Saturday, October 4, 2014

Here's Why the Syrian Refugee Problem Could Soon Get Much Worse

by Nomad

Syrian refugees Nomadic PoliticsThe number of Syrians fleeing the hell of civil war is staggering. As Syria's neighbors are struggling to keep the situation under control. Still, the costs and tensions continue to rise.
Just keeping the thousands fed, sheltered and protected is becoming more and more of a burden. But, as bad as they are, things could soon become worse.

According to an article in the Middle East Monitor. Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator made this chilling announcement this week. As things stand at the moment.The World Food Programme (WFP) would no longer be able to distribute food and water to Syrian refugees. 
Unless additional funding is found, Amos declared, the program would be closed within two months.
The WFP announced in the middle of September that it would reduce its food supplies to around six million Syrian refugees due to a shortage of funds, reiterating the need for an additional $352 million in support before the end of 2014.
Al-Quds newspaper quoted Amos as saying that the WFP has already reduced the portions of food aid in order to stretch them as far as possible. 

Amos also pointed out that an estimated 600,000 Syrians in the east, in Deir Al-Zour, and north, in Al-Raqqa, have been unable to get food aid for the third month in a row, due to the on-going violence.
The timing couldn't be any worse. Amos warned:
"Winter is coming and basic items are urgently needed in order to help protect people from the cold."
For people who have had to endure a blistering summer with temperatures staying in the triple digits for months, a cold and wet winters will be just another test of endurance, some weary refugees will be facing. 

Last December, camps in Lebanon and Jordan were dealt a little more misery, with below-freezing temperatures, torrential rains, and unusually severe snowstorms, The best aid agencies could do for the tent-city residents was to distribute plastic sheeting and tarps. Conditions in Lebanon were particularly appalling. 

Taking a more clinical view, without adequate medical care, these camps will become the perfect breeding ground for epidemics. which could easily spread to host countries.

The Syrian refugee crisis has become the worst humanitarian crisis with one of the largest forced migrations of people since World War II. According to reports, there are an estimated 9 million Syrians that have been forced to flee their homes region, since the civil war began in March 2011.

Roughly 2.5 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. with the rest have been internally displaced inside Syria.

The European Union and the Burden
One monitoring group points out that the EU has also received relatively few Syrian refugees- especially in comparison to countries in the region.

That's not to say that the European Union has been sitting on its hands. The EU is in fact, the leading contributor of humanitarian aid. (The amount donated by member states, however, varies significantly.)

Altogether the European Commission has mobilized €615 million in humanitarian assistance for Syria and neighboring countries. That's about $779 million. 
A sizable amount and that's not all. 

A further €868 million has also been mobilised through other EU instruments (i.e. for education, support to host communities and local societies), bringing the total funding from the EU budget to over €1.5 billion  [$1.89 billion.] This includes the €165 million pledged at the International Pledging Conference on 15 January 2014 known as Kuwait II.
In total, the EU contribution to humanitarian aid is now over €2.8 billion or about $3.54 billion. 
And still the civil war rages on. Thanks to the rise of ISIS, areas that were once safe are now threatened, which displaces more and more people.

The European Commission humanitarian funding channeled through Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, various INGOs, and UN humanitarian agencies includes medical emergency relief protection, food-nutritional assistancewater, sanitation and hygieneshelter and logistics services. 
Forty-five percent of the EU funding goes to camps inside Syria; 26% in Lebanon, 21% in Jordan and the rest is distributed between Iraq and Turkey. 
*   *   *   * 
All this comes at a time when the EU is just getting back on its feet after the recession. Many European nations barely survived and are still struggling with the austerity policy. 
For a Greek man who has lost his business and his pension, who faces some very real economic challenges in the future, it must be hard to accept such seemingly unlimited charity to somebody outside of the Eurozone.  No matter how just the cause and how dire the need, some resentment among EU residents is a price EU officials have so far been willing to pay. 

The Syrian Refugee Crisis is becoming more than just a humanitarian problem. It is also putting a good deal of strain on the national security as well as the political stability of the neighboring countries. Questions of how much the problem can be resolved remain unanswered for the moment.

The European Commission reports that the "countries bordering Syria are approaching a dangerous saturation point and they need urgent support to continue keeping borders open and assisting refugees."

Case Study of Turkey: A Host of Problems
NATO member, Turkey provides a good example of the social and economic stress that neighbors are now facing Syria's neighbors. 
It is important to add here that the problems in Turkey reflect the larger problems going on in other countries who have been affected by the crisis. Jordan and Lebanon are facing similar challenges.

Turkey's ability to cope with the refugee flood has been put to the test. So far, for a country that has seen a great deal of civil unrest in the past year, the Turkish government has been surprisingly adaptable.

Before September, nearly 670,000 Syrians had taken refuge in Turkey, Syria's northern neighbor.

However last month, everything changed. That already-staggering number soared to over 1.5 million when ISIS began attacking villages in northern Syria.
In less than ten days, an astounding 160,000 new civilians crossed into Turkey, most on foot with little more than they could carry. At that time, the
border effectively dissolved as a result of the sheer numbers involved.

At present, about 30 percent (or more) of these refugees reside in the 22 government-run camps near the Syrian-Turkish border. The rest do their best to make ends meet in communities across the country.  

Living outside the camps presents its own assortment of problems for refugees. 
Many of the refugees do not speak and are unable to read Turkish, and the majority are desperately poor. Finding employment is priority one but, in a country with an official jobless rate has increased to 9.1 percent (as reported in June of 2014) finding any work just isn't easy.

