Amid the horrors of the Syrian conflict, the humanitarian response by Turkey has been nothing short of heroic. While Europe has largely closed its borders to Syria’s refugees, Turkey has presented an open door, reflecting its “zero problems with neighbours” policy and its obligation to the universal principle of non-refoulement. Turkey has also spent $2.5 billion on “five star” refugee camps, equipped with schools, clinics and community centres. As a result, Turkey has soared from 59th to 10th in the United Nations index of hospitality towards refugees.
Tag Archives | Syrian Refugees
I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not.
The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration. But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, or intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.
Those who cried over the victims of Israeli wars on Gaza, did not seem very concerned about Palestinians starving to death in the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Some squarely blamed the Syrian government for the siege that killed hundreds, while others blamed the rebels. Some writers even went further, blaming the residents of the camp. Somehow, the refugees were implicated in their own misery and needed to be collectively punished for showing sympathy to the Syrian opposition.
The three-year old Syrian crisis presents dire dilemmas for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in refugee camps across the Middle East.
Given Syria’s traditional role as a sponsor of Palestinian resistance movements and a home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, Palestinian leaders are understandably torn between loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies. Palestinians have fought in Syria on behalf of both the regime and the rebels. The conflict has deepened ideological and political wedges between Palestinians and complicated their patchwork of international alliances. Moreover, as various proxy battles are waged within Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, the Palestinian refugees there are now enduring an underreported humanitarian crisis.
Syria’s Role in the Palestinian Resistance
Historical bonds between Palestinian resistance movements, refugees, and the Syrian government have complicated Palestinian attitudes toward the grinding civil war in Syria. In 1948, 90,000 Palestinians fled to Syria as refugees. Since then, several hundred thousand more have arrived and settled in large refugee camps, such as Yarmouk in Damascus.
On Saturday, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that demands access for humanitarian aid organisations in Syria.
This is an important step forward. It follows a Presidential Statement last October, which had made similar requests. But why is access for humanitarian organisations such an important issue in this crisis? Part of the issue is the sheer number of civilians who have been affected by the Syrian civil war. Some 2.3 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries; 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. A further three million civilians within Syria are in need of assistance, including an estimated 240,000 civilians who are under siege by government and opposition forces.
Combined, these figures represent half of Syria’s population. This has led to a massive assistance operation on the part of the international community. The UN has requested US$2.3 billion for assistance operations within the country and a further US$4.2 billion for operations in the region. To give an idea of the scope of these requests, the worldwide contributions to humanitarian assistance in 2012 totalled only $17.9 billion USD. Despite the crisis enveloping the country, the Syrian government has blocked significant assistance efforts within Syria. Most aid organisations are guided by four key principles derived from the Geneva Conventions:
“The terrorist groups that are operating under the cover of Islam are in no way related to Islam. We will widen our cooperation shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran in combating terrorist groups.” – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Iran last month symbolized a pivot toward Tehran and a shift in Ankara’s Middle East foreign policy. Declaring a desire to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Iran in combating terrorism, and driven by Turkey’s evolving policy toward Syria, Erdoğan’s trip highlighted Ankara and Tehran’s tendency to pursue mutual interests when their paths cross. This is significant in terms of its implications for the Syrian conflict and for the region’s landscape, as both countries have the ability to influence the course of future events throughout the Middle East.
History of Turkish-Iranian Ties
Turkish-Persian history was characterized by centuries of rivalry, which remains the case today as both powers seek to shape the Middle East consistent with their respective visions. The Turkish Republic oriented itself toward the West (and away from the Middle East) throughout the 20th century; Iran was therefore not a central focus of Turkey’s Cold War foreign policy. However, the Iranian revolution of 1979 did create tension, as Turkey’s ruling secular elite viewed Iran’s post-revolutionary regime as a menace. This perception was in part fueled by Ankara’s belief that Tehran sponsored terrorist groups in Turkey with the intention of exporting the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries. In turn, Iran’s post-1979 political order viewed Turkey as a threat to Iran’s post-revolutionary objectives, given its membership in NATO and secular ideology.
Almost one year after Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to patch up relations with Turkey with his phone call apology to Tayyip Erdoğan as Barack Obama stood by looking over his shoulder, Turkey is again talking about normalizing relations with its former ally.
In the eleven months since the apology, Turkey and Israel have been negotiating over the terms of an agreement, with precisely how much compensation must be paid to the families of those killed aboard the Mavi Marmara the major sticking point. Turkey has seemed in no rush to get a deal done, and at various times has made noise about Israel having to admit fault or to pay more money than Israel is prepared to do. And of course, Erdoğan and others have wasted no opportunity to bash Israel whenever convenient, either directly such as blaming Israel for the Egyptian military coup, or indirectly in referring to “dark forces” and “foreign powers” seeking to bring Turkey down. Formal negotiations may be taking place, but Israel and Turkey haven’t seemed terribly close to actually burying the hatchet.
Last month, however, news leaked that Turkish and Israeli negotiating teams were getting close to a final deal over compensation, and last week Ahmet Davutoğlu publicly confirmed that an agreement to normalize ties was in the works. As usual when it comes to this subject, I have been skeptical that this will actually happen, which is why I have resisted the impulse to write about it. Right on cue, two days after Davutoğlu made his announcement, Erdoğan came out and said that normalization won’t happen until Israel agrees in writing to completely end the blockade of Gaza. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said yesterday that Israel is ready to sign an agreement but that Erdoğan himself is the stumbling block holding up a deal.
Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences.
Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades. But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region.
For a time, it appeared that the partnership might be over, with Hamas calling on Hezbollah to extricate itself from Syria and Hezbollah accusing Hamas of funneling weapons and technology to Sunni jihadists. Yet the two groups appear to have looked beyond Syria’s civil war and calculated that more is to be lost than gained from a total divorce. Despite outbursts of inflammatory rhetoric, Hamas and Hezbollah have apparently agreed to disagree on Syria while maintaining a strategic partnership against Israel.
Throughout the years, Lebanon’s demographics have experienced periodic influx. But particularly in the last two years, the demographic shift has been so overwhelming due to the flood of Syrian refugees in desperate need for shelter.
The situation is highly charged, if not perilous, considering Lebanon’s unmanageable sectarian balances, let alone the direct involvement of Lebanese parties in the brutal Syrian war. If not treated with utter sensitivity and political wisdom, Lebanon’s vastly changing demographics will not bode well in a country of exceedingly fractious sectarian politics. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 790,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict. The number is constantly increasing, as an estimated 75,000 make the difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon every month.
Those refugees also include tens of thousands of Palestinians that have borne the brunt of the war in the last two years. In addition to approximately 250,000 Syrians working and living in Lebanon, the country already hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Palestine in several waves, starting with the Nakba, or Catastrophe in 1947-48. While the refugees were initially welcomed by their host country – as Syrians were initially welcomed in Lebanon – they eventually became a party in Lebanon’s war of numbers, as each sect was terrified by the prospect of losing political ground to their rivals.
Despite the absence of cultural, historical or religious bonds, Japan and the Middle East have become indispensable geostrategic partners. Japan is resource-poor and a leading importer of natural gas and oil. Japanese-Middle Eastern relations have historically revolved around that dynamic.
Tokyo’s Middle Eastern foreign policy, which has been traditionally passive, has recently shifted toward a more activist role with the objective of protecting Japan’s energy interests in the region. Given that Japan imports more than 80% of its crude oil from the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran, stability in the Middle East is of great interest and concern to Japan.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster prompted the shutdown of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors, and no timetable has been announced for restarting any of them. As a result, the average Japanese household’s electricity bill has risen by 30%, and the nation’s trade deficit has reached record high levels. Japan has therefore become increasingly reliant on the Persian Gulf’s liquefied natural gas (LNG). Given that Qatar is the world’s leading supplier of LNG, and Japan is Qatar’s top export partner (and the world’s leading LNG importer), Tokyo and Doha have become increasingly valuable toward one another. Much meaning was therefore attributed to Prime Minister Abe’s six-day trip to the Middle East in August this year - his second to the region since being reelected in 2012.
The world has abandoned the Syrian people. This is probably the worst case of world indifference towards an international crisis since the Rwandan Genocide.
Since the Syrian Civil War started, 110,000 people have lost their lives and over 2.5 million have become internally displaced or are camping in squalled refugee camps in neighboring countries. That number is expected to increase to 3 million by the end of the year. The amount of money donated by relief organizations is not even close to the amount needed by these refugees. The world is ignoring the plight of these refugees, half of them being children.
The United States is debating the use of force in Syria which would not make a dent in the overall conflict and will not address the issue of thousands of Syrians fleeing their homes every day. They just reached a deal with Russia to destroy chemical weapons in Syria by 2014. Every world leader is ignoring the fact that the Syrian refugee crisis is a major issue and should be front and center in their discussions. Not only that, ordinary people seem oblivious and indifferent to the plight of the Syrian refugees. Donations towards the various NGOs and UN agencies that work with Syrian refugees in neighboring countries have been weak at best.
How indifferent is the world towards the Syrian refugee crisis? CARE International has only raised $1.86 million for its response to the refugee crisis. Compare that to over $17 million it raised in just three weeks after the 2004 Haitian Earthquake or the $94 million it raised in three weeks after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Mercy Corps has only raised a mere $900,000 in 27 months compared to the 2.5 million it raised in just a few weeks for the Israeli-Hezbollah Conflict in 2006. The United Nations has already officially dubbed this the “biggest displacement crisis of all time.”
Among the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into northern Jordan to escape the fighting in Syria are many people who have suffered life-changing injuries. Some of the injured are being treated by the charity Handicap International both in hospital and in towns and villages.
Below are a number of photos of some of the injured and their treatment. Text and photos by Stuart Hughes
“What on earth is the American national interest?” writes Andrew Sullivan in his visceral attack on President Barack Obama’s decision last month to send small arms to the Free Syrian Army.
Taking up his own question, Sullivan considers Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, its role in the regional Shiite-Sunni conflict, and its civil war’s impact on domestic terrorism, before concluding that the United States has no national interest at stake in the “ancient sectarian conflict.” Sullivan’s question is meant to rally anti-interventionists against Obama’s decision. It should offer no less sting to advocates of intervention, who have failed to make the most compelling case for military action by accepting the framing of the Syrian question in terms of narrow, short-term hard power regional interests, instead of the United States’ long-term interest in implementing the Responsibility to Protect doctrine– the United Nations framework which stipulates the conditions under which international actors ought intervene to protect victims of mass atrocity crimes.
That the Syrian debate within the United States has transpired outside of the international framework that compels intervention is no fault of anti-interventionists like Sullivan; that his view has become mainstream, with its implicit assumption of unilateral American action and its explicit demand for narrowly defined American interest, demonstrates the extent to which humanitarian interventionists have failed to shape the debate. Rather than appeal to international human rights standards, interventionists have chosen to frame the question in terms of American hard power interests. In his major address at the Brookings Institute last month, Senator John McCain, a leading Congressional interventionist, argued that, “Decisive action in Syria could create a new leverage to counter Iran’s ambition of regional hegemony.”
“By the end of the year it is estimated that half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid. This includes an anticipated 3.45 million Syrian refugees and 6.8 million Syrians inside the country, many of whom will be displaced from their homes.” – UNHCR
There is no end in sight for the Syrian civil war. The number of Syrian refugees has already reached 1.6 million and is predicted to grow to 3.45 million by the end of 2013, placing significant pressure on neighbor countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. There are currently 550,000 Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, 480,000 in Jordan and 386,000 in Turkey. These countries have shown increasing signs of refugee fatigue and rightly or wrongly an unwillingness to accept more Syrians. Their citizens are becoming hostile and even aggressive toward the refugees.
Even Turkey, which had originally insisted that it would cover all the costs needed to support the refugees, has started appealing for international financial assistance and for third country resettlement. Its refugee-related expenses have reached over 1.5 billion and will continue to rise, given that a total of 1 million refugees are expected by the end of 2013. In an effort to alleviate some of the burden falling on neighboring countries, the United Nations recently launched its largest humanitarian appeal in history, demanding $5 billion to assist Syrian refugees in 2013. Moreover, the UN aims to resettle around 10,000 refugees and has asked Western countries to consider resettling some of the refugees.
President Barack Obama rounded out his recent visit to the Middle East with a quick stopover in Jordan.
Over the course of the Arab Spring, Jordan has remained the peaceful outlier in Middle Eastern politics, but recent events have put that position in grave peril. As governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria underwent violent upheaval or regime transition over the past two and a half years, Jordan has thus far defended itself against all challengers. Surrounded by conflict on all sides - Iraq to its east, Syria to its north, and Israel and Palestine to its west - Jordan now may be rightly viewed as the eye of the storm rather than its safe harbor.
Decades of war have resulted in a deluge of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees taking up residence and valuable resources in the capital, Amman, and across the country. Already lacking sufficient supplies of water and having to import all of their gas and oil, Jordanians are not prepared to spare what little they have, according to the International Monetary Fund. The presence of foreigners has been a problem throughout Jordan’s history and sometimes a serious threat. As the number of Syrians seeking refuge climbs into the tens of thousands per week, that threat has become obvious to both Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his countrymen. The wave of refugees from Syria has reopened the important question of what makes a true Jordanian - a question that has been at the heart of much of Jordan’s past instability.
“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war, that this foul deed shall smell above the earth, with carrion men, groaning for burial.” – William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 1601
“Blood and destruction,” “dreadful objects,” and “pity choked” was the Bard’s searing characterization of what war visits upon the living. It is a description that increasingly parallels the ongoing war in Syria, and one that is likely to worsen unless the protagonists step back and search for a diplomatic solution to the 17-month old civil war. From an initial clash over a monopoly of power by Syria’s Baathist Party, the war has spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, ignited regional sectarianism, drawn in nations around the globe, and damaged the reputation of regional and international organizations. Once loosed, the dogs of war range where they will.
While the regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited the explosion by its brutal response to political protests, much of the blame for the current situation lies with those countries, seeing an opportunity to eliminate an enemy, that fanned the flames with weapons and aid: the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, plus a host of minor cast members ranging from Jordan to Libya. The results are almost exactly what Russia and China predicted when they warned about trying to force a regime change without a negotiated settlement: an opening for radical Islamists, a flood of refugees, and growing instability in a region primed to erupt.