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 wraps herself in a blanket as she stands near tents in the Suruc district near Sanliurfa, Turkey, on Thursday, October 2. As many as 200,000 people have left the area surrounding the Syrian city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, because of the militant group ISIS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in September. A Syrian refugee wraps herself in a blanket as she stands near tents in the Suruc district near Sanliurfa, Turkey, on Thursday, October 2. As many as 200,000 people have left the area surrounding the Syrian city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, because of the militant group ISIS, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in September.
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
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT