Providing humanitarian aid in a conflict zone is a challenge all over the world. But perhaps no situation has proved more complex than that of Syria. A particularly stubborn and brutal regime, a fragmented opposition movement, and ever-changing alliances among fighting groups have resulted in an operational context defined by irregular access and major security risks for humanitarian workers. Every day, millions of vulnerable people across the country live with food and fuel shortages, homelessness, and an absence of vital medical care. Almost 5 million of those people are in places that are difficult for humanitarians to access. Syrian groups working inside the country have been able to offer some support in hard-to-reach areas and to a lesser degree in besieged areas where the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations do not send their staff.
There are millions of Syrians today who are living without a home. Almost 12 million women, men, and children are displaced either inside or outside of Syria. But within this population, there are tens of thousands for whom “home” is challenging even to define. These are the babies born to those displaced Syrians. In Turkey, where an RI team studied the issue in March, more than 60,000 Syrian babies have been born in exile, and these numbers will continue to increase as the civil war rages on. None of the neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees, including Turkey, provide citizenship just because a child was born in its territory. Even if a birth is recorded, Syrian nationality law only permits Syrian fathers to transmit citizenship, with very few exceptions. Tens of thousands of Syrian fathers are dead, missing, or fighting in the civil war. In their absence, children born in exile since the war began, and even some of those born in Syria, may not be able to assert their Syrian citizenship if and when they are able to return home.
Since December 2013, conflict in South Sudan has forced 2 million people from their homes. In the north of the country, where fighting is most severe, populations have been pushed to the brink of starvation. Tragically, this war in South Sudan is unlikely to end anytime soon. Donors and aid organizations have mobilized to deliver significant amounts of humanitarian aid, but logistical and security challenges continue to hamper the effectiveness of the response. Improvements can and must be made, both to better respond to people in need and to prepare for new waves of displacement within South Sudan and into neighboring countries like Ethiopia, the largest South Sudanese refugee hosting country. This is a critical moment, before the rainy season begins in earnest in May and logistical challenges become even more difficult. United Nations peacekeepers, armed with a new mandate that prioritizes civilian protection, can also take steps to better implement that mandate and keep people safe.
In November 2013, the strongest typhoon on record tore a path of destruction across the central Philippines, displacing four million people. In the disaster’s wake, the government adopted an ambitious plan to relocate 200,000 households away from at-risk coastal areas and resettle them out of harm’s way. While well-intentioned as a strategy to mitigate displacement from future typhoons and climate change, observations to date suggest that without sufficient planning and safeguards, government-led resettlement is a highly risky undertaking that threatens to prolong displacement and leave affected populations more, not less, vulnerable.
It is impossible to talk about the Democratic Republic of the Congo without talking about sexual violence. The widespread acknowledgement of gross levels of conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC spurred the international community to act in an unprecedented manner to protect women from these atrocities. In particular, there were two major investments by the United States and the United Nations, one with an unprecedented level of programmatic funding, the other with a novel coordination strategy.
In September 2013, fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and a Muslim rebel group in the port city of Zamboanga on Mindanao forced 120,000 people – primarily minority Muslims – to flee. More than a year later, tens of thousands remain displaced, living in deplorable conditions.
Two years after a wave of violence hit the region, Myanmar’s Rakhine State has become a segregated zone. Two million ethnic Rakhine live apart from 1.2 million stateless Rohingya, who are trapped inside displacement camps or barred from leaving their villages. Ending this segregation and protecting the rights of the Rohingya are necessary components of Myanmar’s move toward democracy.
About 850,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled the conflict in central Iraq to seek safety further north in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). They are scattered across the KRI in a variety of temporary housing situations: though a small number of them are in camps, most live informally in local schools, unfinished buildings, and public parks. Half a million of them are in the city of Dohuk alone. The great majority of these 850,000 internally displaced are members of religious minorities – Christians from the Ninewa Plains and Yazidis from the Sinjar area, in particular.
Well into the fourth year of the conflict in Syria, it is clear that Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries will not be able to return home in the near future. In Lebanon, where one in four residents is a Syrian refugee, the demands of providing emergency assistance to refugees while trying to support disadvantaged host communities have become especially complex. Lebanon’s government has not been able to come to agreement on approving a range of support projects for both Syrian refugees and disadvantaged Lebanese nationals. And while this political debate goes on, tensions between hosts and guests continue to rise.
Somali refugees in Kenya are facing pressure on multiple fronts. Earlier
this year, the Kenyan government announced that all urban refugees must
report to refugee camps. At the same time, the government launched a
security operation aimed at rooting out alleged members of the Al Shabab
terrorist organization from Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali
neighborhood in Nairobi. Together, these two initiatives opened the door
to increased levels of abuse, extortion, and harassment of refugees by
the Kenyan police. This comes as the Kenyan government is publicly
urging large-scale returns of Somali refugees even though the
humanitarian situation inside Somalia is deteriorating severely.