Syrian Refugees Are Left Behind
Syrian Refugees Are Left Behind
Syria’s refugees are in danger of becoming forgotten. Western governments have, for the most part, opened their arms to the 5.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, providing homes and support during the conflict. Yet, even more fled the Syria war a decade earlier, but most foreign governments were less welcoming. Instead, many Syrian refugees face a bleak existence: marginalised in their host societies but still terrified of returning to Syria. As western governments cut financial support, their prospects could soon get even bleaker.
Over six-and-a-half million fled Syria altogether, with the majority, 5.6 million, staying in countries near Syria. The situation in their host societies is worsening. In Lebanon, refugees are not granted formal access to the economy, while in Jordan jobs are similarly restricted. Turkey has been the most accommodating host state, with refugees able to access jobs and education, but this has prompted a social backlash, and hostility towards the refugees has increased.
Yet western governments have been cutting their support. The UK has been one of the worst offenders. As part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pledge to reduce international aid from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent of GDP, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Syria budget has been cut by 67 percent.
While last year the EU was able to mobilise international donors to plug any shortfalls in funding, there are fears that the focus on Ukraine and a general weariness towards Syria and its refugees will prompt a permanent decline in support. There are moral arguments against such neglect, especially given that many of the governments withdrawing their funds, such as the UK, were active players in Syria’s civil war.
But if this doesn’t convince policymakers to change course, perhaps a security argument will. Research shows that refugees that are not integrated into their host societies are more likely to militarise and destabilise their host country. This is not to suggest that any Syrian refugee is currently contemplating taking up arms against their host government, or that these governments should view them as a potential security threat. However, history has shown that leaving refugees unsupported for a prolonged period of time is more likely to prompt some to militarise.
To prevent this, ideally, governments would make more effort to resolve the Syria crisis and find a way for refugees to safely return home. However, the last decade has shown that none is willing to commit the economic or military resources needed.
At the minimum, this should entail reversing recent aid cuts and ensuring that Ukraine does not distract from the ongoing Syria refugee crisis. But it would also be wise for foreign governments to make serious efforts to help the host governments properly integrate their refugee population. This is especially true in Lebanon and Jordan, with both economies struggling and barely able to support their own populations. Though western governments have the resources to take this on, they’re sadly unlikely to do so given their recent aid priorities and their focus on Ukraine.
Moreover, dwindling international aid to north-west Syria this past year has left approximately 3.1 million people, including 2.8 million internally displaced people, facing a health crisis as hospitals and other medical facilities struggle to operate on low resources, Amnesty International reported.
Over the past ten months, international aid to the health sector, dropped by more than 40% due to the overall reduction of international assistance to Syria. “It should go without saying and, particularly after two years of the pandemic, that healthcare systems are critical services that people need for survival. This past year’s massive funding drop has immediately translated into the closure of hospitals and vital services, and has left millions of Syrians – who have already suffered conflict and violence – struggling to access medication and other essential health care,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.