On 27 February, I attended a speaker event lead by Carsten Bockemuehl, who has recently spent time in Jordan to understand the Syrian conflict. He was deployed for four months in the city of Amman in neighbouring Jordan as Advocacy Director for World Vision’s Syria Response Unit. His speech gave three key points of insight into the conflict; the conflict in the Syrian city of Idlib, the anti-refugee rhetoric in neighbouring countries, and the need for continuous support to rebuild the country.
Firstly, the conflict in Idlib is between two parties – the Syrian government [known for harming civilians] and the opposition forces, who have links to Al-Qaeda. There is fear that conflict which could harm the nearly 1 million people could be seen as collateral damage. These people are already internally displaced peoples and will certainly need to flee within the foreseeable future, causing significant further damage to the psyche of the individuals. Another issue is where they would flee to, considering the anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric and the lack of space for more refugees in neighbouring countries like Turkey whose neighbouring border remains closed. Finally, to note the importance of this issue I cite a thought-provoking quote from Bockemuehl, in which Syria is described as a “patchwork of vulnerable populations,” meaning that stability is still far away for the Syrian people.
Secondly, the anti-refugee rhetoric in neighbouring countries and across the world is a significant issue surrounding the conflict. Many neighbouring countries like Jordan are making it harder for Syrian refugees to be integrated and functioning in their new environment. Jordan is even undertaking forced returns, which are on the rise as Bockemuehl demonstrated. This is likely because of the status of the countries which originally took in the mass influx of refugees. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, all developing countries, opened their doors for the refugees fleeing the conflict when it started. There is a mass belief that the conflict has stopped and the refugees need to return. But without a guaranteed protection and nothing for people to rebuild their lives from, we are stuck at a crossroads, as there is an assumption that Syria is no longer a humanitarian issue.
So, what now? Now we need to support the neighbouring countries so that more conflict does not start and that refugees are not discriminated against. Next, we need to push for the protection thresholds and the removal of dictator Assad so significant amounts of donor funding can continue. Finally, we need to push for the end of the conflict through peaceful protest and legislative change.
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