March 15 marked the fifth year since the start of the Syrian Civil War, a war that has claimed over 220,000 people and displaced millions more. This crisis has resulted in the international aid’s inability to keep up with the growing demand on the ground, sparking criticism from aid agencies and requiring the countries involved to the rethink the actions they should take.
The effects of the war are evident throughout the region: Lebanon and Jordan have welcomed almost two million refugees. In Jordan, a survey of 40,000 refugees found that two-thirds were living below the poverty line and, in Lebanon, half of the Syrian refugee population are living in insecure dwellings. The resources of both countries are being pushed to the limit and it is not certain how many more refugees they can support and for how much longer.
Why is there a lack of aid?
It is not only because of increasing number of refugees, but also the lack of action of the international community. A report entitled “Failing Syria,” which was signed by more than twenty aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children, criticizes the actions of states and their failure to implement resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191 from United Nations Security Council. Resolution 2139’s provisions included: protecting civilians, increased humanitarian access and a comprehensive approach “leading to a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” The report calls on all parties to ensure to “go beyond words and ensure that the resolutions are fully implemented.”
However, it is not only the lack of action on behalf of the international community, but also the difficulty of getting aid to the people that has not helped the situation. According to the report, 4.8 million people reside in areas the United Nations define as “hard to reach.” For example, early March saw the arrival ofthe first aid convoy in Damascus in three months.
What should countries do?
Although it is crucial to meet the basic necessities of refugees now, it is equally as important to think of the future. There is not foreseeable end to the conflict and, as a result, refugee camps are starting to show signs of permanency despite the hopes of millions. Some fortunate families in Za’atari live in caravans, which demand concrete foundations. Furthermore, the main road of the camp is a bustling street with hundreds of shops. Azraq Camp has a well-stocked hospital and supermarket, and includes metal shelters for families.
Two trends should make countries think about distributing more aid to the urban populations. First, certain countries have made it more difficult for refugees to flee across their borders, citing national security reasons, especially with ISIS threatening to send fighters in disguise. As a result, many refugees may seek to escape without being officially registered, although this would deny them many benefits. These refugees would therefore settle in areas with access to benefits, such as cities, which is where the majority of Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan. Second, refugees have recently expressed a reluctance to live in the camps because of the rough conditions, despite having access to daily needs. Coupled with the lack of proper security in camps (Za’atari, for example, had many issues with uprisings and crime in its early days), these trends could cause the urban refugee population to swell even more, putting an ever greater strain on their already limited resources.
Countries must also find different avenues to distribute aid, with a special focus on Syria. Of the thirty-four border crossings in the country, only five are open for humanitarian convoys, nine are restricted, and the rest are closed. Negotiating with the Syrian government to find more avenues into the country is an option that some countries are not willing to entertain. However, working with government officials, local law enforcement, or more local NGO representatives may open up more channels. This would certainly improve the present situation by limiting regional spillover while simultaneously bringing aid to the people rather than forcing them to flee to receive it.
Finally, Turkey has nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees – the most of any country – and has spent $6 billion to help them, granting them access to free education and health care. Following Turkey’s lead, providing greater access to necessities and benefits is something more countries have undertaken and other should begin to explore. For example, the Netherlands welcomes thousands of Syrians every month; Canada and Germany are known for funding scholarships, even offering Permanent Residency to lucky recipients in some cases as well.
The refugee crisis that has arisen because of the Syrian Civil War is being called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The world can neither continue to ignore this atrocity nor accommodate the present situation for much longer. We, the international community, must help those in need and, more importantly, show that we have not given up on them and their future.