Syrian refugee situation in neighboring states
By: Musfirah Rashid
After the outbreak of hostilities in Syria in 2012, the whole region became the most concentrated region for refugees. Millions of refugees fled to neighbouring countries, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq who now make up a large factor of their population.
The situation of the refugees became worse day by day which forced them to move towards European countries. Still Jordan has the highest refugee population consisting 30% of its total population. Lebanon hosts 1.8 million refugees; Turkey has almost 3,614,108 registered refugees and Iraq hosts 252, 983 refugees excluding internally displaced people. Israel is the only neighbour which denies accepting any refugee from Syria. As the on-going conflict between both states over Golan Heights escalates, so do the tensions between Syria and Israel
During a conflict situation, the spill over effect is mostly found in neighbouring states, Syria is no different. Many western countries believe that Syrian refugees flow in western states should be banned and they should settle in neighbouring states. An American politician and attorney serving as the junior United States Senator for Texas, Ted Cruz also endorsed this view “we should be resettling them humanely in Middle Eastern countries that are majority Muslim”, he said. But the humanitarian conditions and basic life facilities in these countries questions the settling of refugees there.
Turkey is a great player in the Syrian war and a much affected state due to the conflict between Kurds and Turkish government. Ankara is directly involved in Syrian conflict which has increased the flow of refugees to Turkey. Four million refugees are changing the Turkish society at least in the next generation since refugees directly affect their economy primarily via internal and external security.
In 2016, Turkey made many policy changes to control the flow of refugees. As they eliminate their visa free policy for Syrians arriving by sea and air. In 2014 Turkey started closing its Syrian border which they completed in 2018. In 2018, according to Human Rights Watch almost 1.7 million displaced people stay at camps on Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey never accepted Syrian refugees according to the Geneva Convention 1951 relating to the status of refugees. They mainly refer to them as “guests”. Turkish leaders mainly focus on the return of Syrian refugees but most will likely stay permanently. As the Turkish economy faces a backlash and Erdogan fails to take the majority vote in recent elections, they wanted to reduce burden from them. The Turkish attitudes towards refugees has hardened, which brings a light on the Human Rights situations in Turkish refugee camps.
Lebanon has the most number of refugees. The material situation of refugees in Lebanon is quite difficult. Despite the fact that on paper, Syrian refugees have access to education and health facilities but in reality the situation is entirely different. Due to the high crowd in schools and expenses of transportation and other things almost 280,000 children do not attend school. In June 2019, the Lebanon’s foreign minister said that “More than three quarter of Syrian refugees could return to Syria because they face no persecution and threat to their security”. The Lebanese government continuously puts pressure on refugees to return to their homes, mostly by making the conditions worse. The government gave many dates to the refugees to convert their concrete homes to plastic or wooden ones. The last deadline was July 1, 2019, after which the government destroyed more than 20 concrete homes, leaving thousands of children and women on streets without any alternate shelters; a move that was condemned by more than seven aid groups.
Jordan is on the verge of a turning point. Similar to the Lebanese government, the Jordan government also has now put huge pressure on refugees to fly back to their countries. Despite this, Jordan senior official says that “In principal of International laws, Jordan will not force Syrian refugees to return home”. Jordan is not the signatory of 1951 Geneva Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum, so this put no responsibility on them to monitor the refugee’s situations. But still the condition is much better than the other states. They have access to the health and education facilities and also have limited access to work.
Iraq almost hosts the 4.4% of registered Syrian refugees out of total 252,983 concerned persons most of which are Kurds. A combined report from different refugee councils showed the living conditions for Syrian refugees are quite good in Iraq. Almost 92% of refugees claimed to have a secure neighborhood. Also the health and education situation is much better. 78% of the Syrian refugees are intend to remain in their current location and don’t want to go back to Syria. Iraq is the most favourable country of refugees to live. But Iraq’s internal situation is getting worse due to increase in terrorism and instability. Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mohammad A. Alhakim has said that “The flow of refugees, entrenchment of terrorist organizations and fundamentalist regime, all could impact us.
The Syrian conflict has now prolonged for more than eight years prolonged and the region currently has the largest number of refugees and internally displaced people. To maintain the efforts of host countries for great refugee’s influx, great international aid is needed. Also better policies towards the whole region to maintain any further escalation are required.
As the American withdrawal becomes a reality, the international community needs to be more focused on the future of Syrian refugees, because now the burden falls on them. Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries are still in a desperate need of stability, security and basic life services. The whole community especially America needs to engage in direct talks with Assad’s government to secure the future of the refugees. An uncertain future of Syrian refugees many of whom face either challenges of life in exile or barriers to return puts lives in the utmost danger.