Fleeing Syria: Entire Towns Empty As Refugee Crisis Grows

December 20, 2012

Syrian refugee map
The UN is expecting up to one million Syrian refugees by mid 2013. Click to explore full map.

Faced with shelling and shortages of food, water and fuel, civilians have fled their homes, becoming refugees in neighboring countries or finding themselves internally displaced. Towns and villages across Latakia, Idlib, Hama and Dara’a governorates have been effectively emptied of their populations. Entire neighbourhoods in southern and eastern Damascus, Deir al-Zour and Aleppo have been razed. The downtown of Homs city has been devastated.
—Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. December 20, 2012.

The impact of Syria’s spiraling conflict can be increasingly seen in neighboring countries, as indiscriminate attacks are sending hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing from their homes across borders in search of safety and shelter. According to the latest update from the Independent International inquiry on Syria—released just hours ago—entire towns and villages have been emptied of their populations. The intensified fighting around Damascus and the mounting atrocities across the country are accompanied by increasing reports of sectarian violence. While we can’t predict the outcome of the conflict, one thing seems certain: the cycle of violence and displacement of civilians will go on for months.

One million refugees-how will the world respond?

Based on these daunting trends, the United Nations yesterday released the largest, short-term humanitarian appeal ever, requesting $1.5 billion for the next six months, to assist Syrians both within the country and those fleeing abroad. The appeal is based on an expectation that the number of refugees will almost double to 1 million Syrians by mid-2013.

While the international community has spectacularly failed to provide a unified response to the Syrian human rights crisis—most visibly, the failure to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court—I hope the humanitarian response will be less shameful. A cardinal principle of international law is to grant protection to those fleeing from violence, or who would otherwise face threats to their lives if at home. Thus, neighboring countries must ensure their borders remain open to the thousands of Syrian men, women and children who are fleeing crimes against humanity and war crimes. While countries such as Turkey, Jordon or Iraq have already allowed tens of thousands of Syrians to seek protection within their borders, unfortunately there also continues to be reports of border closings and stranded, internally-displaced Syrians.

However, the responsibility cannot be left alone with neighboring countries. The international community must not only continue, but must step up financial support so that international relief agencies and host countries have the necessary resources to protect Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes. Ensuring a strong response to the newest UN humanitarian appeal would be a good start (over the last months, the Syrian Regional Response plan was only half-funded). This appeal has nothing to do with charity, but everything to do with ensuring that Syrians—who the international community has widely failed for almost two years now—at the very least, can fulfill their most basic needs, as long as they are denied the ability to return to their homes for fear of violence, atrocity, and targeting.

Learn more about the crisis by watching a series of five videos here: