Escaping conflict is now harder than ever for displaced Syrians

Refugees International – WNN Improve It

Barbed wire fence surrounding the Apaydin refugee camp for Syrians in Hatay, Syria.
Two security guards walk on their rounds along a barbed wire fence at the Apaydin refugee camp in the Hatay region of Turkey, near the border of Syria. This is only one of numerous Syrian refugee camps bordering Syria. Image: Andre Vitchek/FFPIF

(WNN/RI) Hatay, TURKEY, WESTERN ASIA: With at least two million Syrians now living in neighboring countries, refugees are struggling to cope with life in exile and aid agencies, host communities, and receiving countries are overwhelmed by myriad assistance challenges.

One of the greatest problems confronting Syrians in Lebanon and Turkey is their dwindling or exhausted resources. Refugees have great difficulty finding affordable and safe housing, as well as paying for food, medical care, and other basic necessities. Education is another key concern for refugee families in both countries.

Increasingly, governments hosting Syrian refugees struggle to sustain the generous reception and support they previously offered. Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not live in camps, and an increasing majority of those residing in Turkey also live in host communities. Greater international assistance and better coordinated programming are necessary to provide adequate shelter, food, health care, and education to non-camp refugees in a manner that also accounts for the needs of host communities.

There are also indications that refugee-hosting countries are feeling that the expense of caring for large numbers of refugees will be unsustainable without additional assistance. Lebanon, after years of waiving registration charges for Syrians fleeing the conflict, is now re-instituting a $200 annual fee to maintain legal status. This is forcing many families underground. In Turkey, the rate at which Syrians are being processed and moved into refugee camps has slowed, leaving thousands stuck in squalid and unsafe camps on the Syrian side of the border. This is particularly troubling because Turkey is now receiving Syrian refugees not simply from Syria, but also from other hosting countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon

The ultimate effect of these policies is that fewer Syrians can escape the terrible violence engulfing their country. These policies could also become more restrictive in the event of further military escalation in the region.

Other major challenges include the provision of shelter to Syrian families and the mitigation of tensions between refugees and host communities. Housing in refugee-hosting regions is scarce and rents are becoming ever more exorbitant. More and more Syrians are reportedly being forced to return to their homes in active war zones because they cannot both pay rent and feed their families. Others are now living on the streets or in public parks.

National governments, local and international NGOs, and UN agencies have provided some relief to those in need, but their solutions have been lacking both in scale and coherence. So far, the aid community has been unable to identify the most vulnerable refugees and target assistance accordingly – especially in urban areas. Host communities have also been left out of the planning process in many cases.

There is also an increasing gap in educational services for children. One million Syrian children have fled to neighboring countries, and the large majority of them are not enrolled in school because of language barriers, unaffordable expenses, overcrowded school systems, and a simple lack of awareness about education resources. Many of these children have been away from any educational programming for over two years, and they are in dire need of both the content and the normalcy/routine that childhood education provides.

Based on interviews with refugees, government officials, and international and local NGOs, RI’s team has developed the following recommendations:

  • Governments, NGOs, and the UN should develop national-level shelter strategies that expand the range of shelter options and address the concerns of both Syrians and their host communities. These strategies should address contingencies wherein the number of refugees increases significantly following military escalation.
  • All humanitarian aid providers must identify the most vulnerable Syrians in the refugee populations they serve and target assistance accordingly. Hard-to-reach communities and unregistered groups may be difficult to assist, but they are some of those most in need.
  • Educational programming for children – especially those outside of camps – must be increased significantly, both to maintain families’ ability to thrive in their countries of asylum over the long term and to meaningfully prepare them for return.
  • The international community must shoulder its share of the burden by providing full funding for the humanitarian response. Failure to do so will put greater stress on host countries and result in more border restrictions aimed at limiting refugee arrivals.


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