The Syria crisis is certainly more than just another Arab Spring conflict or civil war. Syria presents a large scale humanitarian crisis for the region. It may be another year until we understand fully the devastation caused from this conflict. Currently, an estimated 1.4 million Syrian refugees have taken refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey - with thousands more on the way. The UN has called for increased aid to border areas, in spite of Russian and Chinese vetoes on these measures.
High numbers of refugees in close quarters can create its own problems. Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are concerned that rising numbers of Sunnis, Alawites, and others who could disrupt the delicate political balances of their countries. Countries like Jordan and Lebanon have such a high number of ethnic, religious, and political groups that Syrians trying to integrate into these countries could drastically shift political demographics. Meanwhile, unemployment figures remain very high in Jordan and Lebanon, reaching 14% for Jordan.
Each country is handling Syria’s refugees in their own way. Turkey, for instance, preempted the refugees’ arrival by building three camps, one of which has trailers for refugees. However, Turkey is not allowing any international media or UNHCR aid response; they’ve decided to manage the influx on their own. Turkey has reportedly had some uprisings in camps. While Turkey has historically sided with the Assad-regime, recently they have called for international actions against Assad after a bombing in a border town; Syrian military involvement is suspected. Recent events could fuel resentment and suspicion towards Syrians fleeing the conflict
Meanwhile in Jordan, the government is hard pressed to deal with the crisis. The Jordanian government is happily working alongside UNHCR efforts to provide accommodation and supplies for the growing number of refugees, currently estimated as half a million. UNHCR projects that just for Jordan; this figure could increase to a million before the end of 2013. Jordan is having a lot of capacity issues in dealing with refugees, particularly in relation to water resources. Jordan has historically had scarce water reserves, however with an influx of half a million refugees — the pressure is on.
The potential for spreading Syria’s conflict increases, as more and more people flee the conflict and reach refugee camps. If there is anything the Russo-Afghan war taught us, it is that camps like these can become points of radicalization. The possibility of radicalization adds insult to injury to Syrians who have faced over two years of turmoil, and are seeking a safe-haven.
The UNHCR funding appeal has only reached half of its funding appeal to raise just over $1 billion. The Obama administration has pledged an additional $200 million just to Jordan to help deal with the humanitarian consequences of this conflict. The Syrian conflict itself may be incalculable for an international military intervention, and even for UN peacekeepers. Something the international community can agree on is the dire need to aid Syria’s refugees — if not for Syrians fleeing the conflict than for the potential insecurity and regionalization of the Syrian ordeal.