World in Crisis
The Largest Syrian Refugee Crisis
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population – more than 11 million people have been killed or forced to flee their homes.
Whenever we discuss any crisis or conflict it is essential first of all to know about the country, its people and its government before entering into analysis of the present conflict and crisis.
Syria as country
During the Ottoman empire, the country was known as ‘bilad al-sham’, a cultural and quasi- administrative unit under the Ottomans containing the current states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan and parts of southern Turkey. The Ottoman Empire ruled Syria from 1516 until 1917. “World War I, and Turkey’s alliance with Germany, changed that. In 1917 the British-assisted Arab Revolt ended Turkish rule in Syria. The British and the French had already signed the Sykes-Picot agreement, which curved up the Arabs into British and French zones, and the British, with the Balfour Declaration, had granted a section of Palestine to Zionism,” wrote Robin and mentioned, In July 1919, delegates attending a “Pan-Syrian Congress in Damascus specifically called for the unity of ‘bilad al-sham’ a cultural and quasi-administrative unit under the Ottomans containing the current states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan and parts of southern Turkey.” (1)
“After the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918 and the arrival of King Faisal and the Arab Army in Damascus, the first general Syrian conference was held in May 1919. It constituted the foundation of what would come to be known as modern Syria. In March 1920, that same body declared Syria’s independence and 85 delegates from four regions adopted a constitution four months later. In it, Syria was proclaimed an administratively decentralized State with a civil constitutional monarchy in which executive, legislative and judicial powers were separated. The equal treatment of all citizens, irrespective of their religion, sect or ethnicity, was enshrined in its articles and women were guaranteed the right to vote and run for office. In the constitution, Islam was specified as the religion of the Hashemite Monarch but there was no reference to religion as a basis for legislation. (2.)
“To some extent the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Lebanese civil wars, and the current chronic instability in Iraq and Syria can be traced to this early twentieth-century bout of imperialist map-making and sectarian engineering,” according to Robin who also added, “For Syrians in particular, the dismemberment of bilad al-sham was a primal trauma. Because the truncated postcolonial state had no historical legitimacy, Syrians tended to affirm either more local identities or supra-state allegiances – to bilad al sham, or the Arab Nation, or the global Islamic community.” (3)
Syrian people – ethnic and religious diversities
After knowing the background of the country, it is essential to know the diversity, both religious and ethnic, of the composition of the people of Syria. “Today about 65 per cent of Syrians are Sunni Arabs, Alawi Arabs are 10 to 12 per cent. The mainly Arab Christians, mostly Orthodox and Eastern Catholic, but also Assyrian, Chaldean and Armenian, including a small Aramaic-speaking community at Maalula, constitute 10 per cent. Kurds, almost all Sunnis, speaking two main dialects, account for another 10 per cent. The remainder are Druze, Ismailis, Twelve Shia, and Turkmen. The Bedouin, their circulation blocked by postcolonial borders, are mostly settled now. Of course, these categories fail to reflect the enormous diversity within each group. Sunni Arabs, for instance, are differentiated by urban-rural, regional, tribal, familial, and of course gender and class cleavages, and then by individual temperament and experience,” wrote Mr. Robin Yassin-Kassab in his book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. (4)
Death and destruction of Syria
The Syrian civil war brought death, destruction, property loss and colossal damages of the country. It is now fairly difficult to estimate the damages due to the conflict. It can be safely encapsulated into three words: i) Deaths, ii) Destruction and iii) Displacement. Mr. Andrej Mahecic, senior External Relations Officer, UNHCR-UK spoke at great length on the refugee situation in the neighbouring countries and Europe as early as 24 November, 2014. He said, “9.6 million of the country’s pre-war population of about 21 million about 3.2 million are now living as refugees in the neighbouring countries. Another 6.4 million are displaced even remained 190,000 numbers of Syrian families are in a very shocking state, exhausted and scarred. (5)
Speaking about deaths and destruction inside Syria, UNHCR Officer maintained, “Every town village inside Syria is either being affected by conflict or population that is being traumatized. It is estimated that more than 400,000 homes have been destroyed; 7.2 million damages someway; 5500 schools destroyed; 3800 mosques damaged or destroyed; most of flower beds. Prisons no longer operating; hospitals offer no sanctuary of healing; 60% of ambulance damaged; 60% ambulances in the country; more than 15,000 doctors have left the country. Now you can only imagine what kind of impact this might have for those who have stayed behind and what kind of services they take.” (6)
The University of St. Andrew Report on Syria at War: Five Years on said about the death, destruction and displacement: “Five years of conflict have changed the face of the Syrian Arab Republic. The numbers are eloquent. An estimated 2.3 million people, 11.5 per cent of the country’s population, have been killed or wounded, thousands more are under arrest or unaccounted for, 6.5 million are internally displaced and 6.1 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Total losses incurred in five years of conflict are estimated at $259.6 billion.”(7)
Displacement or Refugees
This was not at the beginning of the start of the Syrian civil war in 2010. The number of displacement and refugees is not static, months after months, years after years it has been growing, increasing. “As each year of the Syrian war has passed, so the options have become worse and the choices more difficult. In 2011, it seemed like an easy thing to predict that President Assad would go the way of President Mubarak, so the cost of saying that he had to go seemed low. In 2012, when he tottered, it seemed possible that the rebels might win without western support, so the safe thing was to wait and see. In 2013, as the refugee flow grew after extended fighting, the rebels splintered and the threat of jihadism taking root in the centre and east of Syria tempered calls for activism, despite the use of chemical weapons. In 2014, the fall of Mosul and the rise of Islamic State, or Daesh, meant that there was suddenly a second and complicated front in the war. By 2015, the Russian entry into active combat neutered the debates about no-fly zones or ‘no-bomb zones’ just as the refugee crisis hit. Europe didn’t want to get involved in the Middle East, but the Middle East came to Europe.” (8)
“By July 2015 half the population was no longer living at home – four million had fled the country and 7.6 million were internally displaced. Many were displaced multiple times as the violence spread,” wrote Robin and mentioned, “Of the just over four million who managed to get beyond the border, as of early 2015, 35.1 per cent were in Turkey, 34.5 per cent in Lebanon, 18.7 per cent in Jordan, and 6.9 per cent in Iraq. As of July 2015, by official United Nations numbers, 1,805,255 refugees were in Turkey, 1,172,753 were in Lebanon, 629,128 were in Jordan, and 241,499 were in Iraq. The mass migration to these neighbouring countries placed a huge strain on their resources, stretched services to breaking point and caused increasing insecurity. (9)
Syrians living inside
Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organisation which is partnering with the U.N. reported: “There is the question of civilian protection inside Syria. Some 17 million people are still living there. They are under daily threat. Seven million are displaced and 4.5 million are classified as ‘hard to reach’ by the UN. Another 486,700 are ‘besieged’ – and, at the time of writing, the fate of routes into Aleppo, under Syrian and Russian bombardment, hangs in the balance. (10)
“The U.N. estimates that 6.6 million people are internally displaced. When you also consider refugees, more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders,” it is mentioned. (11)
It is also reported, “Every year of the conflict has seen an exponential growth in refugees. In 2012, there were 100,000 refugees. By April 2013, there were 800,000. That doubled to 1.6 million in less than four months. There are now 4.3 million Syrians scattered throughout the region, making them the world's largest refugee population under the United Nations' mandate. The U.N. predicts there could be 4.7 million registered Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 — the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.”(12)
Writing about the internally displaced people, the University of Andrews Report says, “Of an estimated total population of 22 million, 6.5 million were internally displaced in 2015, most of them in the governorates of Aleppo and rural Damascus. According to the Assessment Capacities Project, approximately 1.7 million IDPs were living in camps in 2015, and 360,000 were in areas under siege.”(13)
Children among the refugees
How many refugees are children?
According to the U.N., more than half of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. Most have been out of school for months, if not years. The youngest are confused and scared by their experiences, lacking the sense of safety and home they need. The older children are forced to grow up too fast, finding work and taking care of their family in desperate circumstances. (14)
Is there enough assistance to reach everyone?
In December 2014, the U.N. issued its largest ever appeal for a single crisis — according to their estimates, £5 billion was necessary in 2015 to meet the needs of all those affected by the crisis, both inside and outside Syria, an increase from the previous year's £4 billion. Both appeals were only around 50 percent funded. This year, the U.N. predicts £5 billion is required to provide emergency support and stabilization to families throughout the region. (15)
Refugees flooded the neighbouring countries
The majority of Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and Lebanon, the region’s two smallest countries, weak infrastructure and limited resources. In August 2013, more Syrians escaped into northern Iraq at a newly opened border crossing. An increasing number of Syrian refugees are fleeing across the border into Turkey, overwhelming urban host communities and creating new cultural tensions.
