Refugees from Syrian
strife straining resources
in many countries
President Bashar Al Assad of Syria is at the center of the regional humanitarian catastrophe.
THE CONTINUING bloody battle in Syria has spawned an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that is spreading across the region.
It was brought to global attention this week with a record-breaking appeal for help from the United Nations.
But it is worse than most are aware.
Not only Syria’s neighbors are affected. Refugees from the conflict are now arriving in distant lands and new host countries are themselves reeling from the influx.
What began as an insurrection against the regime of Bashar Al Assad and became a civil war, is now a cascading humanitarian catastrophe of gargantuan proportions.
WE HAVE written many times about Syria since visiting the region in September.
In an Oct. 18 story ‘Arc of instability’ poses global threat, humanitarian crises we noted the developing humanitarian disaster and concluded:
“In Syria, it could be argued the territory never was a nation state.
It’s time to re-think the concept of the modern nation state for a growing portion of the world before the threats to global stability become reality.”
The threat now is well on the way to becoming the reality.
This is evident from the appeal by the UN refugee agency Dec. 16 titled UN appeals for a record US$6.5 billion for Syria operations in 2014.
The appeal for aid by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. Click image to enlarge.
“Faced with the prospect of a worsening situation inside Syria and growing numbers of refugees in 2014, UN agencies on Monday appealed to donors for US$6.5 billion in funds – the biggest amount so far requested for a single humanitarian emergency.
“As we look towards the fourth year of this appalling crisis, we see that nearly three-quarters of Syrians will need humanitarian aid in 2014,” said Valerie Amos, Emergency Relief Coordinator.
“We’re facing a terrifying situation here where, by the end of 2014, substantially more of the population of Syria could be displaced or in need of humanitarian help than not,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
In other words, more than half the population will be in need of aid next year.
According to UNHCR, more than 2.3 million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, in one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history.
“Support for the surrounding countries includes help for refugee-hosting communities in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which provide Syrians with basic shelter, protection and other essential support,” the agency said.
Not on the list is one European country featured in a report the same day on the PBS Newshour titled Refugees fleeing violence in Syria confront dire conditions in Bulgaria.
The story on PBS Newshour about Syrian refugees in Bulgaria. Click image to enlarge.
In the lead-in to the report, PBS presenter Judy Woodruff says:
“Many [Syrian refugees], thousands, have fled to Europe’s poorest country, Bulgaria, only to find that it is ill-equipped to handle the influx and sometimes hostile to their very presence.”
The following report by Jonathan Rugman paints a dismal picture.
“In a small town in Bulgaria, a refugee camp like no other in Europe. Over 1,000 Syrians are crammed into housing meant for just 400. Many of them have been living without electricity or hot water for weeks. And because there aren’t enough prefab huts, some are facing winter in Bulgarian army tents,” Rugman reports.
“The U.N. has repeatedly described conditions for refugees here as unsafe and dire.
“The camps in Turkey are already overloaded, and the Bulgarians say they too are in danger of being overwhelmed.”
To the southeast, Turkey, has taken in about half-a-million Syrian refugees, Bulgaria, only about 5,000.
“The presence of some 5,000 Syrian refugees has become one of the biggest political issues of the day here,” Rugman reports.
The Bulgarians face a somewhat different dilemma than Syria’s neighbor Lebanon, as described in the report Lebanese Fear Loss of Land to Syrian Refugees on the non-profit web site Syria Deeply.
“Lebanon is struggling to balance the growing influx of Syrian refugees with the anxiety of a population that fears a replay of the Palestinian refugee crisis [of 1948],” wrote Alison Meuse on Dec. 16.
“With over 1 million Syrians now in Lebanon and no end to the conflict in sight, there is a rising fear across the country that temporary U.N. tents will soon become permanent tenements, further saturating the Lebanese workforce and contributing to the deterioration of the economy.”
Should Lebanon allow more effective – and more permanent – structures to be built?
“Syrian refugees are not welcome here. Just two weeks ago, a tent settlement … was torched and its inhabitants sent fleeing,” Meuse writes.
“The fears of a permanent population shift have led Lebanese authorities, unlike their counterparts in Turkey and Jordan, to reject establishing official camps, or even the semi-permanent housing proposed by international NGOs.”
It is a thorny issue for the tiny country. But, meanwhile, television images of Syrian refugees in Lebanon shivering in a winter storm have been on many channels this past week.
Their existence in tents is miserable, at best. But being more hospitable would increase the chances of permanent settlements.
The humanitarian crisis spawned in Syria is enveloping the entire region – and beyond. We simply cannot close our eyes and ears to the plight of so many millions.
What began as an internal conflict has become one with global ramifications. We hope the international response is commensurate with the urgency of the problem.
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