The Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugees strike at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. (3)

The Syrian Refugee Crisis

In this article, we will discuss the Syrian refugee crisis, and effects of Syria’s war on millions of Syrians. We will examine the numbers and timeline of the Syrian refugee crisis, locations in which the refugees are moving to, as well as the conditions and situations of the receiving countries as it pertains to the refugees. As we know, millions of Syrians have had to flee their homes on account of the Syrian civil (and international) war taking place within the borders of the country. However, there has been a great deal of discussion about what states’ obligations are with regards to taking in refugees. Here, we will breakdown the various points, from how many Syrian refugees there are, to where they are going, the risks associated with fleeing Syria, and trying to go to Europe, among other issues such as health, education, food, shelter, employment, along with other challenges. We will also discuss the arguments made by those who say that they should not take in refugees, as well those who argue for the human rights protections that refugees must be provided.

The Syrian refugee crisis is just part of a horrific war raging in Syria. This war, beginning in 2011 with citizens protesting the Al-Assad regime, has now resulted in over 220,000 deaths, and millions more injured or effected. Before the war, Syria had a population of 23 million. It is said that “more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders” (MercyCorps, 2016). Today, the violence is continuing in many parts of the country. With recent violence in the northern city of Aleppo, the belief is that the figures of those Syrians needing help will rise greatly. 

It is imperative to understand not only the number of Syrian refugees, but also the hardships that they face, as well as local, national, and international responses towards the Syrian refugee crisis. We will then end the article with a discussion about what else can be done to help the Syrian refugees. 

How Many Syrian Refugees Are There?

The number of Syrian refugees is often reported in tandem with the number of Syrian internally displaced persons (or IDPs). Similar to a refugee, an IDP is fleeing her/his home due to violence or discrimination. However, what distinguishes an IDP from a refugee is that the IDP still remains within the borders of the country. There are over 7.6 million Syrians displaced within the country (MercyCorps, 2016). There are 4.719,605 Syrian refugees in the region (UNHCR, 2016).

Millions of Syrian refugees have went to neighboring Middle Eastern countries. Here is the breakdown of Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey as of February 2016 (MercyCorps, 2016).

  • Syrian refugees in Egypt: 132,375
  • Syrian refugees in Iraq: 249,726
  • Syrian refugees in Jordan: 629,245
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon: 1,172,753
  • Syrian refugees in Turkey: 1,938,999

Many more Syrian refugees have went to North Africa and Europe. It is said that Syrians now make up the highest number of refugees from any one country, with a total of 4.3 million refugees (MercyCorps, 2016).

The number of Syrian refugees has grown year after year, as the conflict within Syria has continued. For example, in 2012, there were 100,000 refugees. This number quickly grew to 800,000 in April of 2013. In 2014, the number doubled in size shortly after (under four months) (MercyCorps, 2016).

Where Do the Syrian Refugees Live?

The millions of Syrian refugees live throughout the states mentioned, but also have different types of living conditions. For example, many of the Syrian refugees live in refugee camps set up by international actors such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of these refugee camps are so large that they have became de-facto cities (at least in terms of the size of these camps). Take Za’atari, a refugee camp in Jordan. Za’atari, This camp, which began accepting refugees in July of 2012, has roughly 79,000 Syrian refugees living in the camp.

However, a number of families–feeling highly uncomfortable in the refugee camps, (these camps often are much higher than ideal capacity, and people often feel crowded in these camps), choose to go into the nearby towns or cities to live (MercyCorps, 2016). However, Jordan is not the only case in which refugees prefer to live in the cities. For example, “Iraq has set up a few camps to house the influx of refugees who arrived in 2013, but the majority of families are living in urban areas. And in Lebanon, the government has no official camps for refugees, so families have established makeshift camps or find shelter in derelict, abandoned buildings. In Turkey, the majority of refugees are trying to survive and find work, despite the language barrier, in urban communities. The fact is, the majority of refugees live outside camps” (MercyCorps, 2016).

What Sorts of Challenges Face Refugees Where they Live?

There are many challenges that Syrian refugees face once they are in either the refugee camps, or accepted into a new country. In this section, we will discuss the challenges that refugees face within the refugee camps, and then also discuss challenges that those in towns and cities (or who have been permanently resettled) face. 

