IN the din of the Syrian civil war, the world seems not to have grasped the full dimensions of the refugee tragedy. The number of people who have poured into neighbouring countries is nearing one million, and there are an estimated two million internally displaced persons. This means the 23-month old conflict has rendered nearly three million people homeless. As statistics released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees show, 78 per cent of those in foreign countries are women and children, 52 per cent are children, and one in every five refugee households is headed by a woman. According to the UNHCR 65 per cent of the refugees have been living in the open because there are no camps. Schools and other shelters are overcrowded, and severe winter conditions and lack of adequate medical help have added to the refugees’ ordeal. During a snowstorm in Jordan, tents were blown away, and there was a blaze when embers in the camp caused a fire. The world community’s response has been tardy. At a meeting in Kuwait last month, donors agreed to pay the $1.5bn asked for by the UNHCR, but the agency says it has received only three per cent of the amount. Now Syrians are fleeing to neighbouring lands at the rate of 5,000 a day.
There is a stalemate in the civil war, but that doesn’t mean the miseries of the Syrian people have come to an end. More worryingly, since the UN is routing its aid for internal refugees through the Syrian regime, state agencies help IDPs in government-held areas, ignoring others. While humanitarian assistance must be increased to help the refugees, the greater need is for bringing the conflict to a halt. Of this there is little possibility in the near future, because all peace moves seem to have fizzled out.