In the wake of the protracted internal armed conflict in Syria, growing numbers of refugees, predominantly women and children, have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Reception conditions vary considerably, and the unabated influx of refugees is putting tremendous strain on the socio-economic and political stability of Syria’s neighbouring countries. Refugees increasingly compete with the local population for housing, scarce public goods like water and electricity, food, healthcare and education. They face considerable income-expenditure gaps resulting from high rental costs, the depletion of savings and limited job opportunities.
Urban refugees account for 100% of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon and Egypt, compared with some 70% in Jordan and Iraq and 40% in Turkey. The remainder are in refugee camps. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are scattered across 1 200 communities. Initially, they were mostly hosted by Lebanese families or settled in abandoned or unfinished buildings. As these options are less and less available, new arrivals increasingly need to rent dwellings or set up makeshift settlements. In Jordan, the majority of Syrian refugees have been accommodated by Jordanian families. With an estimated 190 000 refugees, the sprawling Za’atri camp is Jordan’s largest refugee hub. It is heavily overcrowded and overstretched, leaving refugees highly vulnerable to disease and allowing only provision of the bare minimum, which has already given rise to unrest. With an average pace of 70 000 new arrivals in Jordan per month, further emergency camps need to be built. Turkey set up relatively well-equipped container and tent camps, including separate ones for minorities, in eight provinces. Two new container camps are under construction. Iraq runs the Domiz camp in Kurdistan, which is now critically congested and with sanitation below humanitarian standards, and two smaller camps in al-Qaim in central Iraq. A further camp is being set up in Erbil.
Registration and food vouchers
Currently, refugees across the region are being registered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with a waiting period of one month. Registration is essential to identify, protect and assist refugees. In April 2013, 90 000 refugees were registered in Lebanon alone. The World Food Programme (WFP) is progressively shifting its food assistance from dry rations to food e-vouchers, allowing refugees to buy groceries in local shops using credit on electronic cards.
A challenge to the open door policy
The scale of the refugee flows, with no end in sight, recently prompted Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to advocate the creation of buffer zones or humanitarian corridors within Syria to end the refugees’ relentless influx onto their territory. While these countries still practise an open door policy, Syrian refugees without a passport or urgent medical needs have faced restrictions on entering Turkey since July 2012, allegedly due to the lack of additional capacity in the refugee camps. The border crossings at al-Rabia and al-Qaim in central Iraq are closed.
EU humanitarian aid
With over €600 million pledged in humanitarian aid, the EU is the largest donor of assistance to Syrian refugees both in Syria and in neighbouring countries.