The Refugee Crisis in Syria

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1 The Refugee Crisis in Syria Syria has become the most dangerous crisis for global peace and security since the Second World War. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres The ongoing crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) is deteriorating rapidly, with more than 6.8 million of Syria s 22.5 million citizens now requiring humanitarian assistance. The majority of these people have fled their homes but are still within the country s borders; however, a growing number of Syrians, more than 2.3 million by the end of 2013, have registered as refugees, crossing borders into neighboring countries. Tens of thousands more are believed to have fled the country without registering. The United Nations predicts that by the end of 2014, more than half of Syria s pre-war population will have either fled the country or have been internally displaced. To put this in perspective: by the end of this year, more Syrians will have been forced from their homes some 11.7 million than live in the state of Ohio. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of early 2013, there were 15.4 million total refugees worldwide, with almost 80% living in developing countries, primarily throughout Africa and Asia. The United Nations (U.N.) defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, violence and/or natural disaster. Some refugees stay in their home country, while others find safety and security in countries thousands of miles away. It is an integral part of the United Nations mission to come to the aid of these refugees in order to ensure that they receive food, water, shelter and security. Currently, the Syrian refugee crisis is one of the largest and most critical humanitarian crises facing the international community. Its roots can be traced back to early 2011, when a wave of protests aimed at authoritarian governments began spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. This movement later became known as the Arab Spring, reaching Syria in March 2011 and igniting a long and violent civil war between those loyal to Syria s President, Bashar al-assad, and rebel groups seeking to remove him from power. As the Syrian President began to crackdown on protesters, his opponents took up arms against him. To escape the growing violence and the rapid deterioration of their neighborhoods, Syrian civilians began to flee their homes. As of this writing, an estimated 4.5 million people have been displaced within Syria, and another 2.3 million Syrians have fled the country entirely, traveling to nearby countries, such as Lebanon (850,000 refugees), Jordan (576,000 refugees), Turkey (559,000 refugees), Iraq (210,000 refugees) and Egypt (131,000 refugees). Many of these host countries have become overwhelmed by the hundreds

2 of thousands of people flooding into their countries and are struggling to provide these refugees with adequate shelter and basic services. As a result, fleeing Syrians are being placed in refugee camps, set up by national governments or aid agencies. Zaatari, a refugee camp in neighboring Jordan, has become the second largest refugee camp in the world, housing 160,000 Syrian refugees, with an additional 6,000 more arriving every day. Refugees face dismal conditions in these camps, including poor sanitation facilities, food and water shortages and harsh weather conditions. Refugees also face growing resentment on the part of local citizens, who fear that the camps are placing a tremendous strain on their country s limited resources. For the 4.5 million internally displaced persons still in Syria, it is becoming more difficult to find affordable housing in safe areas, and the cost of living inside Syria is beginning to skyrocket as the Syrian economy is shut down due to the continued fighting. In contrast, a small percentage of Syrian refugees are fortunate enough to make it to countries with generous policies toward asylum seekers. Sweden, for example, has welcomed nearly 15,000 displaced Syrians across its borders and has granted them permanent residency. Most other western countries have not been as open, for fear of bringing Islamist extremists into their homeland. Today, only 4 percent of Syrian refugees have been granted asylum within the European Union, with many others attempting to cross into Europe illegally. Instead of opening their borders, some countries, such as the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom, have expanded their foreign aid programs in order to help provide basic necessities for Syrian refugees. The European Union has contributed over $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid and the United States has provided $1 billion in funding. However, the U.N. estimates that $6.4 billion dollars is still needed in order to properly meet the needs of most Syrian refugees. Every day, Syrians continue to face a shortage of doctors and medical supplies as well as a rapidly rising unemployment rate. Additionally, nearly 2.3 million Syrian children are out of school. In 2013 alone, 1.7 million Syrians became refugees, an increase of 340 percent over the previous year. The total registered refugee population in the region is expected to reach 5.2 million by December 2014 and the number of child refugees is expected to be over 2 million. This will make Syrians the largest refugee population in the world. The UNHCR and other organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), continue to be active, but their efforts are not enough to meet the needs of the rapidly growing refugee population. Camps are becoming overcrowded and Syrian refugees have nowhere to turn. Delegates in this committee will focus on drafting a resolution that develops both short- and longterm solutions to the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. The Refugee Crisis in Syria (Briefing Paper) Page 2