Speaking about the refugees at the neighbouring countries, UNHCR official said, “It needs to be said also, of the 51.2 million displaced people, 86% have been hosted by the developing nations. I have to compare this to the situation a decade ago, where this imbalance was not so obvious, at point 70% of all displacement people were in the developing countries.” (16)
Abdullah al-Dardari said about the Syrian Refugees in the neighbouring countries. It said, “The number of Syrians in neighbouring countries (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) was thought to exceed 6 million by the end of November 2015 (Figure 14a). Almost 5 million refugees were officially registered (Figure 14b). (17)
The consequences of this outflow for the neighbouring countries “are enormous economic services and communities and lot of problems heavily affected, not to mention the security impact of the Syrian conflict,” said Mahecic and added, “Lebanon and Jordan have witnessed the dramatic population as a result of Syrian conflict.” These are public services, finances services, population pressures are most vulnerable. (18)
Talking about the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and its consequences, Mr. Mahecic said, “Lebanon has suffered far long consequences as a result of conflict in Syria because the country’s long-standing and deep rooted historical, economic and social ties. The country currently hosts more than 1.2 million registered refugees – 25%. . Latest assessment by the World Bank estimated the total cost of the Lebanon throughout the end of this year which reached 7.5 billion dollars, neither includes the Syrian unemployment nor the demographic and political pressure exerted on the country’s stability.” (19)
Abdullah Al-Dardari said in his report, “The most pressing issue for neighbouring countries, especially Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (but also Egypt and Iraq), is how to create suitable living conditions for refugees, beyond mere shelter. Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees (the most in absolute terms), followed by Lebanon with more than 1 million (by far the most in terms of share of population) and Jordan with almost 700,000. Around 10 per cent of the refugees live in camps and the rest in urban, peri-urban and rural areas.” (20)
Refugees at the doors of Europe
The first is for European government to come to terms with what is necessary to deal with the refugees already in Europe and those on the way. Registration needs to be upgraded; status determination speeded up; care increased; and relocation to spread the load across Europe started. Europe’s choice is between disorganized and illegal attempts to reach the continent, and organized and legal routes.
Abdullah al-Dardari mentioned in his report, “About half of the pre-war population of Syria has been displaced by the war, 6.6 million internally. Around 4.6 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and fewer than 1 million sought refuge in Europe EU and the Balkans) between April 2011 and January 2016. In relative terms, refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon represent 3.3 per cent, 10.7 per cent and 25 per cent of the population respectively. Those who have so far arrived in Europe represent 0.2 per cent of the population of the EU.” (21)
“In recent years and up to 2015, Europe had not experienced large surges in irregular migration flows. In early 2016, nearly 2000 migrants and refugees were arriving in Europe daily, 10 times the average for the previous year. Public opinion polls in 2015 suggested that immigration (often associated by the public with the more specific cases of refugees and asylum-seekers) had become the prime source of concern for 58 per cent of people in the EU (as much as 79 per cent in Estonia and 76 per cent each in the Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany), ahead of terrorism 25 per cent) and the economy (21 per cent),” said Abdullah al-Dardari at Chatham House, London. (22)
Abdullah al-Dardari also pointed out, “European States that are parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol have a duty to accept refugees. One could also argue that European colonial involvement in the Arab region, particularly after the First World War, contributed in no small measure to the region’s current problems. The historically special relationship that certain European powers have maintained with the region should be reflected in willingness to welcome refugees and migrants in such difficult times.” (23)
It is reported that the crisis is only a crisis because of the European response to it. EU countries have spent all year debating and procrastinating about an appropriate solution to Europe’s biggest refugee movement since the World War II. And lastly, to put things in perspective: Europe may be quailing at the numbers trying to get in, but it is as nothing compared to the numbers that Syria’s neighbours have been dealing with. (24)
Abdullah al-Dardari said in his report, “The issue of mixed migration flows (refugees and migrants) heading for Europe has been the subject of heated political debate and media attention. The situation has been marked by a tendency to exaggerate the scale of the problem, a belated and uncoordinated response by the EU, its member states and other European countries, and a tendency to downplay the obligations of States under international refugee law (notably the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and customary international law) and the positive economic potential in accepting refugees and migrants. In any event, this section deals primarily with labour market inclusion and social integration.” (25)
It is reported, “Europe is struggling to manage its worst refugee emergency since World War II. More than 500,000 people have crossed to Europe by sea and land so far this year. Many of those making the arduous journey are fleeing the civil war in Syria, now in its fifth year.”
