Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

Syrian refugees and the coming winter

For weeks this blog has been drawing attention to the worsening problem of Syrian refugees. Now that winter is near it will get much worse.


UNCHR are now giving a clear warning of the Syrian winter and five million internal refugees who are at risk. The UNCHR has said the size of the problem is overwhelming. Various agencies are warning that the situation is rapidly worsening and getting aid to those people who most need it is becoming near impossible. Not since 1945 has the world seen displacement on this scale, which is concentrated in a very troubled area of the Arab world that shows few possibilities for peace in the immediate future. Ongoing violence from any number of diverse units of opposition fighters, as well as the Assad regime is forcing more and more people to seek refuge outside of their areas. Only as small proportion of those made homeless actually leave Syria.

For those who have left Syria the UN has launched their largest ever appeal. Both Lebanon and Jordan are desperate. Lebanon especially fears destabilization through the constant number of Syrians flooding over their border. They simply do not have the resources to meet people’s needs. One in four people in this tiny state is now a Syrian refugee. The situation is similar in Jordan. Turkey is sending aid into Syria from the north but the militarization of Syria is making the situation near impossible. Aid convoys are frequently attacked …

Any stepping up of aid operations would need the UN Security Council to intervene. In a confidential document given to the 15 council members, Valerie Amos1 outlined 30 potential “measures that could be taken to address current humanitarian challenges in Syria and neighboring countries,” and which could be the basis for a U.N. resolution. But the document was not received favorably. Attempts to organize a Geneva II summit to move a political transition was agreed in the Swiss city in June 2012 but so far has had little impact, and U.N. diplomats say it is increasingly unlikely that anything will be agreed upon very soon.

Right now there is absolutely no coordinated international plan for getting aid to those who need it. Already there have been cases of polio and typhus in camps but medical facilities are scarce. Mass inoculation programs are needed before the winter sets in. The obstacle is the ‘nation state mentality’ that says ‘this is not our problem’. Middle East history however shows aid to Syria is an international problem. Syria has been exploited in endless ways in the past, regardless of its tough image. The problem is especially a British and French issue because interference in the region go back to state formation after World War I. Since then, Syria has been manipulated constantly according to the politics of the Cold War and control of Iran and its oil. Aid must now be forthcoming and it must be unconditional.


Photo Doug Mataconis

What is not being grasped is that many refugees who have left Syria will never go back because their homes no longer exist. War does not just force people from their homes; it demolishes the homes, villages, towns and cities that people leave behind. It destroys the infrastructure. Hospitals, schools and roads that once served and linked different areas have been removed from the map. Wars change physical reality. What is left behind is never the same again …


Photo credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal

The problem of rebuilding Syria once peace is achieved will not be achieved over one or two election cycles. The whole region is now destabilized in a way that will continue to require rebuilding over decades. As this blog is being written the Huffington Post2 reads:

Bolstered by infighting among Syrian opposition groups — including some linked to al-Qaida that have jeopardized foreign aid — U.S. officials say Assad has a stronger grasp on power now than he did just months ago, when the U.S. and Russia called for a new round of talks to settle the 2 1/2-year war that has killed more than 100,000 people. Still, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad’s recent gains do not assure his future in a new government.

The gains and losses of the feuding parties is eclipsing all humanitarian concerns. The refugees lose no matter who wins. Prospects for the situation improving are thus not at all bright. The plight of refugees will continue to be very difficult. But as winter sets in it will get much worse. Infections that would be inconsequential in other circumstances will be devastating. The old and the young will be the first victims. It is with the winter that we will see the most suffering and loss.

Keith Hammond

1. Valerie Amos, UN Aid Chief, Presents ‘Wish List’ To Ease Aid Distribution In Syria – Huffington Post – accessed 28th October 2013.

2. Syria War: Extremist Groups Hobble Efforts To Replace President Bashar Assad – Huffington Post – accessed 28th October 2013.


One comment on “Syrian refugees and the coming winter

  1. Anne Booth
    October 29, 2013

    This is so important.


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This entry was posted on October 29, 2013 by in Comment.