The Arab Spring raced across the Middle East and brought dramatic changes to the region. The people of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen have forced their rulers from power, and there have been uprisings in other countries as well. We have become completely desensitized and numbed to the ongoing situation in the Middle East. We are used to seeing violence and unrest from these countries. For the people of Syria, they have endured 22 months of suffering without substantive change for their country.
President Bashar al-Assad has taken complete and utter control of the livelihoods of his people, and continues to crush them without blinking. The United Nations has estimated that some four million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid.
The latest news on the situation is startling.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), there are half a million registered Syrian refugees. The countries that have taken these people in (from highest to lowest number taken in) are: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. As of January 7, the total number of registered refugees and individuals awaiting registration is just over 600,000, and this includes some 5,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. Once a refugee is registered, it is hardly a sure-fire way to receive assistance; it simply means the individual is on the international community’s radar.
Through registration centers in Tripoli, Beirut, the Bekaa, and southern Lebanon, UNHCR registers approximately 1,500 refugees daily. In December 2012, the UN appealed for $1.5 billion to help Syrians fleeing the fighting between government troops and rebels, warning that the number of refugees in neighboring countries could double to a million by June.
There is a dire need to provide all existing refugees with food, shelter, and medical attention and the capacity to handle the daily increases in the numbers. The World Food Program (WFP) states it is helping 1.5 million Syrians, but continued violence prevents the ability to use the port of Tartus to deliver food. The violence prevents Syrians from receiving assistance and has taken many lives as well. The UN has estimated that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprisings.
As the situation becomes more dangerous every day, the WFP has systematically pulled its staff out of the following locations: Homs, Aleppo, Tartus, and Qamisly. The attacks on WFP aid trucks rose near the end of 2012, and fuel shortages also spurred the removal of staff. Syrian rebels have been able to take control of many key locations in northern Syria in recent months, but the fighting has really taken its toll on the ability to provide adequate and somewhat consistent humanitarian assistance.
Opposition forces have been making considerable gains in recent weeks. But their efforts to take control of areas around major cities including the capital of Damascus have met with stubborn resistance and increasingly destructive air strikes. All of this contributes to the increasing numbers of refugees.
Regarding the international community, there is discussion of a plan to for urge the Arab League and international organizations to hold extraordinary meetings to highlight the situation of the refugees and for friendly countries to share with Lebanon the burden of the funding. As the number of refugees continues to quickly multiply, it is a grave concern that once a concrete plan for maintaining the refugees is devised, the implementation will not be feasible. The resources and personnel originally accounted for will not be enough. One can only hope that world leaders will continue to pressure Assad to end this destructive tirade on his own people.