The report continued, “On September 23, EU nations agreed on a plan to relocate 120,000 of these refugees across the Union. Sixty-six thousand of them, who are now in Greece and Italy after making dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean, would be relocated in the next two months. Fifty-four thousand were to be relocated from Hungary, where they had reached after trekking across the Balkans. But after Hungary's opposition to the plan, the quota will now go to Italy and Greece.” (26).
“The response of the EU to the flows of irregular migrants and refugees has been erratic. In spite of plans to establish 11 “hot spots” in Italy and Greece, the usually entry points of irregular migrants to the EU, for registration and status determination, only three, two in Italy and one in Greece, were operational in early 2016. Quota schemes for the redistribution of 160,000 refugees across the member states in 2016 and 2017 have yet to be implemented and are opposed by East European States,” wrote Abdullah al-Dardari in his report. (27)
Here is the break-up of how the EU nations will accept these refugees:
Here is a look at the routes through which the refugees are entering Europe.
Policy changes in European countries – Italy, Sweden
“Although member States agreed in principle in 2015 to relocate more than 65,000 people from Greece and almost 40,000 from Italy, at the time of writing only 218 and 27, respectively, had in fact been moved. Moreover, 15 Member countries had offered a total of 1,081 places for refugees from Greece, and 966 from Italy,”Abdullah al-Dardari mentioned. (28)
He also said, “Within the European Union, apart from reintroducing border controls and physical coercion, there is no apparent mechanism to oblige refugees and migrants to stay in a given location within the Schengen free movement area, once they enter it irregularly. The free movement system has thus effectively been suspended by Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden), some of which are among the desired final destinations of many refugees and migrants. They are also toughening regulations governing asylum and the right to residence. In early 2016, the European Commission underscored the need for EU member States to tackle the migration crisis with common measures.” (29)
Ban Ki-moon on refugee issue
Counter those who promote the
dangerous myths about refugees
Speaking about dangerous myths about refugees and migrants, H.E. Ban Ki-moon,Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “People these days, people still are struggling to keep their lives. People who cross the Aegean Sea, Mediterranean Sea or the English Channel in search of better lives are symptoms, not themselves cause for suspicion or concern. We must counter those who promote dangerous myths about refugees and migrants.”
He emphasized, “We must look at the roots of the conflicts and governance failures that compel people to undertake perilous journeys.” (30)
EU-Turkey Summit held in Brussels aimed at solving refugee crisis across Europe - Turkish Prime Minister met EU leaders in Brussels to discuss refugee crisis
Reporting on the EU-Turkey Summit, Guy Vernohostadt wrote, “At the EU-Turkey summit on Monday, the Turkish prime minister, Ahmed Davutoğlu, offered European leaders the illusory “quick fix’’ they sought, in return for a number of concessions. The basic principle of the “one in, one out” deal on offer is that any economic migrant or Syrian refugee trafficked to a Greek island will be forcibly returned to Turkey. For every Syrian sent back to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian would be accepted by EU countries and distributed under a quota scheme. It seems that both the EU and Ankara are willing to take the bait and a deal may be concluded next week, but Europe’s leaders should be careful what they wish for.” (31)
He also mentioned, “There are a number of reasons why this approach is not just immoral, but fundamentally flawed. First, compulsory mass expulsions are, quite rightly, outlawed by the 1951 UN convention on refugees. This treaty has been signed and promoted by the EU. Article 19 of the EU’s own charter of fundamental rights specifically states that “collective expulsions are forbidden.” (32)
He also said, “Second, instead of giving Turkey billions of euros, this money should be given directly to the UNHCR, to provide education facilities and a humane existence to people stuck in the refugee camps”(33)
Jenniffer Rankin reported, “A senior UN official says he is very concerned that a hasty EU deal with Turkey could leave Syrian refugees unprotected and at risk of being sent back to a war zone. Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, questioned the legality of an outline deal struck by the EU and Turkey. “As a first reaction I am deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another, without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law,” he said on Tuesday. (34)
On the other hand, EU leaders have hailed the one-for-one plan as a breakthrough that would deter Syrians from making dangerous journeys across the Aegean Sea. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, insisted that sending refugees back to Turkey was legal and in line with the Geneva Convention. Citing specific paragraphs in the EU’s asylum procedure directive, he said countries could refuse to consider refugee claims if there was a safe place to send them back to. As Greece had decided Turkey was “a safe country”, he said, the returns policy was legal.
