Syrian girl in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan
While the national spotlight is focused on the Obama administration's proposed military intervention against the Syrian government, 5,000-6,000 refugees are leaving Syria each day, fleeing mostly to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. By the count of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the total number who have left Syria and registered with the UNHCR since the war began now exceeds two million
"This trend is nothing less than alarming, representing a jump of almost 1.8 million people in 12 months," UNHCR said. One year ago today, the number of Syrians registered as refugees or awaiting registration stood at about 230,670 people.
They often arrive with little more than the clothes they are wearing. Some 52 percent of them are 17 or younger, 740,000 under age 11. The UNHCR has registered all these children and ensure that babies born in exile get birth certificates, which prevents them from becoming stateless.
Given the fluid situation, estimates obviously vary, but the UNHCR says there could be 3.5 million refugees by the end of year. That's 16 percent of the nation's population. Add to them the 4.5 million estimated to have been forcibly displaced internally in Syria and the dimensions of the crisis there is clearly mind-boggling.
And budget boggling as well.
The Syria Regional Refugee Response plan is gravely underfunded, with only 38 percent of the $3 billion asked for having been pledged. The UNHCR is seeking a total of $4.4 billion to deal with the crisis. Please read more about Syrian refugees below the fold.
Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida.
"Now we're going to have a debate about humanitarian bombing and humanitarian missile strikes," he told MSNBC's Thomas Roberts on Tuesday. "Why don't we have a debate about doing something to keep the 2 million refugees that are across the border in Jordan and Turkey? We can take that billion dollars and give some relief to them."
Grayson was referring to the monthly cost of maintaining a no-fly zone over Syria, according to estimates that Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey gave last month.
In August, President Obama authorized $195 million in food and other humanitarian aid for Syria. That makes the U.S. total since the war started just over $1 billion.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said: "The world risks being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian disaster. The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications. If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate, the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighbouring countries could be brought to the point of collapse."
The brunt of the refugee deluge is being felt by its neighbors. And what was once viewed as a temporary situation is now stressing the economic and infrastructural resources for dealing with it.
At the end August, Syrians who had registered as refugees or whose registrations were pending were 720,000 in Lebanon, 520,000 in Jordan, 464,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in Iraq. Another 111,000 Syrian refugees are in Egypt. Observers believe the actual figures are higher in every case.
• The refugee camp know as Zaatari now ranks as Jordan's fourth-largest city. It is also the world's second-largest refugee camp aftger Dadaab in Kenya, with more than 400,000 people.
• Turkey is has spent $2 billion to support refugees in 21 camps. Some 250,000 Syrian refugees are living outside the refugee camps in Turkey, mostly in urban locations. One worry now is disease. In areas held by the Syrian opposition in northern Syria, public health and water sanitation systems have all but collapsed and Turkish officials are concerned that infectious diseases may spread across the border along with fleeing refugees.
• The number of Syrians who had applied in 2012 for asylum in the European Union in 2012 tripled, to just over 24,000. No figures are available for 2013. Sweden is the only country in the EU that has opened its doors for Syrian refugees. The United States does not permit Syrians to apply to come here through its refugee admissions program.
While the discussion about U.S. military action moves toward a climax, there are a number of things Americans can do to ease the humanitarian crisis.
One is to pressure their elected officials in Washington, in the Senate, House and White House, to step up U.S. support for the UNHCR's Syrian refugee response. Especially targeted in this pressure ought to be those politicians willing to vote in favor of lobbing a couple of billion dollars worth of Tomahawk cruise missiles into the country.
Another is supporting the Shelter Box project for Syria that Kossack Onomastic highlighted in a diary last Thursday that got far too little attention. More than $1 million in Shelter Boxes have already been provided to Syria. But that barely makes a dent.