Katie Gonzalez
Last updated: 16 October, 2012

Turkey and Egypt show “great hospitality” towards Syrian refugees

While the Civil War in Syria continues to disrupt the lives of millions civilians and as the international community moves forward with actions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the number of refugees leaving Syria has reached approximately 320,338 individuals as of early October, according to Sybella Wilkes, senior communications officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Wilkes said that the UN and its partners are expecting to have registered or assisted over 700,000 Syrians by the end of the month.

“This is the biggest emergency at the moment,” Wilkes said. “Winter is approaching, and we have over half of refugees living under canvas in camps. It’s clear that conditions are very harsh.”

The “overwhelming majority” of Syrian refugees are fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, Refugee Policy Director at Human Rights Watch Bill Frelick said in an interview with Your Middle East. “It has something to do with the proximity of that country,” Frelick said. “But other factors have to do with which countries are allowing people to come into their borders. All of Syria’s neighbors have really, for the most part, allowed people to get through the border.”

Jordan is currently home to the largest population of Syrian refugees, as the number of registered and/or assisted Syrian refugees is over 105,000, according to Wilkes. Based on Oct. 1 figures from the Turkish government, there are a total of 93,576 Syrians registered as refugees or being assisted in camps. Turkey has been receptive to the massive influx in Syrian refugees because the government is committed to “supporting the Free Syria movement,” but the conditions in the refugee camps in countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are still lacking in many different regards, Frelick said.

“With respect to the ME in particular, with respect to Syrians, keeping them in closed camps is going to be a recipe for frustration and anger, and it’s going to blow up sooner rather than later,” he said. “It’s in the national security interests of Jordan and Turkey to respect freedom of movement and allow people to work and live in urban areas and have them live a normal life.”

Although Jordanian authorities have reportedly been reluctant to expand their refugee camps, Jordan recently opened two new camps for Syrians fleeing their home country. A camp in the northern border town of Ramtha and an additional emergency camp in Zaatari were constructed to accommodate the swelling number of refugees.

The Turkish refugee camps are known as being among the “better” in the Middle East region, while Jordanian authorities do not allow Syrian refugees living in the country’s only camp to leave its premises, Gerry Simpson, a senior researcher and advocate for HRW’s Refugee Program, said in an interview with Your Middle East.

“To Turkey’s credit, the level of assistance for Syrians in Turkey’s camp far exceeds the level of aid Syrians receive in Jordan’s al-Zatari camp, where conditions are poor, as well as aid refugees receive in African countries,” he said.

Iraq has also proven to be a popular recipient country for Syrian refugees, as Syrian Kurds attempt to settle in with the Kurdish populations in Northern Iraq, according to Frelick. Before the uprising began against Assad’s regime, the Kurdish population of Syria — an estimated 2 million individuals — was largely denied full citizenship rights. Out of the 36,500 registered refugees in Syria, 30,101 are hosted in the Kurdish region, Wilkes said.

A “large number” of Syrians have similarly fled to Egypt to escape ongoing turmoil in their own country, Elizabeth Tan, deputy regional representative of the UNHCR Cairo Regional Office, said in a statement to Your Middle East.

As a signatory to the 1951 Convention, which mandates the countries to uphold the rights of refugees so that they can return to their countries of origin or eventually be resettled, Egypt has made efforts to absorb a major influx of refugees.

“More can be done to help refugees integrate into Egyptian society during the time that they need to stay in Egypt by giving them more access to national services including opportunities to undertake livelihood activities,” Tan said. “Egyptian civil society has shown great hospitality towards refugees, particularly Libyans and Syrians in the past two years when they were in need of protection and assistance.”

The international community as a whole must fully grasp the dire necessity of these refugees and continue to offer assistance, according to various experts. “If the European people are concerned with a wave of refugees coming at them, the thing that makes the most sense for them to do is to help the neighboring countries — Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon — to build their capacity to protect and sustain these populations,” Frelick said.

UNCHR and its partners recently issued an appeal for $500 million to various governments, business and private individuals, according to Wilkes.

“We and our partners, in order to sustain this level of support for refugees and plan for the next stages — which include many more people living in tents and surviving a very harsh winter — we need more support,” Wilkes said. “ And we need it to come in large numbers.”