Syrian Refugee Challenges in the Refugee Camps

Water Shortages in the Camps

Water continues to be a scarce resource in the various Syrian refugee camps. This is quite a real problem in many cases, with Jordan being one of the worst with regards to water security. For example, “In northern Jordan, which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, water shortages have spiked. Hospitals and schools don’t have enough water to maintain sanitation standards. Mosques cannot perform the necessary daily ablutions. Pipelines are running dry, particularly in the hot, dry summers. Sometimes weeks elapse before a drop comes out of the tap” (Proctor, 2014). These water shortages effect refugees in many ways. For one, it can lead to dehydration. In addition, a lack of clean water can also lead to many diseases, which can also spread quickly within refugee camps. As a result of the water crisis, many refugees have decided to leave the Jordanian refugee camps.

Jordan as a whole has been dealing with water issues for decades. It has been said that “Jordan is among the driest countries in the world[,]” and that the large number of Syrian refugees in Jordan has placed additional strains on the existing amounts of water for everyone in the country (Sullivan, 2013). While half of Jordan’s water usage is replenish able, the other half is not, and thus, the Jordanian government is using water from aquifers in attempts to meet existing needs (Sullivan, 2015). Thus, “3,800,000 litres of safe water delivered daily to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Water is delivered by truck from two internal boreholes operated by UNICEF and a number of external boreholes owned and operated by private individuals” (Kullab, 2015).

However, the Jordanian refugee camps (and Jordan in general) are not the only places where a lack of access to safe water exists. For example, there are water projects in the refugee camps in Lebanon, as non-governmental organizations work to ensure clean water for the Syrian refugees. Sadly, “Each day, thousands of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s informal settlements face a growing risk of getting sick each time they take a drink of water. Contracting an illness from poor quality water sources increases sharply during hot summer months when the heat creates an ideal breeding ground for waterborne diseases. The threat is especially deadly to children, who make up half of the 1.2 million refugees living in Lebanon” (IOCC, 2015). 

It is important to note that when speaking of necessary water, it is not only the need for clean water in the refugee camps, but without the entire country itself that matters. Again, many refugees do not live in the refugee camps, but rather, live within the communities in Jordan, Lebanon, etc… So, with the influx of Syrian refugees comes greater water usage within the country as a whole. This has caused a series of additional pressures within Lebanon’s society, as people are facing increasing risks for not being able to access the necessary amounts of clean water. 

As a result of these water concerns, organizations such as USAID and others (such as MercyCorps) are working to introduce water programing in the Syrian refugee camps and elsewhere, focusing on water conservation, as well as water harvesting techniques (Sullivan, 2015). Through a program called Community-Based Initiative for Water Demand Management, USAID has also helped by providing money for families to buy water cisterns (pipes will go underground and take water from the cistern), which helps their overall water access (Sullivan, 2013).

Diseases in the Refugee Camps

As alluded to above, one of the other more threatening conditions facing Syrian refugees is the threat of disease. Disease is always a concern during conflict, and in refugee camps, and elsewhere. As we discussed above, if a refugee camp, or a country has strains to its water supply, this might increase the chances of diseases spreading. Or, if there exist no sewage system (or it is inefficient), this could also lead to a rise in diseases within the Syrian refugees and the population as a whole (IOCC, 2015).

What makes matters even more alarming with regards to the Syrian health situation is that medical professionals in the country are frequently targets of attack by various fighting forces. In fact, “Both the regime’s military forces and antigovernment armed groups have attacked and appropriated medical facilities as a tactic of warfare [5]. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 40% of Syria’s ambulances are destroyed and 57% of public hospitals are severely damaged, with 37% remaining out of service [6]. At least 160 doctors have been killed and hundreds jailed, leading to the emigration of an estimated 80,000 doctors [4]. The 90% of pharmaceutical needs that were locally produced prior to the conflict has now been reduced to only 10%, contributing to significant drug shortages in essential medications [1]. Such shortages, power outages, and the lack of security and mobility to seek care all contribute to the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria” (Shahara & Kanj, 2014). Thus, the Syrian conflict has greatly reduced the full potential for health advocacy and health aid for the Syrian refugees and Syrian IDPs.

Syrian Refugee Challenges Outside of the Refugee Camps

The Dangers of Fleeing to Europe

There has been a great deal of reporting on Syrians fleeing the country in hopes of making it to Europe. Now, again, the vast majority of Syrians affected by conflict are either internally displaced, are in neighboring refugee camps, or have moved within towns and cities in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. The number of Syrians who have looked to go to Europe has been about 10 percent of the total refugee population (Kullab, 2015).

Hundreds of thousands of refugees (in 2015 alone) have attempted the trip to Europe (UNHCR, 2015) The trip to Europe is highly dangerous, and unfortunately, has led to the deaths of thousands of Syrians (with 3500 either dead or missing in 2014, and 2500 in mid-2015) (UNHCR, 2015). One of the most noted cases was the death of Aylan, a boy, age 3, whose body washed onto the shores of the Bodrum, Turkey (Keating, 2015). Aylan was heading to Kos, Greece, to escape the violence in Syria.

The risk of a boat capsizing is high, and for this, reason, this trip is seen has highly risky. In addition, the response by European countries to help search for missing persons has been greatly reduced. As Keating (2015) explains, “For a year until last October, Italy had a naval operation aimed at rescuing those making the dangerous crossing from North Africa. It has been replaced by a much smaller EU–led operation whose focus is explicitly not on saving lives.” Thus, he argues that there is much more that can be done to help those traveling to Europe by boat, which includes “Reviving maritime search-and-rescue missions could help protect refugees, especially if such an initiative were a Europe-wide effort rather than something left to Italy or another individual member state. Governments should also coordinate their efforts with groups like Doctors Without Borders who have started private search-and-rescue operations of their own. Ship owners, many of whom now actively avoid areas where they are likely to encounter ships carrying refugees, could also be compensated for diverting to rescue those in need” (Keating, 2015).

Money and Employment Challenges

For many of the Syrian refugees, one of the greatest challenges is the lack of financial resources that they have, compared to what they need to live adequately. In some cases (depending on the level of resources that the host country provides (or doesn’t provide) the refugees), the Syrian refugees are expected to pay for things such as rent. This can be a problem for the refugees in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, where work is harder to come by for them. This is particularly problematic in these two countries because refugees do not have a legal right to work (MercyCorps, 2016). 

The lack of access to money has resulted in high levels of stress for Syrian refugees. And according to Kullab (2015), “Without the right to work, many, including women and children, have proliferated in the informal sector, competing with the destitute among the local population. Financial insecurity has led many refugee families to take drastic measures: Parents have reluctantly married off their teenage girls and children have had to forgo schooling in order to work.” 

In other places such as Turkey, even though Syrians do have a right to work (which is not the case in Lebanon), there are very few jobs to begin with, and even for those positions that exist, the pay is often very low (Kullab, 2015). Because of the lack of access to adequate employment opportunities for refugees, Syrians have had to take various measures such as send their children to work, taking them out of school (not only to work, but also because the families cannot pay for books, school uniforms, or other school-related fees), as well as going into significant debt in order to pay for basic necessities (CARE, 2015).

Housing Challenges for Refugees

Access to adequate housing continues to be among the top concerns that Syrian refugees face. According to a 2015 CARE International report, “[i]nability to pay rent remains their top concern, with 8 out of 10 families worried about housing.” Syrian refugees (along with many other refugees, for that matter) hope to have secure housing when they come to a new country. However, this is not always the case. For example, the government might put refugees up in hotels until they can find more permanent housing for them. While this can at times be quick, there are noted cases where it take over a month (if not longer) for permanent housing to become available (Rolfsen, 2016). Because the families in these conditions are not sure when they will get housing, this often adds further stress and a continued lack of stability in their lives.

One of the issues with regards to accessing housing is the financial cost of an apartment. In many places, rent prices are continuing to rise quickly, which has led some Syrian refugees to live in garages, chicken coops, among other difficult places (Kullab, 2015). And because of a lack of money, or employment, many Syrians have to brave winter weather conditions without heat (Kullab, 2015).

Take the case of Lebanon, for example. In Lebanon (which has one of the highest total numbers of Syrian refugees) (UNHCR, 2014), there are many housing problems facing the refugees. For example, there is the cost compared to what one receives in terms of housing. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2014), “[f]or 41% of Syrians in Lebanon, affordable shelter is not adequate, and adequate shelter is simply not affordable, particularly over the long term” (6). Much of this has to do with the supply and demand for housing. In places where there are less refugees (and less Lebanese population numbers), housing is more affordable than other areas with higher concentrations of Lebanese citizens, as well as more Syrian refugees (UNHCR, 2014). In addition, the housing conditions are only getting worse. Because of a lack of resources, Syrians are having to move to worse housing (that they are better able to afford). Furthermore, there is an increase in housing assistance for Syrians. The issue here is not only that less Syrians are able to self-sustain housing (given low job opportunities, etc…), but the aid that is begin provided for housing is focused on “emergency shelter” as opposed to more efficient and effective long term rehabilitation plans. The reason for this is that such rehabilitation is more costly (UNHCR, 2014), compared to more immediate short term stop-gap measures for housing.

Moreover, many Syrian refugees are unaware of their housing rights, which could lead to landlords taking advance of the refugees. For example, one of the most important parts of the law–and one that many Syrian refugees are often unfamiliar with–has to do with guaranteed length of stay. As the UNHCR (2014) explains, “refugees generally seemed unaware that Lebanese law related to leases for built property (apartments and houses) in many cases provides refugees with security of tenure for three years, not one year as is generally assumed to be the case. Nor are refugees, landlords or municipalities aware of the requirement that an eviction must be mandated by a court decision” (7). Evictions of Syrian refugees are becoming a greater problem for human rights and aid organizations (UNHCR, 2014). While many of the evictions are for failure to pay the rent, the UNHCR (2014) found, through their research on the Syrian refugee housing situation in Lebanon, that “…evictions often occur outside of any legal framework, and in violation of Lebanese law and international standards. The study found no evidence that evictions were carried out through a court order, as required by Lebanese law, or that they followed due process and procedures” (7).

Thus, not only are there many refugees in countries such as Lebanon, but there is also little available housing. Thus, because of this, the prices in these areas with high concentration of people to housing continue to rise. The government, both local and national, have not provided the much needed support for these refugees (UNHCR, 2014).

Food Challenges for the Syrian Refugees

Food insecurity continues to be a major problem for the Syrian refugees. International organizations and other human rights groups have been working diligently to ensure food and water security. They do so through providing food, and in other cases, giving monthly food stipends for the refugees. For example, in Lebanon, ” Food assistance, amounting to just $13.50 (U.S.) a month, is barely enough to meet needs” (Kullab, 2015). The reason for this low figure is because the “The… [United Nations World Food Programme] reports having to cut its level of assistance due to funding shortages, reducing the number of refugees it supports from 2.1 million at the beginning of 2015” (Kullab, 2015).

The lack of food has led to roughly hundreds of thousands of impoverished Syrian refugees. As Kiana Davis (2014) writes: “In Lebanon, where over half a million Syrian refugees reside, 170,000 Lebanese have been pushed into poverty by the Syrian crisis and 72% of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon has been labeled food insecure. Government expenditures have increased $1.1 billion for increased public services. Turkey is the temporary home to approximately 670,000 Syrian refugees, and the government estimates that it has spent over $2 billion responding to the crisis. In Jordan, which has 600,000 registered refugees, the cost of food has increased by 27% in the last year alone. These figures are bleak and alarming, and unfortunately, the number of refugees and the rate in which they are fleeing Syria’s borders are only increasing.” Overall, it is said that 2/3rds of Syrian refugees are in poverty (CARE, 2015). In response to these human rights issues that Syrian refugees are facing, organizations such as the UNHCR are also providing small cash aid to Syrians who need money to survive.

However, overall, food and other related programs are clearly underfunded.

