With the Syrian conflict raging on, Thea Osborne, Online Features Columnist, asks what is the resulting impact on Syria.
As it enters its fourth year of death and displacement the war in Syria still appears to be far from over. With the death toll thought to be over 100,000 and over 2.5 million registered refugees the conflict is emerging to be one of the most destructive of the generation.
The impact of the conflict globally is starting to raise concerns over the radicalisation of foreign fighters and the polarisation of international powers in their support for the numerous opposition groups or the Assad regime. Nowhere is the impact larger though than on the Arab countries neighbouring Syria who are increasingly being overwhelmed with desperate Syrians seeking refuge.
Huge refugee camps resembling giant shanty cities have emerged in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon close to the Syrian border. While the UK has offered to take 500 of the ‘most traumatised’ Syrian refugees, Lebanon is Syria’s smallest neighbour but it has taken the largest number of refugees and now has a population made up of 25 per cent Syrian refugees, numbering around a million. This is the equivalent of 80 million Mexicans arriving in the United States over a period of 18 months. Lebanon is now the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in world. The social and economic impact of this influx is understandably vast.
Lebanon’s entire confessional political system is based on an extremely fine ethnic and religious balance within the country between Sunni, Shia, Christian Maronites, Druze and many others. The Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990 was fought along ethnic and religious lines between these groups and resulted in ongoing sectarian tensions as well as the military presence of Israel in the south of the country until 2000. The fragility of the Lebanese social and political balance is inevitably being placed under an unrelenting strain by the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria.
Exacerbating the problem further is the fact that the majority of the refugees have settled in the northern region of the country where Lebanon’s poorest communities live adding further strain to already limited resources and creating tension. Water, sanitation and waste services are stretched to the point of creating serious health risks to both refugees and locals alike. Families often fleeing horrific persecution and violence in Syria are now faced with destitution and disease.
The UN has established the International Support Group in Lebanon in response to the crisis but international support is still desperately sought after, particularly from European nations so unwilling to house the refugees themselves.
The alliance between the Assad leadership and the Shia militia group, Hezbollah, within Lebanon creates a further complicated dimension to Lebanon’s involvement. The border area between the two countries has increasingly been sucked into the conflict as rebel troops in Syria fire at Shia towns to punish them for Hezbollah’s support of Assad and Syrian regime troops target rebel strongholds hiding out along the border.
Last week Hezbollah and Assad’s forces combined to take the rebel stronghold of Yabroud just inside the Syrian border which created a flood of refugees and opposition fighters fleeing into Lebanon to avoid their attackers. Hezbollah’s presence and open support for Assad places many of the majority Sunni Syrian refugees at further risk.
The Syrian conflict is immeasurably complex and the Lebanese aspect and involvement is only a very small part of the larger picture, however; it, along with so many others affected by the conflict are desperately in need of international support.
Thea Osborne, Online Features Columnistbookmark me