“So it begins. You take a step. You exit one life and enter another. You walk through a cut border fence into statelessness, vulnerability, dependency, and invisibility. You become a refugee.”
Indeed, the conflict in Syria has given rise to perhaps the most severe humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Half the country’s pre-war population- about 11 million people- have been killed or deliberately forced to flee from their home land. Families are fleeing terror and trying to speed away with whatever conveyance possible. As the militants assault their village, people are struggling to make a new home in the neighbouring countries or risking their lives on the way to Europe, hoping to find acceptance and opportunity.
The country was a minor recipient of peaceful anti-government demonstrations that began in March, 2011. But, the strife-free protest quickly escalated after the government’s violent crackdown, and armed opposition groups began fighting back. Later, army defectors loosely organized the Free Syrian Army and many civilian Syrians took up arms to join the opposition. Differences between the secular and religious fighters, and between ethnic groups, further continued to complicate and worsen the politics of the war. More than five years after it began, the war has resulted in about 3,86,000 casualties, 6.1 million people have been internally displaced and about 5,00,000 people have crossed Europe by sea and land.
In the fall of 2015, intensified airstrikes from outer parties worsened the scenario- the refugees went pouring out to Europe in the largest of numbers. In early February 2016, the conditions in Aleppo city sharpened. The roads to the city were closed, cutting down the civilians’ supply of essentials.
Ever since the war began, many Syrian refugees have been living in Jordan and Lebanon- the region’s two of the smallest countries where weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain. People have also escaped into northern Iraq and are now trapped by the country’s own internal conflicts. An increasing number of Syrian
refugees have moved to turkey creating more of a cultural tension in the region. Many Syrians are also deciding they are better off starting over in Europe, attempting the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Some of them have to be relocated from Hungary, where they had reached after trekking across the Balkans.
Every year of the conflict has seen an exponential growth in the number of refugees. In july 2012, there were as many as 1,00,000 refugees. One year later they were 1.5 million and by the end of 2015, the count tripled. There are now 4.8 million Syrians scattered across the region, making them the World’s largest population of refugees under UN’s mandate.
They come in cars, in sedans and hatchbacks, in delivery vans and pickup trucks, raising clouds of dust from some of the largest sand-lands of the world, and then, the motley caravan comes to rest- they become refugees. From their concrete abodes to not even makeshift camps sometimes, the Syrians’ have been facing the most distressed situations mankind could think of. People are trying to find work, despite the language barrier, in urban communities. They are struggling with the meagre income and do not have the rooms or resources to survive as the crisis drags on. The lack of clean water and sanitation in the over-crowded settlements is an urgent concern. Diseases like cholera and polio can very easily spread- even more without proper medical services. Water and food shortage is now heading towards an emergency level as the relief agencies are running short of money.
More than 50% of the Syrian refugees are children, who have lost almost everything. Most of them have been out of school from months, if not years. These children have lost their home,
family and friends. They are confused and scared. The older children are compelled to grow up too fast, work, and take care of their family, if any. The consequences of forgetting the younger generation is that they will become adults who are ill-equipped to mend the torn social fabric and rebuild broken economies.
With no peace in sight, the humanitarian agencies are struggling just to keep up with the needs that are increasing exponentially. U.N. appeals have been significantly underfunded ever since the start of crisis. Less than half of the predicted sum for 2016 had been funded to the U.N. agencies till October.
It is important that, in addition to funding emergency assistance, the agencies and the long term programs, must promote peaceful communities.
More than five years have now been spent debating and procrastinating about an appropriate solution. The government is looking forward to legalize jobs for the refugees in the foreign lands and invest more into the humanitarian agencies. The operational challenges, somehow, make it difficult for the government to deliver adequate support.
No safety, no employment, no assistance and prayers are all that the refugees cling to. Every dawn brings dramatic explosions, new ruins and the same old fears. Future continues to remain unpredictable and the refugees hold on to mere hopes.