Syrian Refugee Crisis - Hope 103.2

Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syria is in the middle of a brutal civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and caused more than two million people to flee their home country. 

By Karen TongMonday 23 Sep 2013Hope MorningsSocial JusticeReading Time: 3 minutes

Syria is in the middle of a brutal civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and caused more than two million people to flee their home country. 

Photo supplied by Australia for UNHCR

“Effectively what this means is that one in ten Syrians are now refugees,” says Shannon Miskelly, the Communications and Public Affairs Director at Australia for UNHCR. “It’s the equivalent of nearly half the population of Sydney or Melbourne.”

Shannon Miskelly, the Communications and Public Affairs Director at Australia for UNHCR

Listen – Hope 103.2’s Karen Tong talks with Shannon Miskelly from UNHCR

While the war is well into its third year, there has been a recent acceleration in the number of Syrian refugees. One million Syrians fled to neighbouring countries in the first five months of 2013 alone, and 5,000 more are crossing the border every day amid persistent reports of violence, rape, and the use of chemical weapons.

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The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, has called the Syrian refugee crisis “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”

There are many dangers that Syrians face as they leave their homes with little more than the clothes on their back to get to the border. Ms Miskelly tells the story of one woman (pictured below) who walked for over seven kilometres on crutches in over 40-degree heat: “Something that I don’t think many of us can fathom is what bravery and courage she had to make that journey.”

Photo supplied by Australia for UNHCR

In the face of this growing crisis, with projections estimating the number of Syrian refugees to reach 3 million by the end of 2013, Mr Guterres says: “The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees."

These countries include Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. “Meeting their basic needs is a challenge,” Ms Miskelly says of the work the UNHCR is doing in the refugee camps, “we’re working hard to ensure that they have food, shelter, water and healthcare.”

The Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian desert is now the second largest in the world. With 2,000 new residents entering the camp and 13 children born every day, the overcrowded conditions make it extremely difficult for aid agencies to provide adequate support to Syrian refugees.

“A country like Jordan right now is the fourth most water poor country in the world, so you can imagine what it’s like to have these refugee camps in these desert-like conditions,” Ms Miskelly says.

Photo supplied by Australia for UNHCR

More than half of all Syrian refugees are children, with many arriving unaccompanied or separated from their families having experienced severe trauma. “The UNHCR has been providing psycho social assistance to over 100,000 refugee children that have left Syria,” Ms Miskelly says.

Once inside a refugee camp, children also face the threat of child labour and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking. In Zaatari, for example, one of the major challenges is providing education for 30,000 children “because many children are now working to provide for their families,” says Ms Miskelly.

With no immediate end to the conflict in sight, the Syrian refugees in the camps, and those who are arriving, could face several months, even years, in the refugee camps.

But for all who are fleeing, like Iman, a 25-year-old mother who fled Syria with her two young children, this is the better and safer alternative. “She decided it was time to flee when she heard accounts of sexual harassment against women in Aleppo,” Ms Miskelly says.

Iman’s journey to the Turkey border was fraught with danger and she lost five relatives on the way. Now living in a refugee camp in Turkey, Ms Miskelly says: “She still has a sense of hope even after everything that she’s been through.”

Video - Syria Crisis

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