Refugees International warns that an abrupt withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria will create a power vacuum that will likely lead to a new round of conflict. Renewed fighting will disrupt communities, displace additional populations, and could trigger another humanitarian crisis.
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.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear the right of every human being to seek safety in another country. But eight years into the Syrian conflict, this most basic of human rights barely matters because there is so little leeway for people to leave Syrian territory in the first place. If the international community truly wants to help Syrians, it must insist that Syria’s neighbors open their borders, and it needs to offer financial, technical and humanitarian assistance to make that happen.
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.
Just back from a field mission in Syria, Hardin Lang writes that last week’s strikes against Syria won’t change the arc of the conflict, nor will they alleviate the suffering of the civilian population: chemical weapons are responsible for but a tiny fraction of that suffering. Their absence will not stop the Assad regime from continuing to press its military advantage.
Last week, the war in Syria marked a gruesome anniversary, with the nature and scope of the humanitarian tragedy continuing to defy description. The past year witnessed the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians. The regime in Damascus and its allies continued to strike hospitals and other civilian targets. The war crimes now continue in the siege of Eastern Ghouta. In this statement, Refugees International calls on the United States and international community to take immediate action to end this years-old crisis.
In October, a Refugees International (RI) colleague and I traveled to Turkey to revisit the issue of work permits and livelihood access for the 3.5 million refugees now living there – 3.2 million of whom are Syrians. As in previous missions, we interviewed Syrian refugees who had recently fled their war-torn homeland.
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.
The sixth anniversary of the Syria conflict is upon us. In those six years, five million Syrians have become refugees in neighboring countries. Inside Syria, six and a half million people are displaced from home, and 13.5 million need humanitarian aid to survive even as humanitarian needs continue to grow. The situation for 2017 does not look promising. A hopeful development of the past half decade of the Syria conflict has been the growth of dozens—even hundreds—of local Syrian groups and networks delivering aid inside Syria and their ability to get aid across the border from Turkey into Syria. These groups have become an essential element of assisting people inside Syria, especially in places the United Nations and INGOs cannot get to because of security concerns.
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.
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.
Around 135,000 Syrians have registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Egypt. Estimates by UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations suggest that the Syrian refugee population in the country could be twice that number. Egypt’s political upheavals, along with national policies that obstruct the work of humanitarian organizations, have left Syrian refugees there with little visibility or assistance outside the communities where they live. More international attention must be directed towards these marginalized populations.
In less than three years, the Syrian conflict has forced well over two million of that country’s citizens to take refuge in other states. Some 200,000 have fled to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, and 600,000 to Jordan, the two countries visited by Refugees International (RI) during its most recent mission to the Middle East. These refugees seem likely to remain in exile for a considerable amount of time.