Syrian Refugees: The Snow is Just One of Many Dire Challenges

By Eleanor Acer

AMMAN, Jordan – Many Syrian refugees are struggling in the face of a brutal winter storm that has poured snow, rain and hail down on Jordan, Lebanon, and the broader region. While some refugees are staying in houses or apartments where they are protected from the elements, many are living in tents or other makeshift shelters that provide little protection against the harsh weather. We visited the relatively well-staffed Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan as the storm approached, and even there over a thousand families are still living in tents.

As a researcher visiting the region, my visit has been hampered by canceled meetings and other logistical complications caused by the weather. But for Syria’s refugees, the storm is yet another reminder of how vulnerable they are—and of the human consequences of the failure to adequately fund the U.N.’s appeals aimed at helping refugees and refugee-hosting communities.

Nearly 11 million people have been displaced by the Syria conflict. Over three million refugees have fled to neighboring states. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq are now hosting the overwhelming majority of these refugees. These states and their people have extended vital shelter to their neighbors, providing refuge to thousands upon thousands of families who have fled the onslaught of persecution, torture, war, and terror that has racked Syria as the conflict rages into its fifth year.

But the welcome mat is fraying, and in too many cases doors are slamming shut. Across the region, refugees are faced with cuts in assistance. Jordanian government recently announced that Syrian refugees can no longer access health assistance free of charge. Restrictions on entry at borders have led many refugees, including women and children, to be turned away from borders as they seek to escape to safety.

The nations of the world have not done enough to help support Syria’s refugees, and they have done even less to share in the responsibility of hosting Syria’s refugees. Less than 7000 of Syria’s refugees have been resettled to states outside the region by the U.N.’s refugee agency since the war began.  The United States is the leading donor to the U.N. humanitarian appeals, yet these appeals have been woefully under funded.

In the face of the widespread suffering, donor states should increase humanitarian assistance for refugees as well as development support for the frontline countries struggling to deal with the pressures that large numbers of refugees are placing on their infrastructures. The United States, already a generous donor, should also redouble its efforts to encourage other states to increase their contributions.

Refugees should not be left living in tents, where they are vulnerable to storms and other dangers. The immediate snow and hail makes that painfully clear, but these difficulties go well beyond an annual snowstorm or two. Refugees should instead be sheltered in more secure structures, with concrete bases, that do not leave them vulnerable to the elements.

More broadly, the United States and other countries should increase their commitment to truly share in the responsibility of hosting more of Syria’s refugees through strong resettlement initiatives and other efforts. Amidst the snow and rain, many Syrian refugees again and again told my colleagues and me that they want to work, to support themselves, and to live in adequate housing. After four years of violence and war, many now realize that though they long to return home, their homes and futures are now lost in the rubble of war. The future will be even bleaker without greater international commitment.

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  • Eleanor Acer

Published on January 10, 2015

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