Technically they are unable to obtain for lack of working permission, but of course, the reality on the ground is different. The refugees who do find work are ripe for exploitation by the unscrupulous business owners looking for a wage slave. 
And, with guest status only, Syrians do not have equal citizens rights. (That's true for all Syrian refugees in other countries too.)

A report issued by the Platform to Monitor Syrian Refugees had some depressing information.
After conducting interviews with refugees, the researchers found that most of them that could find employment worked in non-documented jobs under hard conditions and at low pay. (Low, even by Turkish standards.) The sector doing the hiring is general the textile industry, one of the most important components of the Turkish economy. 

Many of those workers complained even when they did receive a wage, that they were not paid regularly. Filing complaints with the governmental agencies or making any trouble for crooked employers is  a risk no desperate refugee is prepared to take. 
Admitting they are working illegally makes them equally culpable of a crime and, as a temporary guest in the country, the state has the right to deport them at will. Therefore, if they wish to have any chance of earning money, reporting this kind of exploitation is not an option.  
And according to one report, female Syrian refugees- which make up the majority- are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. 
It has to be stressed that there is no way to know how much of this practice actually goes on. It is clear nobody wants to discuss the problem. 
Besides, there are more pressing problems at the moment.

Resentment and Riots
Turkey's open-door policy for Syrian refugees was bound to cause some resentment domestically. Moreover, it has left many Turks wondering how much more of the refugee burden the nation can (or should)  shoulder. 

Not unreasonably, many Turks expressed fears that the influx is just asking for trouble. After decades of dealing with Kurdish separatist terrorism, the average Turk has become extremely wary of creating any new sources of terrorism. They fear the same fighting going on in Syria could easily begin inside their country.
Time will show whether those fears are valid or not, but by that time, it will be too late.

If that concern is exaggerated, then there are other worries. Social problems, for example. Turkey has enjoyed relatively low levels of crime, but that could change as displaced Syrians grow more and more desperate. 
Some Turks also claim that introducing Syrians of unknown origins or backgrounds is a very real, very serious national security issue.

Despite the initial welcome by the Turkish people, there have been reports that, clashes between Syrian refugees and Turkish citizens have broken out. As one source reminds us, it's not just friction between two different cultures.
Lately the surging numbers of Syrians in the Turkish labour market, the housing market, and using public services has generated resentment in the big cities. Many associate the Syrians with crime. Despite the close ties to the Syrians in the south-eastern provinces, the resentment runs deep particularly in Gaziantep and also in the coastal border area of Hatay.
These tensions between Turks and displaced Syrian are by no means limited to the southeast.  In July, Semih Idiz, a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, reported:
The problem is also spreading to cities far from the Syrian border, which have a better capacity to absorb outsiders due to their large populations. Istanbul, with a population of 14 million, is a case in point.
Increasingly, refugees are appearing on the Istanbul streets, many of them can be found begging. Besides crime. Istanbul residents are becoming worried about other social problems like drugs, prostitution, and the rise of gangs. 
The governor of Turkey’s largest city and financial capital is talking about drastic measures that include plans to expel Syrians dwelling and begging on the streets of the city to camps near the Syrian border.
In August there were violent encounters with police during a protest in Istanbul. The protests were against the influx of displaced refugees from Syria that have been resettled temporarily in Istanbul. In a country where demonstrations can be common, and in a city that has seen its share of public unrest, these riots were pretty shocking.
Television pictures showed a group of some 300 people, armed with sticks, knives and machetes, attacking shops and cars belonging to Syrians and shouting anti-Syrian slogans. Cars were smashed and turned upside down while the window panes of shops belonging to Syrians with Arabic lettering on the shopfronts were broken. 
The report goes on:
The protest in the İkitelli neighborhood in the west of the European side of Istanbul was sparked by claims that young Syrian men had sexually harassed a teenage girl, Doğan news agency reported.
Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the angry mobs.

In the weeks prior to this riot, there were other protests against Syrian refugees. They were generally confined to the southeastern parts of the country. At about the same time, the authorities in the southeastern city of Gaziantep were forced to move hundreds of Syrians into refugee camps in order to calm tensions with the locals. 
The same article also mentions that a similar protest erupted in the eastern city of Iskenderun in the Hatay province. Allegedly one refugee has abused a Turkish child. 
True or not, these incidents demonstrate how easily the social tensions can erupt into violence. 

Other Neighbors Face Same Problems
Given the recent announcements of dwindling funds, the Turkish dilemma is likely to become worse the longer the Syrian civil war continues. That is only one of Syria's neighbors. Include Jordan and the ever-instable Lebanon and Iraq, and the problems could easily spiral out of control. 

Resentment in those countries has led to violence against Syrian refugees there too. Riots broke out in the Zaatari camp in the Jordanian desert (shown on left) when refugees protested about the camp conditions and attempted to leave. Police used tear gas against refugees who had set fire to tents and vehicles and threw stones.

In Lebanon, one person was killed and two wounded during a search for militants at refugee camps. However, according to a BBC report, residents of the camp had a very different version of events than the Lebanese army.

Clearly, the present situation could become much worse unless the civil conflict in Syria are somehow resolved and people can return home. Things seem to be going in completely the opposite direction at the moment.

The UN announcement this week puts us one step closer the nightmare scenario of widespread destabilization throughout the region and indeed at Europe's back door step.

With the UN funding dwindling, the question is whether the EU or the rest of the world can make up the difference and for how long. At the moment, there seems to be no end to the Syrian conflict and its infernal complications.