Today, the death toll stands at over 40,000 known victims. The Facebook page for SOHR is a soul-crushing ticker of each days’ casualties. UNHCR has registered over 468,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, with another estimated 90,000+ remaining unregistered. Doctors Without Borders estimates that more than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes within Syria. In addition to the alarming number of civilian deaths brought about by government artillery and air raids, the country now faces a shortage of medicine and health services, crippling economic sanctions that impact the regime as well as the general populace and a desperately uncertain future. Syria’s neighbors, themselves facing difficulties of their own social unrest, are now inundated with refugees that further strain economic and social conditions within their borders.
Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis. Each nation has absorbed in excess of 150,000 refugees, and those are just the registered arrivals. UNHCR estimates that between 2000 and 3000 people a day are fleeing the conflict in Syria. The UN is working with 55 other humanitarian organizations to provide relief to these people and estimates that the cost of doing so will exceed US$1 billion in the first six months of 2013. An additional US$500 million is estimated to be needed to address the needs of refugees still within Syria’s borders. Jordan is reeling under the pressure of this influx, as it still is the home to thousands of refugees who fled Iraq and itself is suffering from a weak economy and social unrest. Turkey seems the best suited to handling the refugee crisis and has mobilized its own resources to add to that of the NGOs. Lebanon finds itself in the most difficult position, as the conflict in Syria appears to be crossing its borders along with those fleeing from it.
Despite the assistance being offered, refugees in each of the countries receiving them face difficulties both within the camps being set up, as well as in the neighboring cities and towns. Schools are overwhelmed with the rise in children, and Syrian students often find themselves at a loss with language barriers in the Turkish or in Lebanon’s largely French language systems. NGOs are rushing to meet the needs of children and adults, balancing shelter, food and water scarcity and jobs along with open space and playgrounds for children. Syrians looking for jobs in the surrounding areas find themselves the victims of poor economies and face exploitation by business seeking cheap, undocumented labor. As winter sets in, these issues become acute and the suffering on both sides of the of the border increases.
As humanitarian agencies struggle to keep ahead of the refugee issue, the situation within Syria continues to deteriorate. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders have established field hospitals within Syria to address the healthcare crisis that has grown out of the conflict. Factories responsible for the production of pharmaceuticals within Syria are operating at one-third their usual capacity as they face shortages of supplies due to the war and international sanctions, coupled with outright destruction of their facilities in the ongoing combat. A recent report by the World Health Organization estimates that roughly half of Syria’s 88 public hospitals have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict, with 23 of them no longer able to function. An additional 186 health centers have been damaged, with 106 of them no longer able to function. Medical professionals have fled the country and a large percentage of those that remain live in rural areas and are often unable to get to work. Food shortages are a rising concern in the country.
When the conflict first erupted in early 2011, those resisting the Assad regime were everyday Syrians. Overtime, the Free Syrian Army arose as a ragtag militia seeking to defend the nation from its government. A total lack of official foreign intervention on behalf of the Syrian people has hardened the conflict, creating sectarian issues, militias and gangs. More recently, it has allowed the self-fulfilling promise of foreign terrorist involvement in the country. The al-Nusra Front, a self-described al-Qaeda affiliate, is growing within Syria’s borders. Despite a lack of widespread support among Syrians, these groups are attracting fighters from Iraq and other regional conflicts who see this as another opportunity to try and establish themselves. The recently recognized Syrian Opposition Coalition will have to contend with non-aligned fighters and their separate agendas within Syria.
As has been seen time and again in places like Kosovo, the Congo, and the Sudan, foreign governments, and their leaders, have failed to answer to the cries of those in desperate need. Token funding is given to NGOs, well-rehearsed statements are made to the media and hollow ultimatums issued, but little real help is given. Winter has come to Syria and its neighbors. The Assad regime continues to murder its own citizens, driving them from their homes and stretching the already limited resources of its neighbors. Some reports even suggest that the ugly conflict has festered to a newly gruesome level: fifty unidentified beheaded bodies were found in the streets of Damascus. Failed diplomatic measures are being patched and reattempted. While they continue to sit around talking, I can only encourage you to take actions of your own.
Please consider donating to the following organizations:
UNHCR – Providing food and shelter to refugees.
Doctors without Borders/Medicins sans Frontieres – providing emergency medical supplies and facilities within Syria and its neighbors.
Mercy Corps – providing for refugee relief, education and employment
Save the Children – providing emergency needs to newborns and children
International Red Cross/Red Crescent Society – Providing emergency health needs to refugees, prisoners and the victims of combat
By Ted Graham, Aslan Media Columnist