Ben Stiller highlights plight of Syrian refugees to Congress committee, warns of Russian escalation
Actor and director Ben Stiller, who is also now a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, testified in front of the Foreign Relations Committee at Capitol Hill on Wednesday on behalf of Syrian refugees, whose condition he said is dire.
Since the Syrian Civil War broke out as part of a wider wave of the 2011 Arab Spring, it's estimated that around half-a-million have been killed, and around 5.7 million have been rendered refugees.
Close to 3 million Syrian children, including 800,000 refugees, are unable to attend school, even as humanitarian groups have flagged continued raids and bombings by Russian and Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the northwestern areas of the country.
Stiller recalled his visits to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, bringing up his meeting with a 13-year-old boy named Khalil from Aleppo in particular, CNN reported. "'You work very hard for a young boy,'" Stiller recounted telling the teen, who he said had a 'very war-weary face, beautiful green eyes.' "And he said, 'I'm not a boy, I'm a young man.' I think that's the reality."
David Milliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, spoke alongside Stiller and said 3,500 people had been displaced in the last 36 hours and 15 air raids and attacks had taken place that day.
Raed Saleh, the head of the Syria Civil Defense, an organization which consists of a group of volunteers commonly known as 'White Helmets' who conduct medical evacuations, do search and rescue work after bombings and provide other services to civilians caught in the conflict, also backed Stiller's points.
"The situation on the ground is very dire," he told reporters in Washington. "There is significant suffering in civilian areas, heavy shelling targeting civilian areas, targeted by the Russians."
His own organization has been targeted by Moscow with disinformation campaigns because his volunteers document Russia's attacks on civilians and other violations of international law. Russian media is known to regularly report that they have ties with terrorist organizations, which is then used as a justification by the military to target them.
Saleh was honored with an award from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum this week and also praised by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the work he and his organization have done. The Committee's leading Democratic senator, Robert Menendez, said the White Helmets had "saved about 100,000 lives" doing "courageous work on the ground in Syria while being targeted by Russia."
The US State Department slammed Russia for targeting Saleh's and other humanitarian groups, and for the escalating violence in the country. Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said the country and the Assad regime "blatantly continue to target humanitarians" and that the violence was destabilizing the region.
He called for all parties to "abide by their commitments to avoid large scale military offensives, return to a de-escalation of violence in the area, and allow for unhindered humanitarian access to address the humanitarian disaster created by the ongoing violence.