The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) just released an alarming report indicating that the number of Syrians who have fled their ravaged country just passed 4 million. This doesn’t take into account the additional 7.6 estimated million internally displaced within Syria still at risk for political, social, and religious persecution by the Assad government. What’s more alarming is the accelerated rate at which Syrians are fleeing the country. This report comes only ten months following the 3 million benchmark. It’s a sad reality that has been born out of the world’s willingness to turn the cheek; publicly condemning the violence and railing against the abuse by Assad and his government while remaining inactive on the sidelines.
“This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation. It is a population that needs the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into poverty,” stated UNHCR António Guterres following the report’s release.
Of the 4 million, 1.8 million refugees have fled into nearby Turkey. And while Turkey has been one of the more welcoming regional actors, it may have reached its capacity to care for the new influx of refugees. With Jordan closing off its border crossings and Lebanon adding new visa restrictions, regional actors have said enough. It’s a clear, loud statement in wake of the rest of the international community’s unwillingness to take action. To date, only 24% of the UN’s $5.5 billion USD fundraising goal for humanitarian relief has been met. Without the support of funds and international involvement, regional actors’ resources will continue to be stretched thin and conditions within the camps will worsen as food aid, water, and medical supplies grow scarce.
Lost in all of the publicity and finger-pointing, the plight and vulnerability of refugee children remains unaddressed. In an accompanying report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than half of all Syrian refugee children are now the primary breadwinner for their family. Whether it’s harvesting potatoes in Lebanese fields at $2 USD a day or working in the back of sweatshops, restaurants, and hotels at the age of 6 and 7 as housekeepers and clothes makers, these children have not only been robbed of their childhood but put in dangerous and exploitative situations. If they’re not working for money or begging in the streets for food, they are taking up arms as fighters or smugglers or being sold into sex trafficking. According to the report, children as young as 8 are being forced into combat roles and, even more disturbingly, as suicide bombers.
As the world rolls its eyes at yet another humanitarian crisis, people every day are fleeing for their lives or being sold into slave labor and sex work. Donor fatigue has kept many of the international organizations’ advocacy work shelved, designed to specifically address this type of situation but unable to do so. For the lost children, many will die in the camps or disappear altogether. It’s a sad reality that doesn’t have a solution in sight and until the international community comes together and puts words into action, never will.