Jordan, Lebanon Struggle Under Refugee Deluge

Nearly 2.5 million refugees are now scattered in camps in states bordering Syria, a crisis that threatens to overwhelm underfunded U.N. capacity and upset regional political order. Jordan warned the U.N. Security Council on April 30 that the swelling refugee population was a threat to its stability. Around 1,600 Syrians crossed into Jordan on May 1, raising the total number of refugees that week alone to over 12,000, according to the Jordan Armed Forces.

The new arrivals included 70 wounded refugees, as Damascus’ aerial offensive on rebel positions along the Jordanian-Syrian border entered a second week. Speaking after a private meeting with Security Council envoys, the kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Prince Zeid al-Hussein, said Jordan faces a “crushing weight” if the refugee numbers, which have already reached over 500,000 since the onset of the conflict in March 2011, keep growing.

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Prince Zeid complained that international help has been “insufficient” and that “from the perspective of the Jordanian government, unless the support is forthcoming, then we consider this to be a threat to our future stability,” which could mean closing its borders. The United Nations predicts there could be 1.2 million refugees in Jordan by the end of the year—equivalent to a fifth of the kingdom’s population.

Meeting at the Vatican on May 3, Pope Francis and President Michel Sleiman of Lebanon called on the international community to offer concrete aid to Lebanon and other countries that host refugees from Syria. In late April the United Nations said more than 440,000 Syrians, about 10 percent of Lebanon’s current population, were registered or were awaiting registration as refugees. Sleiman said that when refugees staying with relatives in Lebanon were also counted, the total number exceeded one million, which places an enormous burden on the country.

Increasing numbers of Palestinian refugees in Syria are being killed, injured or displaced amid the intensifying violence, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East reported on April 30. An estimated 235,000 Palestinians inside Syria have been displaced, with Palestinian refugee camps directly affected by the escalating violence. The agency confirmed the additional displacement of some 6,000 Palestinians from the Ein El Tal refugee camp, just north of Aleppo, after armed groups overran the camp. Mortars and small arms were reportedly used in the assault, which damaged numerous refugee homes and contributed to dozens of fatalities and injuries.

“Ein El Tal is the latest manifestation of a cycle of catastrophic violence in which the conduct of all parties has transformed Palestine refugee camps into theatres of conflict in which heavy weapons are used, resulting in severe suffering for Palestinian civilians,” the U.N. agency reported.

The refugee crisis sparked by the conflict in Syria is increasingly straining health services in surrounding countries, while refugees are finding it harder to access the quality treatment they need, the United Nations refugee agency warned in a report released on April 26. According to the report, more than a million refugees need treatment for a wide range of both common and conflict-related conditions.

With no end to the conflict in sight, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council and countries in the region to come up with a unified position that might persuade all actors to come to the negotiating table. “We risk an entire generation of children being scarred for life. The children of Syria are our children. They need our help,” he implored.

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