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Opinion: A Matter of Conscience | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian refugee children stand outside their tent at a refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Majdal Anjar, Lebanon on Thursday June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

For the past four years, the world has accepted that Syria’s neighbors are primarily responsible for its refugees. Fleeing the brutality, oppression, and criminality of the bloody regime of Bashar Al-Assad, more than four million Syrians have taken refuge abroad, mainly in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, while a few have gone to other countries, such as Iraq, Egypt, the Gulf, and Europe.

The situation of these refugees is getting worse, prompting warnings from international organizations working on this very critical humanitarian issue. Figures about the crisis are terrifying, and speak for themselves. Since 2011 more than half of the Syria population has been internally displaced in addition to the millions who have left the country. According to UN relief organizations, the Syrian crisis has become the most challenging humanitarian crisis of its kind in history.

The UN has warned that without more aid, Syrian refugees will face a severe shortage of food this winter, which will be a harsh one. The UN World Food Program (WFP) recently warned it would have to suspend issuing electronic food vouchers to around 1.7 million Syrian refugees simply because it is financially incapable of fulfilling its obligations, though it was eventually able to find a solution.

UN relief organizations are in urgent and immediate need for more than six billion US dollars just to cover the nutritional needs of Syrian refugees on a temporary basis. The countries that host the largest number of Syrian refugees have begun to announce that they are incapable of accommodating more. There are 620,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, 1.2 million in Turkey and 1.1 million in Lebanon, but real figures are much higher as many remain unregistered.

The UN says that the US, Britain and the rest of the EU are among the biggest donors, but at the same time it sharply criticized them for dealing with Syrian refugees based on the principle of keeping them away. In other words, while they are generous in sending assistance to Syrian refugees, they are unwilling to accept the idea of allowing them into their countries as they previously did with nationals from other countries that went through harsh times, such as Somalia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Chechnya for example. But it seems that the UN has grown fed up with this kind of negative policy and is trying to change the situation by forcing EU countries to accept a considerable number of Syrian refugees into their territories. Such attempts have led to reluctant responses from Germany, Britain, and Ireland. In contrast, Sweden’s response to the Syria crisis has been the finest.

On the other hand, Muslim countries, with the exception of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, did not provide services or concessions to host Syrians, or even the parents of Syrians working in their countries. Instead they put tough conditions and restrictions on their entry and residence.

Dealing with Syrian refugees is not a political issue but, first and foremost a moral, humanitarian, and social one. The world cannot claim to be seeking to solve the Syrian crisis without coming up with exceptional solutions.

Syrians are facing a regime that has left them to face an unknown fate, and if they return to Syria many will end up in prison, if not dead. The Syrian regime is sacrificing its people day and night to stay in power. Damascus continues to be supported by rogue states and criminal gangs around the world who do not hesitate to do anything in order to keep Assad in power.

Syrian refugees require help that will enable them to live in dignity and provide them with a measure of psychological stability and peace. This cannot be realized by maintaining them in makeshift tents in miserable living conditions. It is high time that more important, effective, and realistic steps were taken. The continuing deterioration of the problem of Syria’s refugees in this miserable manner is not related to host countries alone, but should force the whole world to examine its conscience.