Syria: Towards a More Effective Response

By Daryl Grisgraber

Starting today, my colleague Marc Hanson and I will be in the Middle East to continue our field research on the situation of Syrian refugees. 

RI first looked at this crisis a year ago in Lebanon, when the number of refugees there was relatively small and assistance was distributed largely through local authorities and host families. No one expected the crisis to take on the proportions that it has since, nor last so long.

Now we are making our fourth visit to the region – specifically, to northern Iraq and southern Turkey, where we will try to learn what has improved and what challenges remain for Syrian refugees in camps and local communities.

The last few months have been extremely difficult for all displaced Syrians. Hundreds of thousands of people struggled to get through the winter with insufficient food, fuel, and warm clothing. Many families in Lebanon and Jordan faced harsh weather conditions without decent shelter. Border closings in Iraq and Turkey stranded many people inside of Syria, and winter illnesses took their toll across the region.

When the United Nations asked for $1 billion in January to support Syrian refugees, many donors responded with generous pledges. But the money has been slow to come in, and the number of displaced Syrians has outpaced the UN’s estimates. In December, the UN forecast that the number of Syrian refugees would reach 1.1 million by the end of June. Now, in mid-March, that number is already in the rearview mirror, and forecasts are being adjusted upward as the war in Syria continues.

On this field mission, we will be talking to refugees, aid agencies, and governments to figure out how the world’s response should change.

In Iraq, we will visit Domiz camp in Kurdistan, where the regional government struggles to keep up with the growing need for shelter. We will also look beyond Domiz and into nearby communities, where Syrian refugees are facing rising costs of rent and food, even as the government allows them access to social services like education and health care.

In Turkey, we will be looking closely at the needs of Syrians living outside of camps. These refugees had practically no services available to them when RI visited last October. Now they can receive free medical care – one of their most pressing needs – and the Turkish government has begun to register them to assess their situation in more detail. These are steps in the right direction, but as the refugee population continues to grow, Turkey will need additional support from the international community.

Finally, we will be asking whether it is time for a more aggressive approach to humanitarian assistance inside Syria itself. Aid within Syria has been limited as a result of strict regulations by the Syrian government. The UN, aid agencies, and Syrian groups have struggled to find ways to implement an operational strategy that reaches the most vulnerable inside the country. We will try to determine what more can be done to help people in need, while at the same time adhering to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

For more updates from our mission, be sure to follow us on Twitter.


Syrian Refugees

It is devastating to "see" so many people and especially the children suffering and living the life of a refugee! I recently read an article on the topic and thought, how lucky we are, that we can now make use of technology to fight for human rights and improve the conditions of life for all in a situation of displacement: