Nearly three years of bloody civil war in Syria have created what the United Nations, governments and international humanitarian organizations describe as the most challenging refugee crisis in a generation bigger than the one unleashed by the Rwandan genocide and laden with the sectarianism of the Balkan wars. With no end in sight in the conflict and with large parts of Syria already destroyed, governments and organizations are quietly preparing for the refugee crisis to last years. Governments and humanitarian groups are increasingly working under the assumption that the crisis will be a long-lasting one.
This is the crisis that has been called the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of this century and condemned by the UN as a “disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history”. The United Nations has asked for more than $5 billion in humanitarian aid this year for Syria, its biggest financial appeal ever for a single crisis. But amidst politically-charged debates on the use of chemical weapons, military drone strikes and UN intervention, the real victims of the Syrian civil war, its refugees and its children, are slowly being relegated to the background. It is becoming a political issue, rather than a human one.
The number of refugees fleeing over the Syrian borders to Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq to escape the violent conflict reached 2 million. Currently, it is estimated that over 2.5 million persons have fled the conflict, more than half of whom are believed to be children. The UN confirmed that thousands of new refugees had fled to Lebanon to escape fighting in the Qalamoun mountains on the Lebanese border. Many of these refugees are families, arriving with only the clothes on their back. The Syrian conflict is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time in terms of brutality, numbers affected and the impact on children.
With no resolution in sight, there is the potential for an entire generation of Syrian children to be deprived access to a permanent home, formal education and basic health needs. The impact of this will reverberate not only for generations of Syrians to come, but will also be felt in those neighbouring countries who have openly accepted victims of war seeking refuge, and whose own services now face severe stress. For many children however, after having already missed two years of schooling in Syria, attending school is simply too difficult. Some are set to work in order to sustain their families, and girls in particular often stay in the makeshift settlements to care for younger children. The gains made in female education in Syria in the past are regressing as a result of the refugee crisis.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Syrian refugee crisis. It is, after all, the biggest humanitarian crisis in modern history with nearly 4 million Syrians one million of them children forced out of their country by the civil war. But, with the conflict and its impact expected to drag on for years, the aid agencies must also plan for the longer term. This includes building capacity in neighbouring states, as the World Bank is doing in Jordan and Lebanon, to provide services for refugees. The life of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is not better then the refugees who have crossed into the neighbouring countries they often find refuge in the poorest and most marginalized regions of the country, which frequently lack proper infrastructure to deal with the population influx. But they are often even harder to reach, as many remain in conflict areas. Staying with relatives or in abandoned properties moving through fields and along roads. And always they are stalked by the bitter war that has torn this country apart the past three years claiming about 126,000 lives, laying waste to infrastructure, and threatening to ignite a broader, regional confrontation.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that some 4.5 million Syrians have been displaced within Syria’s borders as the country’s internecine conflict grinds on, exacting its brutal toll. IDPs have often been the invisible and forgotten victims of this brutal conflict and are largely sidelined by the political wrangling between all parties to the conflict and their international backers. Fears continue to mount that Syria’s internally displaced will go hungry with aid agencies unable to reach many in need because of security risks. Moreover measles and acute diarrhea cases are increasing, and WHO has warned the likelihood of outbreaks of water-borne diseases typhoid, cholera and hepatitis among IDP.
The United Nation estimates that 2.5 million civilians lack food, water, and medicines, because some towns and villages are too hard to reach, with an estimated 250,000 people completely cut off from outside help. Only 60% of aid pledges have come in, with only a fraction actually reaching the intended beneficiaries. Although some agencies have been able to get aid supplies across national borders, they cannot get through the frontlines of the fighting to reach those caught in the crossfire.
In a nutshell we can just say that humanity is dying in Syria and the whole world community should do something to save it. International diplomatic efforts must therefore focus on achieving temporary ceasefires to bring in the most urgently needed help, such as polio vaccines for children as new cases of polio is being registered among the refugees. Aid should not be a mere side show to the seemingly endless peace talks taking place in Geneva. In order to ensure that an entire generation of Syrian children is not lost to history, we must pay attention to the issues before us far longer than the headlines. We must continue to support these victims of war for longer than a cake stall. We must keep giving, until the light at the end of the tunnel finally appears. Acting now, rather than waiting for a political solution, is a must. Resettlement of more Syrian refugees through a greater humanitarian intake, combined with a continued public giving program is the only way forward.
Mr. Rai is a freelance columnist based in New Delhi and Editor of www.viewsaround.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.