President Obama is ringing in the end of Ramadan by sending $195 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian rebels. This means that by the time Ramadan ends later today, the U.S. will have given more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid to the beleaguered, fractured Syrian opposition.
What’s particularly notable about this aid package, however, is that an unspecified portion of it will go to help victims of sexual violence, which has become a serious, widespread problem in the conflict.
“U.S. assistance will also increase gender-based violence response services and referral through women’s health centers, mobile clinics, and outreach teams providing health and psychosocial services in Syria, including home-based support to vulnerable women and children,” the State Department said in the press release announcing the aid.
In February, a representative from the United Nation’s Refugee agency told the UN Human Rights council that “the conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war to intimidate parties to the conflict destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities.” A report by the International Rescue Committee showed that fear of sexual assault is one of the biggest factors motivating Syrians to leave the country.
To that effect, $41 million of the new aid package is going to the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt to which many of these Syrians have fled.
Some, such as Senator John McCain, have insisted that the administration arm the rebels as well as provide humanitarian aid. Obama announced a plan to do just that last June, but it was put on the back burner after members of the House and Senate intelligence committees raised concerns that the weapons could end up in the hands of Islamic militants, who make up a sizable portion of the Syrian opposition.