The humanitarian situation in Syria is fragile—and a lot is at stake with a planned U.S. reduction in troops. Jesse Marks and Hardin Lang outline what must be done to respond to the current humanitarian crisis and to protect civilians.
As northeast Syria recovers from occupation by ISIS, there is an important opportunity to strengthen the capacity of local humanitarian groups to help the region recover. These groups work in IDP camps, in host communities, with the displaced, with residents who never left, and with IDP and refugee returnees. They provide a range of services from food distribution to health care to shelter assistance in places where many international aid organizations do not or cannot have a presence. However, these groups are significantly limited in what they can achieve due to scarce funding and lack of capacity.
Syria is in the midst of one of the largest and fastest displacement crises since the start of the country’s bloody civil war eight years ago. As many as 330,000 Syrians have been displaced and are fleeing toward Jordan and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights to escape the Syrian government’s rapid advance. But despite the worsening crisis, international borders remain closed.
As the former capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Raqqa serves as an important barometer in measuring the progress of recovery in the wake of the liberation of much of northeast Syria. However, to date, efforts to stabilize the city and address the humanitarian situation have not kept pace with realities on the ground.
The United States and other donors have an important opportunity to consolidate stability in northeast Syria, which has been largely liberated from the Islamic State. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have begun to return home, but much work remains to be done with major population centers like Raqqa still riddled with explosive devices and basic services still to be restored. Actions by the Trump administration, however, threaten to unravel fragile progress on the ground.
Many of the Syrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Turkey and providing humanitarian aid inside Syria have reached a high level of organizational and operational capacity that was previously absent. The capacity-building initiatives of multiple donors, United Nations agencies, and international non-governmental organization (INGO) partners have helped a number of these groups develop their ability to provide humanitarian responses in accordance with international standards and to be effectively involved in the international coordination structure that was previously out of reach to them.
Turkey is the world’s largest host of refugees and asylum-seekers, with the majority – 2.8 million – having fled the conflict in neighboring Syria. Another 290,000 come from other countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.The Turkish government has taken a number of positive steps to improve the lives of Syrians in Turkey, particularly in education and employment, even holding out the possibility for citizenship.
Turkey’s December 2015 announcement of a work permit option for registered Syrian refugees is a momentous step, with support expressed by the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations, and donor governments alike. The decision is indeed encouraging both for ensuring refugees’ rights are respected and for promoting self-sufficiency. The implementation process for the work permits is just beginning, and while the new policy has promise, there are also potential obstacles and warning signs in the process as it appears on paper.
Over 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan face increasingly difficult circumstances as the conflict in their home country wears on with no end in sight. While the large camps of Za’atari and Azraq are regularly held up as examples of the ever-improving refugee response in Jordan, the situation for Syrians outside those camps is considerably less positive.
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.