(Damascus) Regardless of how you view the conflict that has ravaged Syria since March 2011, whether you see it as a Civil War or a Proxy War waged by some regional countries or even international powers, and regardless of the reasons behind the outbreak of this catastrophic conflict, the plight of Syrian refugees has emerged as one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II.
At the height point of the refugee crisis, the UN estimated that over 13.2 million, including some 6 million children were internally or externally displaced as violence raged on. Terror ruled and destruction prevailed in over 75% of Syrian territories before the turn of the tide, sometimes of in apocalyptic proportions. This started to be reversed by the Syrian Army in 2018, with the help of Russia and Iran.
As in all conflicts, civilians in general and children in particular are the worst affected. Aid of all types and forms becomes a matter of life or death for large chunks of the population, especially in conflict-riddled areas. Humanitarian ramifications are bound to drag on, long after the guns go silent. This brutal conflict which was sparked off in 2011, has had a devastating effect on the nation’s economy, infrastructure and society.
Since military clashes ended in large parts of Syria, particularly around the Capital of Damascus, and most of the southern region, reasonable numbers have returned are seriously contemplating coming back home, particularly from Lebanon and Jordan. The Syrian government, has given them assurances of safety, provided returning Syrians with emergency aid and funds to resettle, and to repair their damaged homes.
Yet many of the estimated ” 5.7 million registered refugees, including more than 2.5 million Syrian children now living in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey”, are still reluctant or unwilling to make such a major decision.
As if dire economic straits and sanctions were not enough, the war has deprived Syria of a large proportion of its younger generation of and qualified workers, which are so vital to the resurrection of the country from beneath the ashes of war. One recent survey maintains that some 15000 doctors, 30000 engineers and well over 120 thousand university graduates have left the country in recent years, for various economic and political reasons.
The staggering numbers of homes, schools, hospitals and other vital amenities destroyed over the past 8 years of war, makes the safe return of millions of Syrian refugees extremely difficult, despite some progress having been made in recent months to encourage the return of those who had fled to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan. Those refugees who have settled in Turkey face some added challenges with the war still being unfinished along large stretches of the Syrian-Turkish borders, particularly in the governorate of Idlib, which has been out of State control for the past 6 years.
Years of conflict have denied children access to basic services. One international survey a year ago warned that “national immunization had declined from 90 percent coverage in 2010 to 70 percent in 2017. Some 14.6 million people do not have access to safe water. More than 1.75 million Syrian children do not attend school, with 1.35 million at risk of dropping out. More than 3 million children require nutritional support, including 20,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition.”
The situation in most of the refugee camps is dire, but during a harsh winter, it can easily turn disastrous. In Al Rukban, an isolated and hard-to-reach camp, supposedly under the protection of US soldiers, the situation is extremely dire. The majority of the camp’s displaced dwellers, located some 300 kilometres from Damascus, are women and children living in desperate conditions.
The lack of badly-needed medical care, a shortage of food and other basic daily needs have turned camps like Al Rukban into a miserable prison. Images of children wading barefoot through icy puddles, and people forced to sell their belongings for food and water are some of the vivid reminders of tragic refugee sufferings. US forces in the area have been preventing most humanitarian government and UN aid convoys from entering Al Rukban camp for unknown reasons, thus rendering the chronic situation there more intolerable.
“The winter months have been incredibly harsh for mothers and children in Al Rukban. Their health is weakened from poor nutrition and the extremely difficult living conditions,” said UNICEF Representative in Syria, Fran Equiza. “With no access to adequate medical facilities and no qualified medical personnel, a simple complication during childbirth can be fatal for mothers or their babies.”
Efforts to end, or at least minimize the suffering of millions of refugees within Syria itself as well as those in neighbouring countries, remain hostage to a lack of will by some parties to give aid, and the scarcity of resources for others. This unprecedented large-scale human tragedy, merits a well-coordinated collective effort, a clear strategy, a strong national and international will, along with the proper means, funds and resources.
The international community need to come together on this issue, and to put aside political differences and animosities, in order to forge a way out of this dire humanitarian cause. Unless this happens, the plight of Syrian refugees, victims of the world’s largest displacement crisis, shall remain a disgraceful blot on the face of humanity at large.