Essential services for Syrian refugees and host communities

The current conflict in Syria has been raging since March 2011. For the last two years, not a day has passed without the violence featuring on Western news bulletins. A quick scan of the headlines today (17.07.2013) reveals that the UN believes that 5,000 people are dying each month and that the refugee situation is the worst since Rwanda genocide in 1994.

As time has passed and the death-toll has risen, the war becomes harder to comprehend and dare I say, of less interest to the global community. The longevity of the conflict has resulted in a certain media fatigue, causing indifference to the suffering of an unimaginable number of people.

A recent piece of research I was doing, focusing on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, has brought the human suffering back into sharp focus for me. Whilst being aware that the unrest had resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, I had no idea that as of June 2013 approximately 570,000 refugees have left Syria for Lebanon. This figure is the equivalent to over 10 per cent of Lebanon’s population and does not include refugees heading for other destinations. According to the UN Syria Regional Response Plan as many as 78 per cent of refugees are women and children, while 35 per cent have specific vulnerabilities. The total number of refugees entering Lebanon is projected to increase to over a million people by December 2013 if the conflict in Syria continues – a figure equivalent to 25 per cent of Lebanon’s  population.

These figures are staggering and hard to comprehend. Instead of using the well known comparison method of saying how many times this number of people could fill Wembley Stadium, try to imagine each of those million refugees as individuals. Aside from requiring shelter and safety, each person will require health services, nutritious food and education for the children. According to the UNHCR Syria Emergency Report, the dramatic influx of people is putting unprecedented pressure on the Lebanese Government and Lebanese citizens to provide these services.

The Government of Lebanon has commendably committed to providing protection and assistance to the people of Syria. However, the UN estimates that the refugees are spread across 1,200 locations in the country and that the Lebanese public services are straining to meet demand. As the number of people seeking safety is spiralling, the need for essential services is outstripping the capacity to respond. Immediate and significantly increased humanitarian support is needed in order to save lives and to ensure well-being of refugees and affected communities. With the conflict in Syria showing no signs of abatement, the capacity to absorb newcomers will become increasingly stretched.

The key message of this blog is to urge against complacency of suffering brought on by the prolonged nature of the war in Syria. Both the refugees and the communities that host them are under severe pressure. While we hope for a rapidly achieved peaceful solution and the repatriation of the refugees, we as the international community must do what we can to ensure vital services such as health, nutrition and education are available for both the refugees and the communities that host them.

Blog by Stephen Thompson, Research Officer with the Health & Education Advice & Resources Team (HEART)

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