Skip to main content

Humanitarian crisis spilling from Syria

By Megan Bradley, Special to CNN
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
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.
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
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
>
>>
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
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT