Syrian Refugee Crisis at Tipping Point

A displaced Syrian girl finds temporary shelter at a school in Damascus, Syria, Feb. 23.

The Syrian refugee crisis—now totaling nearly 4 million refugees—has reached a “tipping point,” in which countries in the region are no longer able to handle the flow of refugees across their borders, warned U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops officials who recently traveled to the Middle East.

“Without more international support, we will find Syrians fleeing extremists being turned away and forced back to danger,” said Anastasia Brown, interim executive director for USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). “The global community, led by Europe and the United States, needs to increase its support in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis.”

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A delegation of USCCB officials which visited the region in late 2014, released their report March 6. Entitled “Refuge and Hope in the Time of ISIS: The Urgent need for Protection, Humanitarian Support, and Durable Solutions in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece,” the report looks at the plight of Syrians in the three countries, a growing trek for Syrians attempting to reach Europe.

The report highlights the gaps Syrians face as they attempt to find protection, with many traveling through Greece and Bulgaria on their way to Europe. According to the United Nations, many more are taking dangerous sea journeys in boats to reach the continent.

At the same time, countries bordering Syria and Iraq are showing signs of strain and imposing new policies at their borders. In recent months, Jordan has exerted more control over its northern border, denying entry to some refugees from ISIS-controlled areas, while Lebanon has instituted a visa policy for Syrians seeking to enter their country. While Turkey has kept its border open, refugee interviews are being scheduled for 2022.

“It was apparent from our trip that the protection space in the region for Syrians is shrinking,” said Matt Wilch, refugee policy advisor for MRS/USCCB. “People are becoming more desperate and are attempting dangerous journeys to Europe and beyond.”

Of special note is the impact the crisis is having on children, who number as many as 2 million—half the total of Syrian refugees. Among those are unaccompanied children who, according to the delegation, have a special claim on protection.

“The number of unaccompanied children and other vulnerable children from Syria and elsewhere is rising, yet there are few protection mechanisms in place to identify and rescue them from harm,” said Nathalie Lummert, director of Special Programs for MRS/USCCB. “What we are seeing is an exodus of the next generation in Syria, with little hope for their future.”

The delegation also expressed grave concern for the plight of religious minorities, who are targets of extremists in the region. Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, along with Yazidis, are at risk of their lives.

“Without a dramatic response to this unprecedented humanitarian challenge, we will continue to see ongoing suffering and even death in this population, especially among the most vulnerable,” Brown said.

The delegation’s report lists several recommendations to address the crisis, including increased refugee assistance and resettlement. The full report is available at here.

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