Language Issues for Syrian Refugees

For example, there are about 1100 Syrian refugees that were accepted to live in British Columbia, Canada. While being accepted into this province will allow Syrians to have much higher levels of safety, according to reports on the Syrian refugees in Canada, there are still a number of problems that the refugees are facing with. For example, for some individuals,  they want to take the English exam (which can place them in certain levels of English courses). However, they report that government officials do not have adequate time to meet with them about this matter. Learning English is a very big deal for the Syrian refugees, as they understand the difficulties of being in a country and not knowing the language, and want to be able to use English. One Syrian refugee by the name of Abeer Louaihaq was quoted as saying that she, along with her family members “feel like strangers” due to their lack of knowledge of the language (Rolfsen, 2016). She also said that “Not knowing the language has created obstacles in everyday life” such as not being able to speak to her children’s teachers (Rolfsen, 2016).

Unfortunately, for many of the Syrian refugees, getting immediate access to English language programs looks to be unlikely. According to reports, the wait times for language courses funded by the government is roughly 16 months in British Columbia (Rolfsen, 2016). But the Syrian refugees in British Columbia hope that these sorts of challenges will be remedied, because they want to learn the language, and they want to work. They explain that they do not want to be reliant on the government for support (Rolfsen, 2016).

For others, a lack of income limits their mobility. For example, many do not have sufficient funds to afford bus fees to travel, or the money (or knowledge to navigate the system) to set up medical appointments, or can’t speak the local language, which might make it more difficult for them to find employment opportunities (this seems to be the case in Canada, Europe, or in neighboring countries such as Iraq (MercyCorps, 2016). Thus, the Syrian refugees report high levels of frustration (Rolfsen, 2016) because they cannot speak the language.

Access to Education for Children

One of the other challenges especially impacts children, and that is the lack of access to education. As we have discussed here in our article on migrant children, as well as our article on Syrian children refugees, millions of children are faced with dire educational prospects. Many children cannot go to school because they are expected to work. Or, if they can go to school, they are in schools that are underfunded. Furthermore, it has been tough for children to get caught up with the material given the amount of time that they have missed being away from school. In terms of numbers, “There are currently 13 million children deprived of an education due to conflicts in the region, according to UNICEF, a substantial number of them are Syrian” (Kullab, 2015). Even when education exists in the Syrian refugee camps, many students do not go to the classes (Kullab, 2015).

Legal Challenges for Syrian Refugees

Along with issues of post-traumatic stress disorder, food, water, health, language, employment, and many other issues that Syrian refugees have to face, they also face numerous legal challenges, particularly with regards to their official status as refugees, or in their attempts to gain permanent citizenship in their new host country.  For example, while some countries like Jordan have recognized the Syrian refugees, and have given them citizen rights, this has not been the case in Lebanon or in Turkey (where they are “guests” as opposed to the government using the term “refugees” (Kullab, 2015). This legal distinction has serious affects with regards to the type of support that can be given to these individuals. For example, because Lebanon is not offering official refugee recognition, “This means that, even with UNHCR status, Syrians must pay an annual fee to renew their legal residency in the country, a sum too large for most families. As a result, a rising number of Syrians are opting to reside in the country illegally” (Kullab, 2015). In addition, governments can also stop offering other legal support such as giving work permits (Kullab, 2015), which will add further stress to families who already have very little when it comes to food or money. 

The Lack of Gender Rights Issues for Refugees

Issue of a lack of gender rights continue to be a problem that many Syrian refugees have to face. This could show itself in many forms. For example, parents might limit the freedom of movement for this daughters, which might further limit rights to education, among other rights. As CARE International (2015) explains, Many parents are particularly concerned about their girls’ safety and “honor,” resulting in girls being confined to the house and sometimes forcibly married.” For example, “Many rarely leave the home altogether in a community that both their husbands and they perceive as unsafe. In fact, adult women are only half as likely as under-age boys to go outside their house daily. One-fifth of girls never go outside their house, and displacement has made it even less likely for girls to ever be allowed to leave the house” (UN Women, 2013: 3). In addition, in cases in which a male is expected to accompany the female, many women are unable to receive access to necessary resources, given that a high percentage of men (in the case of Jordan, 20 percent of all refugees are males over 18 years of age) are out looking for work (UN Women, 2013).

As also mentioned above, child marriages are also an alarming concern. In fact, early marriage figures (marriage before the age of 18) are very high for the Syrian refugee population in Jordan, with “51.3% female and 13% male of assessment participants were married before the age of 18” (UN Women, 2013: 3).

In addition, a number of Syrian refugee girls and women “…continue to be at increased risk of different forms of gender-based violence (GBV) in both public and private spaces” (CARE International, 2015). Gender based violence continues to be one of the greatest human rights abuses facing the female refugees. Sadly, overall, “Gender-based Violence remains a private and sensitive issue that is largely addressed within the home setting. Specialized, confidential, and supportive services currently available to Syrian women and children survivors of GBV are not sufficient, and when such resources are available, Syrian refugees are very often unaware of them” (UN Women, 2013).

Complaints from Non-Refugee Citizens

Along with the different challenges that Syrian refugees have had to face since fleeing their country, they have often found themselves at the end of criticism by the citizens of the new countries that they are living in. The citizens of that country have at times been upset at the level of support that the government has provided the refugees, all the while neglecting concerns that that local population may have had for longer periods of time. For example, Alexandra Francis, in a report on the Syrian refugees in Jordan, wrote that: “As host-community tensions rise, Jordanian citizens have called upon the government to limit competition from Syrian refugees. Since 2014, the Jordanian government has responded to increasingly vocal public frustration and growing regional security risks by narrowing its hospitality toward Syrian refugees. The once-cooperative relationship between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Hashemite Kingdom has grown tense as Jordan has restricted the number of Syrians who can enter the country, closed accessible border crossings, and attempted to confine more refugees to camps. In other words, it seems Jordanian officials have concluded that the initial political benefits of hosting Syrian refugees have diminished and that an increasing Syrian presence in the kingdom may threaten national stability, as Jordanian unrest centers on the pressures Syrian refugees place on host communities.” 

However, while Jordan’s resources are limited, and there are complaints from Jordanians with regards to the Syrian refugees, scholars argue that instead of cutting support, this could be an excellent opportunity for Jordan to deal with the structural issues mentioned by citizens, issues that have plagued the country well before the Syrian refugee crisis (Francis, 2015). 

There also exist complaints from some government officials and citizens in European countries that are seeing an influx of Syrian refugees. 

Overall, there are many challenges that Syrian refugees have to face. Those in the refugee camps have to deal with overcrowding, sometimes a lack of clean water, a lack of sufficient schooling, disease, among other issues. However, again, the vast majority of refugees do not live in the camps, but rather, live in the cities (Kullab, 2015).

Those Syrian refugees who have decided to move to the urban centers have their own problems. Without being recognized as refugees by many countries, they have to support themselves with regards to rent, and they receive little for food. As Kullab (2015) explains in the case of Turkey, “Though billions were spent to provide food, health and education services to refugees in the camps, the majority of Syrians chose to live in urban areas without regularized support services. Large discrepancies exist between Syrians living in camps and in cities, a reality reflected in the abysmal number of Syrian children able to attend school in urban centers.”

Other Rights Abuses Against Syrian Refugees

Along with all of the difficulties that Syrian refugees have faced, and continue to face, there are also reports that in some cases, the state itself has abused the refugees. According to the United Nations as well as Human Rights Watch (2016), Turkish military has committed a number of human rights abuses against Syrian refugees that include purposely shooting civilians, carrying out unwarranted arrests, as well as carrying out displacement of Kurdish civilians as the country continues to fight in Northern Syria and Southern Turkey (Cunningham, 2016). Human Rights Watch has reported that Turkish authorities patrolling the border have killed at least five individuals (by shooting them) (Cunningham, 2016). Turkey may be using their anti-terror legislation to crack down on Kurds, academics journalists, and refugees (Cunningham, 2016). According to the United Nations Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the reports “are extremely serious and should be thoroughly investigated” (Cunningham, 2016). If these reports are true, it just ads to the risks and dangers that refugees have had to deal with fleeing the conflict in Syria. 

Helping the Syrian Refugees

Neighboring countries in the Middle East, the European Union countries, along with non-EU countries in Europe have not only been working to find ways to assist these refugees (with some countries finding ways not to allow more refugees in), but there has also been attempts at finding solutions to the number of refugees coming into Europe. One such proposal by the European Union has been to have neighboring states such as Turkey increase their role with regards to taking in additional Syrian refugees. And for the European Union, it seems that they are willing to offer a significant political incentive for addition Turkish help. 

