Skip to main content

Humanitarian crisis spilling from Syria

By Megan Bradley, Special to CNN
September 11, 2013 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
Syrian refugees board a boat bound for Turkey at a port in Kyrenia, Cyprus, on Sunday, November 23. Some 220 Syrian migrants crammed onto a fishing boat were rescued by a cruise ship off Cyprus' northern coast after their vessel hit rough seas in the Mediterranean Sea, authorities said. Syrian refugees board a boat bound for Turkey at a port in Kyrenia, Cyprus, on Sunday, November 23. Some 220 Syrian migrants crammed onto a fishing boat were rescued by a cruise ship off Cyprus' northern coast after their vessel hit rough seas in the Mediterranean Sea, authorities said.
HIDE CAPTION
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Photos: Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Photos: Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
Syria's refugee crisis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Megan Bradley met traumatized, fearful Syrian refugees at a camp and hospital in Jordan
  • She says neighbor countries' hugely generous to shelter them; global community must help
  • She says it's crucial to keep borders open for fleeing Syrians and to keep kids in school
  • Bradely: Helping displaced still in Syria very hard; opposition needs help to provide social aid

Editor's note: Megan Bradley is a fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where she works with the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. Her work addresses the rights and well-being of internally displaced persons and refugees. Her research also examines issues of transitional justice and accountability for human rights violations. She is the author of Refugee Repatriation: Justice, Responsibility and Redress (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

(CNN) -- Last month at Zaatari, the second-largest refugee camp in the world, I met an accountant who carried his 6-day-old baby across the Jordanian border from Syria, and a mother who cannot find her 20-year-old son -- and knows all too well what has likely happened to him. I saw parents too frightened to let their children out of their sight, even to go to school.

And while visiting Syrian refugees recovering in a hospital in Amman, Jordan from some of the violence that perhaps foreshadowed the August 21 chemical attacks on Syrian citizens, I spoke with a woman whose daughter died in her arms. These refugees' stories, interspersed with images of white-shrouded children lying dead -- poisoned in the Damascus suburbs -- have stayed fresh in my mind.

The debates in the press over the past three weeks imply that whether or not the United States and its allies apply "lethal force" in Syria is the defining question of this crisis. Whether the United States intervenes militarily is a hugely important question -- politically, strategically, legally and morally. But it is not the only one. For the civilians bearing the staggering weight of this war, it is not even the most pressing one.

The war has raised a huge range of unanswered questions and challenges for humanitarian actors that will persist long after any "symbolic" or even intensive military operation. These are imperative to Syrians' survival and the region's long-term stability and must not be crowded out as politicians and pundits wrangle over the use of force.

First and foremost is the question of how to keep borders open for refugees. More than 2 million Syrian refugees have now fled their country. The hospitality of Syria's neighboring states towards these refugees has been breathtaking.

Education sought for Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees seek sanctuary in Egypt
Refugees flood Lebanon border

For example, more than one in four people in Lebanon today are Syrian, representing a level of generosity toward refugees that has never been matched by any Western state. Yet -- particularly in Lebanon and Jordan -- the refugee crisis has resulted in higher rents, reduced wages, overstretched social services, and increased pressure on already limited water supplies. All this has ratcheted up local tensions, and increased pressure on governments to limit arrivals.

While the Jordanian border remains officially open, over the summer UN officials reported "artificially low" arrivals, suggesting that would-be refugees may be encountering obstacles to their escape. Hurdles are also emerging for Syrians wishing to cross the Lebanese border. As the crisis escalates, redoubled international support is needed to ensure Syria's neighbors can accept new arrivals. This support must benefit not only the refugees but also the communities that are hosting them.

A second, related question is how to get Syrian refugee children into school. Last month -- it really was a hellish month -- marked what the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees called a "shameful milestone": The number of Syrian refugee children reached 1 million. Many of these children are not in school (by some estimates, 75% of children in Zaatari are not in school) and have already missed months if not years of schooling inside Syria before fleeing abroad.

Some kids are not attending school because they are working to support their families; other refugee children living in towns and cities lack the money to get to school, or are afraid of harassment. As bombs drop, getting kids in school may not seem that urgent, but the long-term impacts of a "lost generation" of Syrian children would be disastrous.

Deprived of educational opportunities, these children are at risk of future unemployment, social marginalization and frustration, potentially prompting them to turn to extremist causes. More attention and assistance is needed inside and outside the camps to overcome the barriers that are keeping refugee children out of class.

Equally important is the question of how to do more to assist the estimated 5.1 million Syrians who are displaced within their own country. Two million of these are minors, and many are at risk of physical violence and forced recruitment. The internally displaced are much more difficult for humanitarian groups to reach, and are out of the media spotlight, which is trained on refugee camps and settlements in neighboring states. But we need to be asking what new and creative ways can be found to improve protection and support for this population.

Last, but certainly not least, is the question of how to strengthen Syria's democratic opposition. This is not just a matter of access to weapons and military training, but the development of civil society organizations. Many Syrian refugees have already banded together to support others inside and outside Syria, including through the provision of medical assistance. We need to be asking what more can be done to strengthen and scale up such laudable initiatives.

Despite the devastation they are enduring, the Syrian refugees I met in Jordan are proud, industrious people. They have the capacity to recover and eventually rebuild their country -- but if Western countries are to effectively support them, we can't let the use of force become the only question on the agenda.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Megan Bradley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT