Skip to main content

Syrian refugee crisis 'spiralling out of control'

By Caroline Gluck, special to CNN
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The number of refugees fleeing Syria's civil war has reached one million
  • Aid agencies including Oxfam are struggling to cope with the flood of new arrivals
  • Gluck: Without more money to help, difficult decisions will have to be made
  • "Tensions are starting to appear between local host populations... and new refugees"

Editor's note: Caroline Gluck is Oxfam's field-based humanitarian press officer, currently based in Amman, Jordan, as part of Oxfam's emergency response to the crisis in Syria. Before joining Oxfam, she worked for the BBC and was based in Asia as a correspondent for more than a decade.

Amman, Jordan (CNN) -- Sahab and her family were not willing refugees. Like many in Syria, they were forced to leave their family home and move several times to different locations to avoid the worsening security situation all around them.

The final straw came when they hid for more than three hours, taking shelter under some stairs, as F16 planes attacked the town Al Quaryatayn, in Homs province.

Caroline Gluck works for humanitarian charity Oxfam
Caroline Gluck works for humanitarian charity Oxfam

When it was safe to move, Sahab joined around 50 other people heading towards the border in a van that normally transports animals.

From there, it was another five hour journey by foot, at night, in the freezing cold. The small bags of belongings they'd brought with them were mostly thrown away along the route as the going got harder; children lost their shoes as they stumbled in the dark and made the last part of their journey walking in just their socks or barefoot.

"We were just seeking a safe place to stay where no-one would attack us", said 42 year-old Sahab, who I met with her family at the main reception centre in Jordan's Zaatari camp. More than 130,000 people are officially registered at Zaatari, which is struggling to cope with the flood of refugees.

Read more: Syrian exodus reaches one million

"We were terrified. Now we are here, we feel safer. But we'd like to be able to return to Syria as quickly as possible and for the fighting to end," Sahab told me. "I want a decent, secure life, to have a life with dignity."

Getting aid to Syria
A Syrian refugee is seen in the early morning hours after sleeping outside the Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants on Wednesday, April 2, in Melilla, Spain. The number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country is more than 2 million, according to the United Nations. A Syrian refugee is seen in the early morning hours after sleeping outside the Center for Temporary Stay of Immigrants on Wednesday, April 2, in Melilla, Spain. The number of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country is more than 2 million, according to the United Nations.
Syria's refugee crisis
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Syria\'s refugee crisis Photos: Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugees: The numbers  Syria's refugees: The numbers
Syria's refugees: The numbersSyria's refugees: The numbers
Syria's refugees: Where do they go?  Syria's refugees: Where do they go?
Syria's refugees: Where do they go?Syria's refugees: Where do they go?

But aid agencies like mine are struggling to respond to the needs of people like Sahab and to provide them with basic services.

Zaatari is a sprawling camp made up of canvas tents and prefab shelters in the Jordanian desert, close to the Syrian border, which has tripled in size in the last three months, in order to accommodate the thousands of refugees arriving every day.

The Jordanian government wants to open at least two new camps to ease the congestion, but there's no funding.

Hundreds of thousands of other refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and other countries bordering Syria, such as Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, are living in host communities, often in unheated, unfurnished buildings or makeshift shelters, where it is even harder for them to get the help they need.

Read more: The faces of Syria's refugee crisis

In January, donors generously pledged to fund the U.N.'s largest-ever short-term emergency appeal to help those affected by the conflict in Syria, promising a massive $1.5 billion.

But so far, most of the funds have failed to materialize. The U.N. says it has received just 20% of the money promised so far.

That means some very difficult decisions will soon have to be made on the ground.

Want to help Syrian refugees? To donate or get involved, click below:

Mercy Corps
Oxfam
ShelterBox
Save the Children
UN Refugee Agency
UNICEF
War Child UK
World Vision

The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, which funds Oxfam's emergency work in Zaatari, where the agency is installing latrines, showers and washing areas, says it has only received 9% of the funds it needs for its work in Jordan.

UNICEF has warned that without more money, it will have to scale back, even on life-saving interventions, including water, sanitation, hygiene work and child protection.

Read more: Syrian war 'everybody's problem'

The crisis is spiralling out of control. There are now one million registered refugees, though the true number is far higher, since many fleeing Syria choose not to register. An end to the conflict is nowhere in sight, meaning that the flood of refugees leaving the country is likely to continue.

Host countries, including Lebanon and Jordan, must be commended for keeping their borders open and providing help. But the refugee numbers -- which currently account for 8% of Lebanon's total population and around 5% of the Jordanian population, are now straining limited resources.

Tensions are starting to appear between local host populations, who until now have been extremely generous, and the new refugees, as there's greater competition for affordable housing, health and school facilities.

Even if peace could be secured, that doesn't address the longer-term issue: Funding will be needed to help families rebuild their shattered lives, for months and years to come.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Caroline Gluck.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
March 4, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Syria has submitted a revised proposal "that aims to complete the removal of all chemicals" from the country before the end of April.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1032 GMT (1832 HKT)
CNN's Arwa Damon reports on ISIS defector who says destroying ISIS as critical as defeating regime.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0353 GMT (1153 HKT)
The U.S. wants a United Nations resolution that will, among other things, bring humanitarian aid for refugees in Syria.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
When the radical Islamist militia ISIS arrived in the Syrian town of Addana a year ago, many welcomed them. What followed changed their minds.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1449 GMT (2249 HKT)
CNN obtained video clips from Syrian activists documenting the atrocities committed by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 2017 GMT (0417 HKT)
On Crossfire, Danielle Pletka discusses what the U.S. needs to do to resolve the Syria crisis.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 0101 GMT (0901 HKT)
Her almond-shaped brown eyes shine through her sunken face as a doctor lifts her sweater to reveal a tiny rib cage pushing against her skin.
February 4, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is home to around 100,000 Syrian refugees. CNN spent several days meeting the residents of the camp.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts have found "direct evidence" of "torture and killing" by the Assad regime.
Traumatized children who have witnessed the horrors of war are being helped to read -- and rebuild a normal life. CNN's Becky Anderson reports.
January 23, 2014 -- Updated 1207 GMT (2007 HKT)
A battle zone tour organized by the Syrian government for CNN and several other media outlets Wednesday was more than bizarre.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1735 GMT (0135 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert meets with the family of a little girl who was wounded in Syria, now living in a refugee camp.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
110 year old, Jabari Alawali walked for over 10 hours to reach Jordan from Syria.
ADVERTISEMENT