Tag Archives: Lebanon

The Syrian Civil War is Far From Over

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For more background information on the Syrian Civil War check out this post or read my preceding update on Syria.

At least 150,000 people have been killed as the Syrian Civil War enters its fourth year of fighting. The bloodshed has become so devastating and the fighting so entrenched that the United Nations has ceased formally counting the casualties because of a lack of verifiable information. Since the shock from learning of atrocities has subsided and without a major breakthrough by either side, coverage and interest in the conflict has waned. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the longer the civil war continues, the more the security of the whole region will be threatened, and the tougher it will be for millions of civilians to return to normalcy.

The total number of Syrians who have fled the country is now around three million according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres as 2.6 million have officially registered as a refugee in a foreign country. For comparison, if the same percentage of people were to flee the United States that would amount to nearly 42 million refugees, more than the entire population of California. Even if the civil war were to suddenly cease tomorrow, the effects will be felt for years to come for Syrians in the country and those who have resettled regionally and internationally.

The first and second rounds of the Geneva II Conference concluded quietly in February and failed to accomplish anything meaningful. A third round is potentially in the works but there is heavy pessimism on all sides because little has changed and it seems nobody is willing to truly reconcile on key issues. In terms of chemical weapons, it is still possible for the OPCW (the Nobel Peace Prize winning organization tasked with removing the weapons) to complete their mission before the proposed deadline of mid-2014. While taking chemical weapons out of the equation is a great accomplishment and should be praised, unfortunately this is only a minor element of the war at large and will not by itself have a ripple effect in lowering violence.

Spillover from the conflict is apparent through violent attacks in Iraq and Lebanon, and is causing a constant worry for Syria’s other neighbors of Jordan and Turkey. Whether it be violence directly occurring within Lebanon, or the collapse of local markets in southern Turkey, sprawling animosities and the refugee crisis are impacting the region as a whole. International and regional aid has been fluctuating depending on the circumstances, but obviously the longer the conflict goes on the costlier it will be and the more difficult it will be to properly gain the resources necessary to rebuild.

Fighting and shelling may have subsided in some areas, but it is clear that the underlying tensions are just as pressing as ever. Without any political reconciliation or any kind of formal cease-fire, any drop in direct combat between government forces and the opposition could very well translate to an increase in irregular and indirect fighting. Unfortunately too many Syrians and international fighters on both sides are still making the choice to enter the battlefield and risk their lives instead of suing for peace or seeking alternative solutions. A cessation to the bloodshed cannot be instituted successfully without the acquiescence of fighters on the ground, and the process cannot move as quickly in the right direction without international resources and assistance.

What can be done is to not ignore or brush aside the problems of Syria as ‘business as usual.’ These are real people who may be a half a world away but deserve the world’s attention because the atrocities and the devastation have continued and will continue. A renewed effort at seeking political reconciliation and an emphasis on how little violence has accomplished thus far should be a priority. There are next to no opportunities present for either side to seriously consider putting down their weapons because the incentives to disarm have been too few, and too many grievances have not addressed. Even small, concerted efforts towards a cease-fire could have beneficial impacts in the long term. Syria will not conclude its civil war until the Assad issue has been resolved, and the opposition has presented a real alternative.

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Lebanon’s Growing Refugee Crisis

Lebanon1In early September, the number of external refugees from the Syrian Civil War topped two million and a little over a month later the number continues to steadily rise. The number of internally displaced civilians is also alarmingly high at over 5 million. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres declared that the conflict had devolved into, “a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history.”  Lebanon has been received the most refugees out of Syria and is now facing its own internal crisis in in trying to aid the hundreds of thousands fleeing into its territory.

At the onset of the Syrian Civil War, Lebanon had two major positions in regards to the crisis. First, it would not become involved directly in the conflict and secondly, they would not deny entry to any refugees entering into Lebanon from Syria. Lebanon is a country of only around 4 million to begin with, and the UN tally reports that over one in three of all Syrian external refugees are in Lebanon. Thus the nearly 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon account for over one-fifth of the country’s population.

The majority of refugees both in Lebanon and in neighboring countries are women and children. Over one-fourth of the housing for refugees within Lebanon is substandard and housing prices in Lebanon are much higher than in Syria. More than 70% of families have at least one child out of school, and the language differences play a major role. (Syrian children are more often taught Arabic in school, Lebanese students primarily take lessons in French or English). Lebanese have opened their homes for many refugees, but such assistance is expected to last only temporarily as there is already such a great strain on the country. Furthermore, there is discrimination and conflict within the refugee community in Lebanon between Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian refugees.

(Much of the above information in the above paragraph was taken from an American Near East Refugee Aid presentation)

Concerns over the situation in Lebanon are growing and some analysts have already referred to the situation as nearing a breaking point. Infrastructure and food shortage fears have risen, but so far Lebanon has been able to marginally cope thanks to international assistance. A World Bank Report estimated that the effects of the Syrian Civil War will double Lebanon’s unemployment and cost it $7.5 billion dollars in cumulative losses by the end of 2013. Statistics are one thing, but what will be more telling is how Lebanon is able to withstand supporting such an incredibly large refugee population in the long run. While it is unlikely that the situation will completely break down in the near future, the strain of millions of Syrian refugees will test the stability of Lebanon over time. The longer that the civil war remains unresolved, the more and more Lebanon will have to rely on the international community in supporting its Syrian guests.

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