The Middle East Channel

Syrian refugees face rising humanitarian crisis

Syrian refugees face rising humanitarian crisis

More than 4.5 million Syrians are internally displaced within their own country, and about 1.5 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries. A recent report by Amnesty International accused the international community of a "spectacular failure" in Syria. The report was a broader commentary on refugees around the world, whom Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, said face rising threats. He added that "The failure to address conflict situations effectively is creating a global underclass…The rights of those fleeing conflict are unprotected." Many Syrians live in increasingly dire conditions in refugee camps on the Jordanian, Lebanese, and Turkish borders. Furthermore, intensified clashing and shelling in southern Syria has prevented thousands of Syrian refugees from crossing into Jordan by cutting off access routes. While visiting a makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, said "The world’s facing a catastrophe here, and I think we’re coming close to the point where we think anything is better than the humanitarian crisis, especially if the fighting intensifies further." More than 1 million Syrians now live in Lebanon, comprising about 20% of the population. In particular, the large influx of children has greatly strained Lebanon’s public education system. According to a UNICEF official, the number of school-aged Syrian children in Lebanon is expected to surpass the number of Lebanese school-aged children currently enrolled in public schools by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is persuading Gulf states to funnel humanitarian aid directly to the United Nations and other foreign aid agencies instead of funding their own handpicked programs, which can lead to duplicated aid or gaps in aid.  

Headlines

  • Clashes in Tripoli have continued between Sunnis and Alawites who back rival factions in Syria’s civil war, bringing the death toll to 24 since Sunday; meanwhile, Lebanon’s Sunni leaders have asked security agencies to create a plan to end the fighting.
  • At least seven soldiers in central Iraq died on Thursday in two separate incidents, one at a checkpoint in Taji, and another during an exchange of fire with militants near Karma.
  • Turkey’s parliament has passed a law that restricts the sale of alcohol and prohibits all advertising of alcohol.
  • Fighters allied with Al-Qaeda have taken control of villages near the Yemini port city of Mukalla, in an effort to claim the southeastern province of Hadramawt.

Arguments and Analysis

Syria: the imperative of de-escalation (Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy, The European Council on Foreign Relations)

"After more than two years of devastating destruction, a rare moment of opportunity has  emerged in Syria following the US-Russian agreement to launch Geneva II. Europe must now get fully behind the peace initiative and reject the false choice between the supposed "military-lite" or "diplomacy-lite" options – that the military balance can be tipped without a weighty intervention, or that diplomacy can advance without having to deal with Assad or Iran. Instead, by promoting de-escalation and diplomacy, the West should prioritise ratcheting down violence and the threat of regional spill over. 

A serious Geneva II effort requires three key elements: a set of guiding principles distilled from Geneva I; the support of a wide enough coalition; and a diplomatic strategy to get it off the ground. Effective diplomacy will demand unpalatable compromises aimed at securing sufficient international accord to nudge the warring parties towards the negotiating table. This will have to be inclusive in terms of both Syrian and regional participation – including engaging with Iran beyond the nuclear file. Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its likely limited impact on the ground, encouragement of escalation and maximalism, and the inability to guarantee in whose hands weapons will end up. At the same time contingency planning for chemical weapons use or proliferation is necessary but is not a substitute for, or short-cut to, a solution for the crisis."

What the United States Can Do for Egypt Right Now (Steven A. Cook, Blog, Council on Foreign Relations)

""How can the United States help Egypt?" is a common question heard around the Beltway these days.  There are lots of good ideas, but too often they do not address the country’s immediate and most pressing needs.  It should be clear  that Washington is not going to fix Egypt’s political problems no matter how many times people say, "we need to get Egypt right."  That complex and difficult task is up to the Egyptians-though there are a few discrete policies that Washington can pursue that might be helpful.  All that said, here are four initiatives the United States can undertake that can make a difference in Egypt over the next 3 to 6 to 12 months:

The United States, European Union, and Asian allies should pool resources and provide loan guarantees for Egypt;

Food aid to Egypt ended in 1992; it should be started again;

The United States should continue to backstop Egypt’s public health system through additional investment in NAMRU (Navy Medical Research Unit) 3, which is based in Cairo, though it is responsible for the entire Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia;

Everyone-Americans, Egyptians, Israelis-recognize that the Sinai is a major problem.  Although it is not just a security problem, in the short run the United States can do some good in the Sinai through the expansion of the Multinational Force Observers that have been stationed in there since 1982 and working with both the Israelis and Egyptians on expanding their communication and intelligence cooperation."

–By Jennifer T. Parker