The continuing tragedy of Syrian refugees
The United Nations’ new humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, offered a stark description of the state of Syria’s displaced people inside and outside the country.
He told the UN Security Council that more than 13 million people inside Syria needed humanitarian assistance and that nearly half of them needed it urgently. He added that, at 1.8 million, the number of internally displaced Syrians in the nine months from January remained “high.”
Indeed, numbers no longer seem able to measure the scale of Syria’s humanitarian tragedy. The war has driven more than 12 million from their homes, creating the largest refugee crisis in recent history.
But the UN humanitarian chief’s statement is the latest update and most dismal summation of the situation in Syria.
There has been little priority given to the issue of refugees and the internally displaced in the various negotiation tracks. There is need for a renewed focus on the urgency of rebuilding a country whose towns and cities are in ruins, its people impoverished and scattered and its economy starved of crucial funding.
The civil war appears to have morphed into a frozen conflict with occasional flashes of heat from the international scramble for influence and the attempt to distribute the spoils of war. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran is the most recent illustration.
Calculations were in the air. The process of reconstruction is bound to be long; recovery to be tortuous. However, amid the transparent attempts to impose a Pax Russiana over Syria and the prioritised task of accommodating regional powers, the plight of Syria’s civilians could, unfortunately, take a backseat.
Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries suffer from various forms of exploitation and a lack of food and basic services.
“An estimated 50,000 Syrians remain stranded in the desert in Rukban on the ‘berm’ along the Syrian-Jordanian border,” Lowcock said.
“Limited commercial supplies are reaching Rukban, access to food is precarious and the overall situation remains dire. As the winter months approach, this situation will become even more acute.”
A report by the British charity The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre tried to draw attention to the abuse suffered by many Syrian refugees in Turkish factories. All too often, Syrian workers, who make garments for the European market, are underage, without work permits and have few rights.