There are 324,770 official Syrian refugees in Turkey (Turkish government estimates are 400,000). 17 out of 23 of the region’s refugee camps are in Turkey, which has decided to halt construction of any new camps. The main issues are cross-border attacks by pro-regime forces (as witnessed recently in Reyhanli where two car bombs killed at least 51 people) and unrest in Kurdish areas (which many hope may be calming as a result of a recent peace agreement between the Turkish government and the PKK). The main threat to Turkey as a result of the refugee crisis is a spillover of sectarian tensions into Turkey’s Alevi and Sunni communities (although Turkey’s Alevis differ extensively from Syria’s Alawites). The Turkish population’s opinion is hardening against Turkish intervention in Syria and any further truck with refugees, despite widespread sympathy for their plight.
Although the total funds pledged by donor countries are impressive, few countries have fulfilled their promises, making it difficult for UNHCR and other organizations to provide basic essential services.
The Institute for Iraqi Studies at Boston University has just published an up-to-date, fact-filled report on the condition and fate of Syrian refugees, country by country, with sections written by scholars and activists who have visited the camps. (The full report can be found here.) The report also usefully looks at the Iraqi refugee situation for insight into the trajectory of the Syrian crisis. Years after the precipitating event, some 1.5 million Iraqis remain displaced.
The report also makes recommendations based on the specific problems in camps in different countries. In some of the camps, for instance, especially in Jordan, sexual predation has become so common that the most requested medications are for birth control. The requesters are women and girls fearing rape. Fifty-one percent of Syrian refugees are children under age 18. The Jordanian camps are overcrowded, leading to protests and internal tensions. Also, the Jordanian border is closed to Palestinians seeking to flee Syria.
Although there are 455,665 Syrians displaced in Lebanon (the Lebanese government estimates over 1 million), they are not given refugee status and instead are referred to as “displaced Syrians.” There are no refugee camps for Syrians, so they are living amongst the populace, often hosted by individual families, which makes their identification and assistance more difficult. They are not allowed to construct shelter, including tents.
Iraq has about 142,395 Syrian refugees in Iraq. This is in addition to nearly one million Iraqis still officially displaced as a result of the ongoing civil war, or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). There are three refugee camps for Syrians, which are not accessible for the Iraqi IDPs. Cross-border attacks launched both by Iraqis and by Syrians destabilize the camps.
The report contains a description of conditions in the Atmeh refugee camp on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, controlled by the Free Syrian Army. The camp originally held 17,000 people, but hundreds arrive every day, mostly women and children, many displaced multiple times within Syria. 18 percent are under age four. There are 40 operational toilets and three schools (one an Islamic school) for 8500 children. Some of the schools are made of cement blocks or tents without flooring.
The refugees all receive a basic breakfast from the Turkish government, and then a late afternoon lunch, which is prepared by three volunteers in one kitchen, which is supposed to supply all the refugees with meals while lacking a floor (it is a mud floor), and consisting of walls that are cement with large gaps. The roof is tin. The three volunteers begin cooking at 5:30 am to serve more than 17,000 people…
[T]he most requested medications were for birth control. The prevention of unwanted pregnancies is a top priority; at least 60 women had been raped and are now carrying children conceived by the rape. Another pressing health issue is the proliferation of diseases caused by contaminated water, limited hygienic facilities and malnutrition including cholera, scabies, and leishmaniasis…