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Refugees in Lebanon, Turkey & Jordan losing hope

By Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 

As 2016 drew to a close in Syria and the government took back control over eastern Aleppo, over 4.8 million Syrian refugees continued to seek safety and means of living a dignified life. There are 2.8 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, over a million in Lebanon, and around 656,000 in Jordan. To put this in perspective, in the so-called European “refugee crisis” a total of 884,461 Syrian refugees applied for asylum in Europe between April 2011 and October 2016.

Media focus on international forced migration continues to leave internal displacement largely invisible to international audiences. It also hides the realities of involuntary immobility – people who are “internally stuck” – and those who are physically prevented from crossing Syria’s borders. What will 2017 bring for people who have been displaced by the ongoing conflict? In December 2016, over 6.3 million people remained displaced inside Syria’s borders. Syria’s internally displaced people (IDPs) remain at risk both within the towns and cities they once called home, and also when attempting to escape. These include Syrian citizens, over 430,000 Palestinian refugees, an estimated 5,000 stateless Kurds, and thousands of Iraqi refugees. In June 2016, Jordan effectively closed its border with Syria, citing security concerns. As a result, more than 75,000 Syrian refugees have spent more than six months stranded on the Syrian-Jordanian border, including in the Ruqban and Hadalat camps. As early as 2012, Jordan had already barred the entry of certain refugees fleeing Syria: all Palestinian refugees who had been living in Syria; unaccompanied men without family ties in Jordan; and people without valid documents.

At the Ruqban border crossing, in the far northeast of Jordan, the number of border camps has been increasing. Satellite images published by Amnesty International showed that 90 shelters were present in July 2014. By the end of September they were 8,295. With only one delivery of humanitarian aid allowed between June and August 2016, satellite images have also documented graves and burial sites there.

As in Jordan, Lebanon’s border controls have been increasing over the past year, with frequent border closures and pushbacks to Syria. Michel Aoun’s election as Lebanese President is expected to lead to greater restrictions. Aoun’s inaugural speech called directly for Syrian refugees to return to their country of origin, irrespective of the conflict. Aoun and political leaders have proposed the creation of “safe zones” within Syria, which history clearly tells us would likely result in the creation of hyper-militarised zones that are far from safe.

Even Turkey has started building a concrete wall along its 900km border with Syria in 2014. In addition to closing 17 of its 19 border crossings, Turkey has also used physical force on a regular basis to prevent Syrian refugees from entering its territory. This year will invariably witness new and ongoing border closures and push-backs over the Turkish-Syrian border. The international community is encouraging host states to grant Syrian refugees legal access to the labour market in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. But given high unemployment and impoverishment levels among each country’s own citizens this is unlikely.

As states continue to develop increasingly restrictive policies, and as the international community continues to fail to deliver its promises to meaningfully support Syrian refugees, local communities will continue to be the most important sources of support. This is the focus of the ongoing Refugee Hosts project that I am leading through research with nine local communities across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Regional and international leaders alike have a great deal to learn from the humanity and hospitality of these communities.

‘Courtesy Khaleej Times’.



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