A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo stays under a shelter – March 8, in Uskudar, Istanbul
Elham Asaad Buaras
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have called on countries outside the Middle East to provide financial support to Syria’s neighbours and take in at least 5% of the total Syrian refugee population.
According to recent reports from the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) almost half of Syria’s population (estimated 9 million) has fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011.
As of August 29, 6.5 million have been displaced within Syria, while more than 3 million Syrians have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbours Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
All these countries are now cutting back on Syrians they allow into their soil, said the IRC and the NRC.
Only 18,453 Syrians have been able to find refuge abroad this October compared to the 150,000 last year.
The NRC report illustrates that a third of Syria’s refugees have gone to Lebanon, a country with a population of just 4.5 million (one refugee for every four residents).
In April 2012, there were 18,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon; by April 2013, there were 356,000, and in April this year, 1 million. Every day, UNHCR staff in Lebanon register 2,500 new refugees. By comparison, countries outside the region had only taken about 50,000 refugees, or just 2% of the total.
Of these, just 166 have been resettled in the US, while France has pledged to take 500 and the UK several hundred.
“Civilians are not getting out and sufficient aid is not getting in. It is a collective betrayal against men, women and children inside Syria, who are living in danger and destitution and are in acute need of assistance,” said NRC Secretary General, Jan Egeland. in a statement.
He added that the international community had failed to provide the necessary support, and a humanitarian appeal to assist refugees in the host countries was only half funded.
“What we are witnessing now are the results of our failure to deliver the necessary support to the region. We are witnessing a total collapse of international solidarity with millions of Syrian civilians,” Egeland said.
The plea came after the UK’s shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, branded the current Coalition Government’s failure to allow more refugees into Britain from Syria as a “shocking neglect of duty”.
After committing to admit up to 500 refugees, the UK Government has officially confirmed that only 50 have been able to come to this country. The UK’s numbers are in stark contrast to other European countries, including Germany, where thousands of refugees from Syria have been accepted.
“The Government should be ashamed of its failure to support some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” Cooper said.
“The UN has asked [ministers] to help a relatively small group of people who are facing unimaginable suffering in refugee camps. Instead, they seem to be dragging their feet. For the Government to turn its back on such desperation is a shocking neglect of duty and means other countries are left to pick up the pieces.”
Turkey, which already hosts more than 1.5 million refugees and has been pushing the US and its allies to create a safe haven for refugees on the Syrian side of its border, could face an influx of 2-3 million more Syrian refugees if President Bashar al-Assad’s forces or Islamic State terrorists advance around Aleppo, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on November 18.
The number of Syrians fleeing into Lebanon passed the 1 million mark on April 3, a bleak milestone exacerbated by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point.
Lebanon has become the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide, struggling to keep pace with a crisis that shows no signs of slowing. Refugees from Syria now equal almost a quarter of the resident population.
“The influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country. For Lebanon, a small nation beset by internal difficulties, the impact is staggering,” said UNHCR’s António Guterres. “The Lebanese people have shown striking generosity, but are struggling to cope. Lebanon hosts the highest concentration of refugees in recent history. We cannot let it shoulder this burden alone.”
Humanitarian agencies have pointed to the “total collapse of international solidarity” to address the Syrian refugee crisis, and called for more burden-sharing.