Syria: A Regional Crisis
Today the IRC launches its new report on the Syria crisis. This report calls aid levels for Syria crisis insufficient and spotlights forsaken urban refugees and ongoing sexual violence as issues that need urgent attention. The full report can be read and downloaded at the bottom of this page.
The IRC is holding launch events in both the US and the UK today to launch this report. We will be live tweeting using the hashtag #SyriaCrisis and you can also watch the Syria Crisis briefing with members of the IRC Commission.
Nearly two years of civil war in Syria has produced a regional humanitarian disaster. More than two and a half million Syrians, of an overall population of over 22.5 million, have been uprooted from their homes, including almost 600,000 who have fled to neighbouring countries, and an estimated four million Syrians are in dire need of assistance.
In November 2012, an International Rescue Committee delegation of board members and senior staff travelled to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq to evaluate conditions of displaced and conflict-affected Syrians and advocate for increased and more targeted humanitarian aid as the crisis evolves and intensifies.
The delegation met with many refugees, officials from host and donor governments, representatives of international humanitarian organisations and local non - governmental agencies. The group was also briefed by IRC teams across the region who provide medical care for displaced Syrians, offer counselling and targeted health services, distribute relief items and cash assistance to vulnerable refugee families, and work with Syrian partners who provide emergency services in Syria, including the delivery of medical and winterisation supplies.
Refugees provided harrowing accounts of life and conditions inside Syria: brutal killings and targeted attacks, arbitrary arrests and torture, abductions and disappearances of loved ones, horrific sexual violence, unrelenting bombings, destruction of infrastructure, the evisceration of medical services, dwindling supplies of food, water and electricity, the inability to go to school or work in violence-ravaged neighbourhoods and recurring displacement.
While the majority of those uprooted by the turmoil remain in Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrians managed to flee over the past two years—undertaking an often treacherous journey to find safe haven in neighbouring countries. Once there, they continue to face new and overwhelming problems.
While many live in camps, the vast majority have become so-called “urban refugees”—scattered through villages, towns and cities seeking shelter anywhere it is available. The more fortunate live with host families, but most live in wretched conditions, packed into small rented rooms and apartments in disrepair. Others squat in schools and unused spaces, or shelter in public buildings provided by host countries. Almost all fled with next to nothing, are in dire circumstances and increasingly depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Unfortunately, assistance to host communities is meagre as the international community provides the bulk of the limited available resources to refugees in camps.
The situation for refugee women and girls is grim. The Syrian refugees that the IRC talked to cited rape as a primary reason their families fled the conflict, yet there is an alarming lack of medical and counselling services to help them recover in the countries to which they have fled. They face unsafe conditions in camps and elevated levels of domestic violence, while reports of early and/or forced marriage of women and girls are increasing.
Countless Syrian children and youth are traumatised by the violence they have experienced and witnessed and are gravely affected by their families’ upheaval. Many children have already missed up to two years of their education because of fighting, and often the schools in host communities are full and unable to absorb more refugee students. Children continue to be at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation in their environments of refuge.
Should the flow of refugees continue at its current pace, the UN estimates that the Syrian refugee population could grow to one million in the next six months. The refugee influx is straining the already limited resources of the neighbouring countries. In particular, the health, water, education and sanitation systems of host communities are increasingly struggling to cope and the cost of rent and commodities is rising. As tensions grow, the welcome mat is beginning to wear thin.
The Syrian crisis will very likely be a protracted and worsening humanitarian emergency. Inside Syria, the human and physical destruction is immense, the country’s civic and social fabric is in shreds and its economic foundation and infrastructure are devastated. Recovery and reconciliation efforts are certain to be extensive, particularly if forming a stable government proves challenging and sectarian violence increases. While most Syrian refugees tell the IRC they would like to return home as soon as they can, it could be months if not years before the uprooted are able to do so. Countries hosting refugees are under enormous strain, and the crisis threatens to increase political, ethnic and sectarian tensions throughout the region. Jordan and Lebanon are particularly vulnerable.
The breadth and scope of the Syrian crisis far outstrip the financial support provided by the international community. Given the gravity of the crisis and growing needs, the UN increased its appeal in mid-December to $1.5 billion. Current assistance levels are drastically insufficient to address existing needs, let alone the barest requirements to respond to a lengthy humanitarian emergency and post-conflict recovery.