News / Middle East

Syria’s Neighbors: Refugee Crisis Unsustainable

Syrian girl, Raghad Hussein, 3, who fled her home with her family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, stands by her family's makeshift tent, near Azaz, Syria, Aug. 26, 2012.Syrian girl, Raghad Hussein, 3, who fled her home with her family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, stands by her family's makeshift tent, near Azaz, Syria, Aug. 26, 2012.
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Syrian girl, Raghad Hussein, 3, who fled her home with her family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, stands by her family's makeshift tent, near Azaz, Syria, Aug. 26, 2012.
Syrian girl, Raghad Hussein, 3, who fled her home with her family due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, stands by her family's makeshift tent, near Azaz, Syria, Aug. 26, 2012.
Margaret Besheer
UNITED NATIONS — Syria’s neighbors, who have absorbed more than 220,000 refugees fleeing violence in that country, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that they need international assistance to meet the growing tragedy. Syria’s humanitarian crisis is spreading to its neighbors as they try to cope with a growing refugee crisis.

Turkey has so far taken in the largest number of Syrians -- around 80,000.  Ankara says it cannot handle much more than another 20,000, which it could reach soon.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the 15-nation Security Council that Turkey has spent more than $300 million, built 11 camps, and is finding it increasingly difficult to cope without international help.

“Yes, we are building new camps and will try to transfer them to these camps.  Yet, we are fast getting short of suitable areas to build camps and means to support them,” Davutoglu said.

The United Nations says there are more than 2 million displaced people inside Syria.

Davutoglu said something should be done to protect them.

“In the face of such a humanitarian disaster, the U.N. should initiate the establishment of IDP [i.e., internally displaced persons] camps within Syria without delay.  Needless to say, these camps should have full protection,” Davutoglu said.

The Turkish foreign minister also urged the Security Council to visit Turkey and other countries sheltering Syrian refugees, saying it would be useful for the ambassadors to hear the ordeals the refugees have been through.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, said some 12,000 Syrians have crossed into his country during the last four days alone, bringing registered totals there to more than 72,000 people.  He is heard here through a translator.

“Despite the challenges we face, given limited means in normal circumstances, we have not taken any measure to prevent the arrival of this increasing number of refugees.  Nevertheless, we would risk very quickly a situation which would go beyond double our capacity, and that massive flow could have social security implications,” Judeh said.

The United Nations says the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon exceeds 57,000, while Iraq, which is making its own transition from conflict to stability, has more than 18,000.

The Security Council has been deeply divided on Syria, with Russia and China using its veto three times to block council action.  Thursday’s meeting was intended to focus on the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian crisis, something diplomats said they hoped they could all agree on, yet no unified statement came out of the session.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the situation in Syria is not based on a humanitarian crisis, but a political crisis caused by the “cruelty and callousness of the [Bashar al-]Assad regime.”

“No amount of humanitarian assistance will end the bloodshed and suffering.  That day will come only once [Bashar al-]Assad has departed and a peaceful Syrian-led transition to democracy has begun,” Rice said.

Earlier, Britain’s foreign secretary announced that his government would increase its humanitarian aid in response to the crisis by $4.75 million.  France’s foreign minister said Paris would contribute an additional $6 million.

The United Nations says more than 2.5 million people are in grave need of assistance and protection inside Syria as a result of the 18-month long crisis.  Activists and human rights groups estimate that at least 20,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.

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