those most in need are reached with assistance in a direct, safe, sustained and timely manner.
The scale of these operations is massive. Last year alone, the cross-border response allowed humanitarian actors to reach over 2.4 million people a month with life-saving food, nutrition assistance, education and critical medical supplies. Extended authorization of these operations by the UN Security Council is critical to support a pandemic response, including vaccinations in northwest Syria, where the first shipment of vaccines was received on April 22. It is deeply concerning that over the past years the number of border crossings available to humanitarian organizations has steadily decreased, placing additional constraints on humanitarian operations.
Let me conclude with two quick recommendations.
We urge the Government of Canada, through its permanent missions in New York and Geneva as well as through the ministerial level, to continue to strongly advocate a timely and unrestricted renewal of cross-border authorization.
We encourage Global Affairs Canada to make multi-year funding the expectation rather than the exception, providing the greatest flexibility for organizations like ours to have meaningful partnerships with local organizations.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak to you today.