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Catastrophic Syrian Crisis: Humanitarian Refugee Tragedy Afflicts not only Syria but much of the Middle East--An Update

posted on: Aug 31, 2022

The Syrian civil war is the cause of the massive refugee crisis in the Middle East — Photo The Atlantic

“The biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time and a continuing cause for suffering.” That’s what UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi called the Syrian crisis. The amount of humanitarian aid required by almost 15 million Syrians is enormous. It is not only Syria that harbors refugees, but more than 120 countries offer them asylum. The valiant work of such organizations as UNHCR and private agencies as Concern Worldwide have responded to the emergency for years.

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

Syrian Refugees spill far beyond the borders into surrounding Countries

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, has reported that 14.6 million Syrians are in dire need of humanitarian aid—up from 13.4 million last year. 75% of all households in Syria could not meet their most basic needs in 2022, ten percent more than in 2021.

Worse, 4.5 million Syrian refugee children are not in school. 1.6 million are at risk of dropping out. 5.6 million Syrians live as refugees in neighboring countries and more than 6.9 million are displaced inside Syria. Women and children comprise more than two thirds of those displaced.

A refugee camp in north-west Iraq. 11,000 people have fled from Syria to this camp with an estimated 500 more people crossing the border per day. Photo Concern Worldwide

UNHCR reports that Syrians have shown “remarkable resilience,” but as war continues, their hope is fading. Just a year ago, that agency reported that three quarters of all households in Syria were not meeting their most basic needs. In Lebanon, over 90 percent of Syrians live in extreme poverty.

The United Nation’s premier agency serving refugees, UNHCR, refers to Syria’s situation as “a silent one [in which] Syria remains the world’s largest refugee crisis of our time.” That agency provides on the ground help, including shelter, lifesaving supplies, clean water, hot meals and medical care to families forced to flee their homes. It pays particular attention to the winter conditions affecting refugees.

Syrian Refugee Camps and Settlements

The Syrian crisis has led refugees to seek asylum in more than 120 countries. Most of then have ended up in nearby countries. Thus, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have become their major destinations. Turkey alone hosts the largest population, over 3.7 million, while in Lebanon about one in four people is a Syrian refugee.

Important to note is that the majority of Syrians residing outside of Syria live with host communities. Thus, only five percent of Syrian refugees live in a refugee camp. That number represents a reduction of 50% from five years ago.
However, in many of the camps, more than half of the refugees are children and almost one-third of households are female-headed. In Syria itself, almost 2 million refugees are still living in camps and informal settlements.

UNHCR has played a critical role in supporting Syrian refugees during Covid-19. It provided protective equipment to hospitals and health clinics, distributed medicines and supported the construction of quarantine areas and hygiene facilities. UNHCR worked hand-in-hand with host countries to ensure that refugees, internally displaced, and stateless people were included in national responses to the pandemic as well as COVID-19 vaccination programs.

Massive Human Costs of the Syria Crisis

Syrian mother with her children and extended family live in this tiny tent with her extended family and their children in Lebanon. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

So, after 11 years of the Syrian conflict, it is time to account for the human atrocities inflicted on the Syrian people. We have already seen the numbers of Syrians adversely affected by the conflict. They number in the many millions. But underlying that global figure is the striking UNICEF estimate of 6.1 million Syrian children that require assistance. That is a truly sad statistic.

A report by Concern Worldwide describes the trauma of the conflict on the lives of Syrian families in graphic detail. It reports, “After eleven years of conflict, families have been forced to flee their homes and become displaced to new locations as many as nine times or more.” Even a one-time displacement is distressing. But such multiple times is “very traumatizing; multiple displacements present an unimaginable psychological burden for each person as they adjust to living in a new and unfamiliar area.”

Civilians affected by the conflict always suffer the most. Again, according to Concern Worldwide, for “Syrians still living in the country, the violence of conflict is not confined to bombing, missile attacks, and the destruction of cities like Idlib, Aleppo, and Raqqa. Rather, it has seeped into every aspect of Syrian life.” Many refugees feel unsafe in almost any environment, but the alien feeling created by the war especially affects women and children.

The war “affects men, women, boys, and girls in starkly different ways that often reinforce existing gender inequalities.” Throughout the conflict, Syrian men and women “have often had to take up negative coping mechanisms to survive and support their families.” Gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual violence have grown across the country.

Yet another cost of the war is, according to Concern Worldwide, “running the risk of a ‘lost generation.’” Because so many schools have been destroyed during the war, there are enormous gaps in the capacity to provide an education. As noted earlier, currently there are 4.5 million Syrian children out of school. This figure contrasts with Syria’s previous high attendance rate of 97%.

UNHCR serves millions of Syrian refugees through food aid, health care, and protective services — Photo Indian Express

Not to be underplayed in Syria’s disaster is the role of weather. Concern Worldwide calls it a “threat multiplier.” Drastically hot summers contrast with bitterly cold winters. Whether refugees living in a UNHCR camp or a family living in poor housing conditions, weather is a constant threat to their safety and well-being.

Concern Worldwide has itself been providing invaluable services to the refugees. It is mainly in the area of food security and livelihoods where it has been responding. Its turnaround time from assessment to distribution is admirably short, like two days. Concern also renders protective services, such as child-friendly spaces, self-healing and learning spaces, and gender-based violence prevention. Its work is truly heroic.

“Syria Refugee Crisis,” United Nations Refugee Agency, 2022
“The Syria Crisis Explained: 5 Things to know in 2022,” Concern Worldwide, 3/15/2022

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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