The Syrian civil war has led to the worst refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Civil war broke out in March 2011, and more than 9 million people have been displaced by fighting. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) around 2.6 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and more than 6.5 million have been displaced within Syria. Children constitute at least half of the displaced population.
Last December the United Nations announced an appeal for $6.5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria. This is the biggest appeal ever made by the UN which estimates that nearly 17 million Syrians will require humanitarian aid this year. Starvation and flooding are two of the biggest threats to the Syrian population.
Syrian refugees have been fleeing to neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. According to UNHCR, more than one million Syrians are taking refuge in Lebanon, around 700,000 in Turkey, another 600,000 in Jordan and Iraq hosts more than 200,000 refugees.
Most refugees stay in crowded and unsanitary conditions while they try to make abandoned spaces and tents habitable. Refugees struggle with paying their rent as the living conditions for refugees continue to deteriorate.
According to the UNHCR, there are nearly 230 registered Syrian refugees for every 1,000 Lebanese, meaning refugees make-up a quarter of Lebanon's population. The Lebanese government has not set up any camps for Syrian refugees, and most of them live in rented housing, nomadic camps or are hosted by relatives. The Syrian refugee crisis has led to crushing social and economic consequences for Lebanon.
The 22 government-run camps near the Syrian-Turkish border host 30 percent of the Syrian refugees that have fled to Turkey. The rest of them try to survive in local Turkish communities. According to the UNHCR, since February this year “more than 500 people have been arriving daily across official crossing points, sometimes as many as 1000-2000 daily.” By May 2013, the Turkish government had spent around $1.5 billion to support refugees.
Jordan's three main camps host 20 percent of Syrian refugees. The refugee camp Za’atri accommodates 80,000 registered Syrians. Za’tari has become the fourth largest city in Jordan and the second biggest refugee camp in the world. The pressures of hosting the refugees have led to a government expenditure of more than $1.7 billion. Still, water and medicine are scarce.
The rise in clashes between Syrian Kurds and anti-government Islamist militants has forced Syrian refugees to flee to Iraq. A majority of these refugees are housed in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. Almost half of the refugees in Iraq are children. The limited experience of local Kurdish authorities in such situations along with other problems and shortages are making the camp conditions difficult for refugees and the government.
Syrians are fleeing to other countries in increasing numbers. ‘Syrians are becoming a global refugee population,’ according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “What kind of a world is this where Syrians fleeing this violent conflict have to risk their lives to reach safety, and when they finally make it, they are not welcomed or even turned away at borders?"