Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
Though Westminster Parliamentarians have shown one of their rare moments of sanity, the situation in Syria still looks very frightening. Many questions still hang in the air about chemical weapons. Tension is running high between US and Russia and a military strike is not excluded yet. When, where and how no doubt will become clear in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, what is sickening is the fact that few commentators are asking about the ‘collateral’ effect on the refugee population.
There are now around three and a half million people who have had to flee their homes in Syria and move to refugee camps in Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. There are millions more that have had to move from one area of Syria to another because of constant shelling. One in every four people now living in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Most of these leave their homes with nothing. A huge number are women and children. In some camps there is not enough water. Electricity is rare. There are hardly any schools and very few clinics and states like Lebanon just cannot continue to absorb the numbers. Lebanese resources are already stretched to the limit.
The above photograph is Aleppo, which was one of major commercial centers of the Arab world. Rarely do these centers close at night but there are few people in this photograph. Why? Then on closer inspection we see that collapsed buildings are a residential block. The scene is similar all across Syria. Below is a photograph of Homs.
What we are witnessing is the fundamental destabilization of the whole Arab world. The displacement of the civilian population will have consequences all over the region. In areas where people have been allowed to live together for centuries, life will somehow go on but in areas where there is a balance of different religions life will be suddenly changed and things will be far more difficult. Schools and clinics especially will be placed under pressure.
What we are witnessing is not just a Syrian tragedy. And it is not simply about Assad or his regime. There is something in this tragedy that is cause for everyone to be disturbed. What kind of future are we seeing US, Russian and European foreign policy shape in the region? Do we think that new generations of Syrians will look upon the destruction of Syria and feel warmth towards us? Any pushing ahead and side-stepping the UN Security Council will not make the world safer. And further destruction will certainly not create new friends. All the speculation about ‘limited’ strikes have forced considerations of ordinary Syrians out of the frame and it is these three million people who have had to flee in all directions that we should be talking about.
Taking part in a BBC Radio program with me a few days ago, a colleague from Oxfam described a visit to Zaatari camp in Jordan. The camp is home to 120,000 Syrians. The shelling over the border in Dar’a and Damascus can be heard every night.
Zaatari is now Syria’s fourth largest city. On a bad day there are as many as 2000 new refugees trying to join the camp. The numbers are so great that a second camp has now had to be opened twenty kilometers away. Also for the past couple of weeks more and more have crossed over a makeshift bridge across the Tigris to Kurdish areas of Iraq. In one week over 45,000 Syrians crossed.
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