Syria's latest sad milestone
September 4th, 2013
10:13 AM ET

Syria's latest sad milestone

By Charlotte Phillips, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Charlotte Phillips is Amnesty International’s researcher on Refugee and Migrants' Rights. The views expressed are her own.

It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale and brutality of the conflict in Syria – the massive displacement and immense suffering it is causing. To top it all, videos of an alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus suggest a chilling escalation in the violence in recent weeks.

But anyone thinking the unfolding crisis could not get worse would surely have been given pause this week as the country hit yet another terrible milestone after the number of refugees officially reached 2 million. An estimated half of these are children, many under the age of 11. Yet raw statistics only tell us part of the story. Behind every number is a face, a name, a person who has experienced extraordinary loss – loss of friends and family, of limbs, of property, of livelihood, of human dignity.

Here at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London, we receive almost daily phone calls and emails from individuals and families, many of them now located in the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, and increasingly further afield. People are reaching out – asking for help, for advice, for material assistance, for their rights to be protected. They want to be able to start their lives again – and more and more believe they can only do this in another safe country.

But the reality is that life is extremely hard even for refugees in neighboring countries who have escaped the bloodshed as the conflict between the Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces continues to rage.

My colleagues and I recently returned from Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, now the second-largest refugee camp in the world after Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab camp. It has unofficially become Jordan’s fourth-largest city. Built in a desert area only 12 kilometers from the Syrian border, Za’atri is searingly hot in the summer months and freezing cold in the winter. It currently hosts almost 130,000 refugees from Syria, with significant numbers of children and vulnerable individual – some who have survived torture – seriously injured or sick.

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The United Nations and organizations working on the ground have made a number of appeals to the international community for funding, because despite some significant donations, essential services such as food assistance, education, a more reliable water supply system and shelter continue to be seriously underfunded. And it is not just Za’atri, or indeed Jordan, where there are shortfalls in funding to protect and assist refugees.

The same is true across the region, where refugees, particularly in community settings, are struggling to access services, while host countries are buckling under the strain. All these host nations are facing significant economic and political challenges due to the influx. The increased pressure on local services, meanwhile, is exacerbating tensions between refugees and local communities. As António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, noted an interview with The Guardian in July: “We are facing in the Middle East something that is more than a humanitarian crisis, more than a regional crisis. It is becoming a real threat to global peace and security.”

So, what can be done?

With no political solution in sight for Syria, the very least we can do is to allow those who have escaped with their lives to live in safety and dignity. The United Nations estimates that almost $3 billion is currently needed for it to meet the needs of refugees in the region. In June, it launched the largest humanitarian appeal in its history. To date, the United States, Kuwait and the European Commission have been amongst the largest donors. Yet the appeal is currently only 40 percent funded. Countries with the means to do so – European countries, North America, the Gulf states and elsewhere – must continue to scale up their funding to tackle the refugee crisis, and they should plan to provide sustained, long-term support to Syria’s neighbors.

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But this alone will not alleviate the refugee crisis. Donor governments should be prepared to take the most vulnerable refugees out of the region and allow them to settle safely in their countries, via resettlement and humanitarian admission programs. As well as providing a very real lifeline for the most vulnerable, this will help to alleviate some of the burden being borne by Syria’s neighbors.

While Germany has so far agreed to take 5,000 Syrian refugees via a humanitarian admission program, the response from other countries has so far been more limited. It is time for publics around the world to press their governments to increase support for refugees from Syria.

International attention has, perhaps inevitably, focused on the potential for military action. But if the international community wants to take any kind of meaningful action, it would do well to come up with a plan for tackling what has become an increasingly desperate – and dangerous – problem.

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Topics: Syria

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Ferhat Balkan

    They say a picture is a thousand words. Take a good look at that picture above and ask yourself: Do we simply stand by and watch, or do we do something to stop this madness? These people use to live normal lives. Each morning, they'd go to their jobs and say hello to their neighbor. Perhaps drink some tea and play a game of backgammon with their friends and relatives. Now, take a good look and see what they've been reduced to. A life of misery: no running water, not enough food, no real shelter and a bleak future to look forward to. Take a look and ask yourself, what am I doing to help?

    September 4, 2013 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Ferhat, had the U.S. and it's crony allies not interfered in the first place, the situation would never have come this sad end! The Syrians would have settled this by now. The only way to help now is for the U.S., it's rubber stamp allies and the Arab League to butt out completely and let Russia and China take it from there. Tragically, that will not happen, thanks to the worthless politicians in Washington D.C.!

      September 4, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Come on Joeseph. You know as well as I do what started this conflict. This would've never happened if he hadn't sent tanks and soldiers to disperse the peaceful protests 2 years ago. You do not subdue protests with live bullets. This is why dictatorship is a disease on earth.

        September 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  2. Michael

    If we want get to the next step, we need to know: from where did Syria military import weapons and military equipment. The next follows!

    September 4, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  3. Jozef

    Syria sourced weapons from Asia, i.e. South Korea and China. U.N.O. needs to block all South Korean and Chinese exports.

    September 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  4. sand

    usa should go home and helps its own usa should go and help greece with its 27.6% unemployment thats a real desprate country.

    September 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Reply
    • Yes

      Yes. We should let Towel Heads kill all the Towel Heads they can!!!!!

      September 5, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply
  5. deniz boro

    I am seasoned not to reach a verdict...Hopefully.I came to learn the value of true and concrete infornation before I fire up to any fire works.People did recently establish a kind of SHIELD in Turkey. It was meant to ward of incoming unfriendly UFO. I realy do not understand at this point of the brag other countries make of. Well, there was a use of sarin gas, it can not be permitted. But how the hell will you stop it if you do not dispose of the stock or the person producing it.
    Dropping a few well "markettted" bombs- even if they are to the point....well is not to the point...Go back to your Football moves USA. I'm sure thet will support a better answert

    September 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  6. Roger Welk

    We need to stay out of Syria. The next action will be chemical warfare in the United States.....We don't need to get involed in other countries wars and work on our own problems..........we have borders that need protection......that is what our forces need to work on......we have towns that can't afford police, but we have Military Police that could handle it........we need things cleaned and rebuilt......we have Engineers that can handle that.......use our military forces to fix our own cities and towns..........what does this do......keeps our forces busy and trained so they can return to their homes and continue to do what they have learned..........if we strike Syria you can bet your last dollar that their will be relatiation that won't be pretty.........we will be burying towns one town at a time.......

    September 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Reply
    • Janet

      You are not wrong – you need to stay out – but you are not USA – so, please stay out!

      September 5, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply
  7. Meghan


    September 4, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Millions have fled Syria, yet there are still many who remain. They are regime loyalists. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC visited an affluent part of Damascus where people continued with their daily lives, like bathing in a swimming pool, eating ice-cream etc..
    The first couple -Asma and Bashar al-Assad – made occasionally public appearances, looking relaxed and unperturbed.
    In Damascus, some civilians are being armed to defend the city, while others are coming forward to volunteer as human shields around military installations, which could be possible targets of a US strike. Assad loyalists have vowed to die for him.

    September 5, 2013 at 9:07 am | Reply
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Indeed. It reminds of the last days of Hitler and Berlin. When the Allies surrounded the city. Living in denial does not change the fact that hundreds of thousands of his people have been killed in this bloody civil war and continue to die while he and his blind followers act as if everything is ok.

      September 5, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  9. abdocoo

    View Video Lighting engineer played the minds of the masses

    September 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Reply

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