For example, it was announced on March 18th that the EU and Turkey have come to an agreement on a refugee issue. However, as we note in our article on the refugee deal, this agreement has not been without criticism by the United Nations and other human rights entities, who have felt that the European states are attempting to reduce their role in accepting Syrian refugees.

Even German public opinion has started to shift on this topic. Earlier in the Syrian conflict, Germany was one of the more accepting states for Syrian refugees. And while Merkel has continued to look for Germany to have some role as a state accepting the refugees, her plan to accept a million refugees in the earlier part of 2016 been met with resistance, particular as Germany has been the target of different terror attacks (Miller, 2016). This resistance has come from right groups such as the Alternative for Germany, as well as some citizens, “[a]nd even some on the left have made calls for new controls, such as all migrants to be vetted” (Miller, 2016). 

However, as of August, 2016, the majority still seem to back the notion of helping the Syrian refugees by allowing them into Germany. For example, “Dr Andrew Watt, deputy director at the Hans-Bockler Foundation in Dusseldorf” stated that “The centre of German politics is more or less holding,” and also that “They’re holding the line Merkel has been talking about now, that it’s important for Germany to be open. Some refer to Germany’s own past as a country where people were forced into exile and had to have asylum, the anti-fascist tradition, the humanitarian tradition. That is holding” (Miller, 2016).


While exact numbers to fully help all Syrian IDPs and Syrian refugees can be hard to pinpoint exactly, it is believed that it will cost roughly 7.7 billion dollars to address urgent refugee needs; this does not include every necessity, but just the response for the most dire conditions facing those Syrians (MercyCorps, 2016).

For example, according to 2014 reports, the World Food Programme was providing 40 tons of food per month to help internally displaced persons in Syria (Davis, 2014). And, “[a]ccording to the World Food Programme’s Global Food Security Update of 2014, half of Syria’s population, or 9.9 million people, are unable to buy sufficient food for their usual consumption. 6.3 million people have been identified as “highly vulnerable” and “in critical need of sustained food assistance,” which represents over a 50% increase since the last food estimate presented in June 2013. In Lebanon, UNHCR chief, António Guterres, claims that only 13% of the humanitarian aid appeal has been funded, leaving international support “totally out of proportion with what is needed” (Davis, 2014). Thus, according to critics, many countries have done far too little to help the Syrian refugees.

There are indeed many continuing challenges to address in the Syrian refugee crisis. It is imperative that the refugees are able to access sufficient food, clothing, housing, and employment. In addition, it is necessary that proper schools are set up so that children will not be behind in their studies. In addition, there must be resources committed to helping fight gender biases in these different community. Specifically, women’s empowerment, along with the creation of safe spaces (Jessen, 2013; Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014), effective capacity building, adequate health care (both mental and physical he health support ) (Jessen, 2013), along with short and long term projects that help provide women’s rights are necessary (Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014). Yes, resources are scarce. However, if state leaders really want to help, there are ways to provide the resources needed for the refugees. 

Sadly, these various issues that Syrian refugees face are as pressing now as they were at the beginning of the conflict. With the Syrian war not looking to be ending anytime soon, and the violence escalating, the concern is that the number of Syrians needing help will only continue to increase. Therefore, we must continue to shed light on the situation, as well as continue to discuss and plan solutions for the millions who are suffering because of the war.

In addition, it is also imperative that the international state leaders alter their policies towards better helping the refugees, and all citizens of Syria. For example, with the international war in Syria continuing, although unlikely, a strong commitment from countries such as the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia to help end the conflict would stop the deaths and further destruction. However, from an analyst’s perspective, this is sadly unlikely given the various interests of each actor (including the Al-Assad regime, the rebels, etc…). 

In addition, as financially expensive as bringing in refugees are, there is an international obligation to help them.Thus, countries such as the Gulf states, and other Middle Eastern countries who can better afford to do so should increase their commitment to help solve the Syrian refugee crisis. This also goes for countries such as the United States, who has brought in relatively few refugees. Part of this is the political climate against opening borders for people. But this goes against the importance of seeing ourselves as one global community. 