But the Human Rights groups are not convinced. It is reported, Amnesty International has said it is absurd to describe Turkey as a safe third country, and that some Syrians have been returned to Syria and been shot at while trying to cross the Turkish border. Amnesty’s Europe director, John Dalhuisen, said: “It’s a really grim day and it’s a really grim deal. It’s being celebrated by people who are dancing on the grave of refugee protection, who want to enforce Fortress Europe and who don’t want these refugees in our countries.
“On World Refugee Day 2015, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres referred to Turkey as a great example for other countries in the world. However, the picture has become more complicated since then with growing despair among refugees and growing anti-Syrian sentiment. Turkey is in a strong position to take advantage of European desperation to stem the flow of refugees. But the decisions that Turkey and EU member states take in the coming months will have long-term consequences for refugees, for Turkey-EU relations and indeed for the European Union itself,” wrote Elizabeth Ferris. (35)
This write-up is based on a book, one report and three seminars. The book entitled “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War” by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, published by Pluto Press, 2016, which was discussed and debated at Inside Syria: Life Amidst Revolution and War, at Chatham House, London; on 28 January 2015; Seminar on Syrian Refugee Crisis, at LSE, on 24 February, 2016 ; EU’s response to the Refugee Crisis: Prospects for Greater Cooperation, Chatham House, Wednesday, 9th March, 2016; ISIS and Migrants, at City University, London, Thursday, 10th March, 2016; How Can Syria be Rebuilt, at Chatham House, Monday, 25 April, 2016 where the report on Syria at War: Five Years on prepared by the University of St Andrews and discussed and debated at the Chatham House, London and thirdly, there was a seminar on Syrian refugees at the Chatham House, London where Jeff presented his paper. This write-up is also based on Al-Jazeera English Channel, the Guardian newspapers London etc.
Notes & References
1. Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami; Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, published by Pluto Press, London, 2016, pages 4-5
2. Abdullah Al-Dardari and Raymond Hinnebusch; Syria at War: Five Years on, a Report published by the University of St. Andrews, page 8.
3. Robin Yassin-Kassab; op.cit., page 5.
4. Ibid. page 2
5. Mr. Andrej Mahecic, senior External Relations Officer, UNHCR-UK spoke at a meeting on “Migration from Developing and Conflict regions to Europe,” organised and held at IISS, on 24 November, 2014,published in Muslim World League Journal, Makkah al-Mukarramah, May, 2015.
6. Mahecic, ibid.
7. Abdullah al-Dardari, op.cit. page 7.
8. EU’s response to the Refugee Crisis: Prospects for Greater Cooperation, Chatham House, Wednesday, 9th March, 2016.
9. Robin Yassin-Kassab; op.cit., pages 153-155
10. Mercy Corps, in https://www.mercycorps.org.uk/articles/iraq-jordan-lebanon-syria-turkey/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-syria-crisis
13. Abdullah al-Dardari, op.cit., page 26.
14. Mercy Corps, op.cit.
16. Mahecic, op.cit.
17. Abdullah al-Dardari, op.cit., pages 26-27
18. Dr. Mozammel Haque, “Syrian Refugees and International Community”, in Muslim World League Journal, May 2015, pages 6-13
19. Dr. Mozammel Haque, ibid.
20. Abdullah al-Dardari, op.cit., page 36.
21. Ibid., page 40.
22. Abdullah Al-Dardari spoke at a meeting entitled “How Can Syria be Built?” at Chatham House, London, 25 April, 2016
23. Ibid., and also Abdullah al-Dardari in Syria at War, op.cit., page 41
24. The Hindu International, September 26, 2015.
25. Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria at War, op.cit., page 40
26. The Hindu International, September 26, 2015
27. Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria at War, op.cit., page 41
30. H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations said, quoted in Dr. Mozammel Haque, “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at Central Hall Westminster,” in Muslim World League Journal, May 2016, pages 26-31.
31.Guy Vernohostadt, The Turkish Deal is Illegal, The Guardian, 10 March, 2016
34. EU-Turkey deal could see Syrian Refugees back in war zones, says UN; reported by Jenniffer Rankin and Patrick Kingsley, in The Guardian, Tuesday, 8 March, 2016
35. Syrian Refugees in Turkey: Challenges and Impact on Turkey’s Regional Policies by Elizabeth Ferris, in The AKP and Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East, LSE Middle East Centre, Collected Papers, Volume 5, April, 2016, page30.