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September 30, 2013

Countries Hosting Syrian Refugees Stretched to Limit

by Lisa Schlein

Participants at a U.N. refugee conference in Geneva are appealing for stronger international support for countries hosting large Syrian refugee populations. They say four neighboring countries of asylum are stretched to the limit.

A U.N. video graphically shows the anguished evolution of Syria’s humanitarian crisis during the past two and one-half years. What began as a series of peaceful protests in March 2011 has developed into a catastrophic situation in which more than 100,000 people have been killed and more than two million Syrians have fled the country.

Nearly all of these refugees have found asylum in four neighboring countries; Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], Antonio Guterres, said these countries are saving lives by generously providing protection and assistance.

He warned they are stretched to their limits, however, and finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the unrelenting flood of Syrian refugees arriving at their borders. He said the international community must do more to help. It must enact more robust measures of sharing this burden.

“The impact of the refugee influx on the societies, the economies and the communities of the host countries is immense. It further compounds the already dire economic consequences created by the conflict, through the loss of foreign investment, trade and tourism revenues - not to mention the security risk of a war across the border,” said Guterres.

The World Bank estimates Lebanon’s economy is losing nearly three percent in annual GDP growth. The Jordanian government said it will have spent $1.7 billion in caring for the refugees by the end of the year.  Turkey says it has spent $2 billion and has received only $130 million from the international community.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said 240,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq, the overwhelming majority to the Kurdish region. He said the Iraqi government needs more international support, especially now that winter is approaching.

“The continued increase of refugees fleeing to their country could threaten the arrival of increased security threats as insurgents in Syria attempt to exploit the situation and infiltrate the refugee camps. Iraq expresses grave concerns over the fact that the crisis in Syria also represents a direct threat to peace and security in the wider Middle East region,” said Zebari.

Ministers from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey also appealed to the international community for help. The Lebanese minister of social affairs says some people in his country are calling for closing the border with Syria.  

The UNHCR notes many donors are providing strong support to humanitarian programs, but needs are outstripping the resources available. The agency says the international community also must share more of the burden in granting refugee asylum to Syrians.