Syria's growing refugee crisis
July 26th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

Syria's growing refugee crisis

By Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Special to CNN

Sherif Elsayed-Ali is head of refugee and migrants’ rights at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.

A tense political situation deteriorates; violence rapidly escalates with dire effects on the civilian population – people are killed indiscriminately, property is destroyed and what starts as a slow trickle of refugees into neighboring countries becomes a mass displacement.

That was Iraq in 2006. In 2012 it’s Syria.

And there’s a tragic irony because Syria is not only Iraq's immediate neighbor, but also a country that was host to more than one million Iraqi refugee at the height of the displacement crisis.

It's not only Syrians that are leaving everything behind to flee the horrors of war. It’s also the Iraqi and Palestinian refugees and others who had found safety in Syria, now twice displaced.

I returned from Jordan last week, where I was looking into the situation of refugees from Syria. The journey out of Syria is rife with dangers. To make it into Jordan, refugees have to go through areas filled with Syrian military troops. Typically, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) escorts them while they sneak between military outposts and until they reach the Syrian side of the border with Jordan.

If they are discovered – and it happens – they are shot at with heavy gunfire. Refugees report that the shooting is indiscriminate; single men or families with children, all are targeted. That people continue to take these risks is testament to what  they have suffered and witnessed.

UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, has so far registered more than 35,000 Syrians in Jordan, but the unofficial total is believed to be much higher.

In Syria itself, the number of those displaced is estimated at between one and one and a half million, in a country of 22 million people. In four of Syria’s neighbors including Jordan, plus Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, about 120,000 Syrian refugees have been registered by the United Nations, but again the actual number, including those unregistered, is much higher.

Badly hit neighborhoods, even whole towns, have seen a mass exodus – sometimes within Syria, sometimes with people making the perilous journey across borders.

Inkhil, a town of about 30,000 people in the Dera’a governorate has been one of the worst hit. Those who fled describe continuous, indiscriminate shelling in the past few weeks.

People have been taken from their homes by government forces and militias, in front of their families, and executed within earshot. There are reports of mainly men, but also women, being abducted and subjected to enforced disappearances.

So far, borders have largely remained open to refugees from Syria and must remain so. Recent statements from Iraqi and Jordanian leaders that this remains the case are reassuring. Worrying, though, was a statement attributed to the Israeli Defense Minister on July 19, where he stated his intention to prevent “waves of refugees” fleeing increasing violence and widespread human right abuses in Syria, from entering Israel via the Israeli-occupied area of the Golan Heights.

Countries must allow refugees fleeing war and persecution to enter their country and reach safety, be they Syrian nationals or others residing in Syria, such as Palestinian refugees. It is a legal obligation, not just a moral one.

But neighboring countries shouldn’t have to bear the humanitarian effort on their own. There’s a real economic and resource impact on countries from sudden, large scale refugee flows.

Local schools and health facilities have to accommodate thousands that weren’t planned for, and there’s increased demand for employment. Jordan, for example, is also suffering from serious energy and water constraints.

There have been promising signs in recent days, such as a pledge by the United States that it will give Jordan $100 million, in part to help host Syrian refugees, and another pledge for a similar sum by the Arab League.

Yet, as of July 24, the $192 million U.N. Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees was only 26 percent funded. Another U.N. humanitarian appeal to support Syrians inside their country had, as of July 20, only received $38 million of the $180 million needed. What are the countries that purport to support the Syrian people waiting for?

Countries with the means to do so – in the Gulf, Europe, North America and elsewhere – should fund the humanitarian appeals for the Syria situation.

And they should do it now. They should increase direct support to neighboring countries to help them provide adequate reception for all refugees from Syria and adequate assistance to the communities hosting them.

No one knows when the conflict in Syria will end, and when it does, no one knows whether it will be safe for displaced Syrians to return. Even if the conflict in Syria ended tomorrow and it was safe for refugees to return, the process wouldn’t be quick. Infrastructure has to be rehabilitated and homes rebuilt. Schools, hospitals and local services have to start operating again. This is a crisis that needs long term commitment and neighboring countries should not bear the brunt of it on their own.