Moreover, countries in Europe could also do much more to help the Syrian refugees. Again, we must remember that these people need help. As The Economist (2016) notes, “[Refugees] are reasonable people in desperate circumstances.” And again, its not that the European countries could not have handled the inflow if they had a common plan to integrate the Syrian refugees into their societies. However, most countries (save for Germany and Sweden) have highly restricted the numbers of refugees in their borders (The Economist, 2016). In addition, it is important to have an effective system to help register refugees, because, as The Economist (2016) argues, “The situation today is a mess. Refugees have been free to sail across the Mediterranean, register and make for whichever country seems most welcoming. Many economic migrants with no claim to asylum have found a place in the queue by lying about where they came from. This free-for-all must be replaced by a system in which asylum applicants are screened when they first reach Europe’s borders—or better still, before they cross the Mediterranean. Those who are ineligible for asylum should be sent back without delay; those likely to qualify should be sent on to countries willing to accept them.”

Along with a good system to check refugees, and to divide responsibility, there are also expectations that neighboring countries will loosen work restrictions, which will make life better for the refugees staying in the Middle East (The Economist, 2016). Other ideas have suggested sending refugees back to a neighboring country (The Economist, 2016). Again, not everyone agrees with all of these ideas. But the point is that there needs to be a new system–with complete buy in from all countries–that more effectively helps all of the refugees. 

The Syrian Refugee Crisis References

CARE International (2015). Five Years into Exile: The challenges faced by Syrian refugees outside camps in Jordan and how they and their host communities are coping. CARE International. 30 June 2015. Available Online: 

Cunningham, E. (2016). Turkey under fire from U.N. for ‘alarming’ reports of rights abuses. The Washington Post. May 10th, 2016. Available Online:

Davis, K. (2014). The Dire State of Food Security in the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Hunger Undernutrition Blog. 05/09/2014. Available Online:

Economist (2016) How to manage the migrant crisis. February 6th, 2016. Available Online:

Francis, A. (2015). Jordan’s Refugee Crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. September 21, 2015. Available Online: 

Human Rights Watch (2016). Turkey: Border Guards Kill and Injure Asylum Seekers. Human Rights Watch. May 10, 2016. Available Online: 

IOCC (2015). Syrian Refugees Flee War To Face Water Crisis. IOCC, September 5th, 2015. Available Online:

Jessen, A. (2013). The Government of Turkey and Syrian Refugees: A Gender Assessment of Humanitarian Assistance Programming. Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. Washington, DC. September 2013, pages 1-34.

Keating, J. (2015). We Could Stop More Refugee Children from Drowning. But We Won’t. Slate. September 2nd, 2015. Available Online: 

Kullab, S. (2015). Four million more: Europe’s crisis pales in comparison to Syria’s neighbours’. The Globe and Mail, September 15, 2015. Available Online: 

MercyCorps (2016). Quick Facts: What you need to know about the Syria crisis. February 5, 2016.

Miller, N. (2016). Germany is a nation on edge. The Sydney Morning Herald. July 31, 2016. Available Online: 

Proctor, K. (2016). Water scarcity and the Syrian refugee crisis. MercyCorps. March 9, 2014. Available Online:

Rolfsen, C. (2016). Syrian refugees say they feel trapped without adequate help. CBC News. February 19, 2016. Available Online:

Shahara, S.L. & Kanj, S.S. (2014). War and Infectious Diseases: Challenges of the Syrian Civil War. PLOS Pathogens, 2014 November, No. 11, 2014. Available Online: 

Sullivan, K. (2013). Water from a Stone: Jordanians Stretch Meager Resources to Sustain Syrian Refugees. Frontline: Aid in Action. July/August 2013. Available Online:

UNHCR (2014). Housing, Land, and Property Issues in Lebanon: Implications of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. August 2014, pages 1-98.

UNHCR (2015). Crossings of Mediterranean Sea exceed 300,000, including 200,000 to Greece. UNHCR. 28 August 2015. Available Online:

UN Women (2013). Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection Among Syrian Refugees in Jordan, With a Focus on Early Marriage. Peace and Security: UN Women. Amman, Jordan, July 2013, pages 1-80.

Women’s Refugee Commission. The Humanitarian Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan. Women’s Refugee Commission, March 2014, pages 1-37.

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