3 Questions to Consider 1) Does your country currently host refugees? If so, do they include any Syrian refugees? 2) Does your country have an official policy on refugees? If so, what does it look like? 3) How can nations be persuaded to take in significant numbers of Syrian refugees? 4) What can be done to alleviate the overcrowding of refugee camps? The Refugee Crisis in Syria (Briefing Paper) Page 3

4 5) What steps can be taken to help alleviate some of the pressure that has been placed on host countries, notably Jordan and Lebanon, already struggling with weak infrastructures and limited resources? 6) What other international organizations can the UNHCR partner with to provide aid and protection to the millions of internally displaced Syrians? 7) What are some alternative ways, aside from direct foreign aid, for the international community to fund refugee relief efforts? 8) How can the international community prepare for a long-term conflict in Syria? The Refugee Crisis in Syria (Briefing Paper) Page 4

5 Quick Facts One-third of all Syrians approximately 6.8 million people have been displaced by the war, with an estimated 4.5 million displaced within Syria and 2.3 million having fled the country. The United Nations (U.N.) defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, violence and/or natural disaster. Zaatari, a refugee camp in neighboring Jordan, has become the second largest refugee camp in the world, housing 160,000 Syrian refugees, with an additional 6,000 more arriving every day. According to the UNHCR, 75 percent of all refugees are women and children. Instead of opening their borders, some countries, such as the United States and Japan, have expanded their foreign aid programs in order to help provide basic necessities. Glossary Arab Spring: the wave of anti-government protests that broke out across Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in Tunisia, in Asylum: protection given by a foreign government to a refugee who has fled their country. Authoritarian Government: a form of government where all the power rests in the hands of one person or one small group of people. Leader(s) in an authoritarian government are not elected by the people and generally oppose individual rights and democratic principles. Foreign Aid: financial, technical or military assistance given by one country to another for purposes of relief or rehabilitation, for economic stabilization, or for mutual defense. Internally Displaced Person (IDP): a person who has been forced to leave his or her home (but not his country) for fear of persecution, conflict or natural disaster. International Rescue Committee: a global leader in humanitarian assistance for 80 years, the IRC responds to the world s worst crises and helps refugees and others uprooted by violent conflict, disaster and persecution to survive and rebuild their lives. Permanent Residency: the status of a person who is allowed to reside indefinitely within a country of which he or she is not a citizen. Refugee Camp: a temporary settlement built to meet the basic human needs of refugees. Sanitation: the process of keeping communities free of dirt, infection and disease by providing access to clean water, sewage treatment and trash collection, among other things. Unemployment Rate: the percentage of the work force that is unemployed at any given date. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): also known as the UN Refugee Agency; established in 1950 in response to the refugee crisis following World War II. This organization s mission is to protect refugees worldwide. The UNHCR not only advocates for better policies to protect refugee rights, but is actively involved in assistance during refugee crises, third country resettlement, and host country integration processes. Resources The Huffington Post (Sept. 2013) Number Of Internally Displaced In Syria Hits 5 Million, UN Says IRC (Jan. 2013): Syria displacement crisis worsens as protracted humanitarian emergency looms Mercy Corps (Oct. 2013): Quick Facts: What You Need to Know about the Syrian Refugee Crisis UNHCR (2014): 2014 Syria Regional Response Plan: Strategic Overview UNHCR (2014): 2014 UNHCR Country Operations Profile - Syrian Arab Republic UNHCR (Sept. 2013): UNHCR: Two million Syrians are Refugees The Refugee Crisis in Syria (Briefing Paper) Page 5

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