No end in sight to Syrian refugee crisis
When the unrest began in Syria on March 15, 2011, it was difficult to imagine that it would lead to one of the worst refugee crises in the modern era. But the unrest led to a prolonged civil war, which is considered the second-deadliest conflict of the 21st century — after the Second Congo War — and the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. The Syrian civil war has resulted in an estimated 600,000 deaths. And, since 2011, almost 14 million people, equivalent to more than half of the Syrian population, have been displaced by the conflict.
One of the reasons behind the intensity and scope of the Syrian conflict is that several concentric circles of tension were happening at the same time in the country. Some rebel groups were not only fighting the government, but also each other. Some proxy and militia groups from other countries were involved in the conflict as well. There was an international stalemate between the US and Western countries on the one hand and Russia and China on the other. And global terror groups such as Daesh also gained prominence at different points during the conflict.
And, after more than 12 years of conflict, Syria remains the largest refugee crisis in the world. The UN Refugee Agency reported last month that more than “14 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. More than 6.8 million Syrians remain internally displaced in their own country, where 70 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance and 90 percent of the population live below the poverty line.”
Such a large number of refugees was always going to affect many countries in the region and beyond. The first impact is usually felt by the countries that share borders with the conflict-affected nation. In this case, these countries are Lebanon, Turkiye, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. The UNHCR stated: “Approximately 5.5 million Syrian refugees live in the five countries neighboring Syria … Germany is the largest non-neighboring host country with more than 850,000 Syrian refugees.”
Refugees can have a significant impact on the social, economic, political and even environmental landscapes of host countries. The hosts tend to face political and economic strain if not prepared for the situation. Problems arise when host countries do not have the resources, or are not prepared economically and socially, to deal with a huge influx of refugees.
Such a situation not only has a negative impact on the host country, but also on the living standards and future prospects of the refugees. In other words, the situation of the refugees will differ depending on the social and economic situation of the host country. One example is Lebanon. Lebanon is currently facing its “worst socioeconomic crisis in decades. It hosts the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide. The government estimates 1.5 million Syrian refugees and 13,715 refugees of other nationalities. Ninety percent of Syrian refugees are living in extreme poverty,” according to the UNHCR.
Peace, stability and security are vital and necessary for the sustainable return of Syrian refugees.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
On the other hand, countries that are better equipped to provide the basic needs that refugees initially require — such as education, healthcare, shelter, etc. — will most likely benefit in the long term. The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service states: “Understanding refugees’ economic impact is important to any nation that receives them. There is an initial cost to cover basic necessities and services to those starting over in a new country, such as housing, career navigation, language classes, and healthcare. After this initial investment, however, the host country receives far greater economic benefits from these refugees. As they find their footing, refugees contribute significant tax revenue, stimulate the economy, raise productivity, improve local worker wages, boost innovation, and often generate international trade because of their connections to various countries.”
There are two important steps to take when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis. The most effective approach is to facilitate the safe return of those Syrian refugees who desire to return to their home country. This requires that the international community help with the process of reconstruction in Syria, including reestablishing security across the country. The more stable Syria gets, the more likely it will be that Syrian refugees in Turkiye, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the region will decide to return home.
But it is important to point out that peace, stability and security are vital and necessary for the sustainable return of Syrian refugees.
Secondly, the international community ought to continue helping the host countries that lack resources so that they can provide the required social services to refugees. And if the host countries have the capability to cover the needs of the refugees and help them integrate into society, this initial investment can have several benefits for them in the long term.
In a nutshell, Syria remains the world’s largest refugee crisis. Unfortunately, as long as there is no peace, stability or security in Syria, and as long host countries lack the resources to deal with the refugees, this crisis will not be resolved.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.