There is always a convenient excuse. In Haiti, we don't have the time. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we don't have the funding. In the Syrian refugee response, we don't have the experts. Somehow, there is always a pat answer to why we, the humanitarian community, fail to protect women and girls in emergency after emergency.
Just a few years ago, the countries of the European Union (EU) thought they were finally getting control over the flow of refugees and asylum seekers across their borders. Having peaked at 670,000 in 1992, the number of asylum applications submitted in the EU fell rapidly in successive years, slumping to just 200,000 in 2006.
In less than three years, the Syrian refugee population has become the largest in the world, surpassing the number of people who have been forced to flee longstanding conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan.
As Hassan shuffled around the room with my camera in hand, snapping photos of his cousin Juhanah, his grandmother told the story of how their extended family came to share this simple concrete dwelling in southern Turkey. Like the stories of many other Syrian families taking refuge in neighboring countries, hers was one of trauma, loss, and uncertainty.
As the number of Syrian refugees continues to grow and host communities feel the crunch, Lebanon is considering changes to its immigration policies which would limit the number of Syrian arrivals. Lebanon has been very welcoming toward Syrians so far, but with Syrian refugees now comprising roughly 25 percent of its population, there are fears that the demographic balance of the country is in jeopardy. Many here also worry that high social tensions related to the refugee influx could cause internal conflict.
Yesterday’s announcement that the United States will accept 2,000 Syrian refugees is a welcome piece of good news for the nearly two million Syrians now living in exile. Many have spent more than two years trying to eke out an existence in neighboring countries that offer varying degrees of hospitality and support.
This post previously appeared in Politico.
Syria’s civil war has become one of the largest humanitarian disasters in recent memory. The number of displaced Syrians is climbing rapidly, and the United Nations now estimates that half of Syria’s 20 million people could need aid by the end of this year. The Obama Administration and Congress have responded generously to the needs of Syrians during the last two years of conflict, but clearly more must be done.
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.