Many of the refugees I talked to complained that for the past 18 months, there has been nothing but empty words. They asked what the international community has done for the Syrian people?

The very least it can do is help those who escaped to live in dignity.

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Topics: Human Rights • Inequality • Israel • Syria

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. S.V.P.YADAV

    Respected, Mr. Sherif Elsayed Ali Garu, There is no refugees and there is no crisis. These all are U. S tactics.In Syria, so many people not awared about U. S malpractices, And C N N news channel also doing malpractices together.Syrian people will fight againest U.S reptile administration.shortly.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  2. Thinker23

    Saeed... I'm afraid that you're confusing the United States of America with some other country. The US DOES NOT resort to terrorism, it's what Lebanon, Syria, Iran, the Palestinians, the various fighting groups in Iraq are doing.

    July 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  3. deniz boro

    Number of refugies escaping to Turkey is not a Braodway version of USA plot. It is a reality. It is high summer here and the day temperatures his 44-46 degrees C. Think of this when you drink your next glass of iced water.

    July 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed Turkey has taken a lot of refugees from Syria. Other neighbours do the same. The pflight of refugees is heart-wrenching. Hence it's wrong that Israel intends to close the border on the Golan Heights to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country over the occupied Golan Heights,
      The Iraqis who fled their country in 2006 and took refuge in Syria, have to flee again, only to find themselves in another inferno in Iraq.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:23 am | Reply
      • Nina

        So let me get this straight j.von, you state that the poor muslim refugees from a muslim country should be allowed into the Golan Heights so that they can attack Israel? And if Israel does not allow this, then Israel is a human right's abuser. At some point we thought that maybe, just maybe, you were a muslim with some brains but you insult the civilized world's intelligence with that heartwrenching plea.

        July 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
      • Caner

        Nina, those are Human beings you talk about, this kind of paranoiac actions are creating more escalation between Arabs and Jews. Israel is a relatively new country and seems like not aware of the fact that trying to secure the existence of a country with only one ally is never a good idea. The only think doesnt change in this world is the change itself, so if I were a Jewish politician who really cares about other Jews I would try to make some friends instead of loosing the last ones. Because people will remember what you said today and act on it accordingly some day.

        July 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
      • nina

        The following are allies of Israel:
        Brazil, Canada, European Union, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ja pan, Malawi, Paraguay, The Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom,
        United States and Uruguay to name a few.
        If you are interested in reading more facts go to IIACF’s site
        Which countries are allied to the gypsies of the ME?

        July 31, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  4. Hugh

    Syria's growing refugee crisis

    By Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Special to CNN

    Sherif Elsayed-Ali is head of refugee and migrants’ rights at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.

    my comment is this: any views expressed are always better than those suppressed.

    July 26, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Reply
  5. Hugh

    UNLESS: expression is a LIE, and suppression is the TRUTH...and with a world agency of AI, I doubt sensation-ism plays a card of discontent. And with an International Secretariat no less. All the events we are shown have already been cataloged.

    "The media has already 'calmed' the masses, now we change history".™ a recent off-air quote of an Elite.

    July 27, 2012 at 12:00 am | Reply
  6. Travis

    The only way to help these people is by having both the Arab league and the NATO countries quit sending in arms and ammuntion to these so-called "rebels" so that they'll sue the Assad regime for peace and an eventual cease fire. The problem here just like anywhere else is that the M.I.C. in Washington want to take over in Syria through the collaboration of these "rebels" just like they did in Libya last year!

    July 27, 2012 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • Nina

      If the so called rebels and the Assad regime did not have arms and ammunition, they would kill each other with knives and stones because that is the muslim mindset.

      July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
      • Mytt Robmey

        That was well put, Nina. Soon, if I'm elected, we'll replace this ASSad with a right-wing stooge who'll gladly carry our our orders without question or hesitation!!!

        July 28, 2012 at 12:43 am |
      • nina

        I hope that happens.

        July 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
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