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By Rana Moussaoui with Omar Ibrahim in Minyeh, AFP

Beirut — More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country’s civil war, the United Nations said on Thursday, with many now despairing that they will ever return to their conflict-wracked homeland.

“We don’t think about going back to Syria. What we think about from day-to-day is how to keep our children alive,” said Yassin al-Ali, a Syrian refugee living in northern Lebanon.

Ali, 45, lives with his wife and three children in an informal refugee camp, that has no electricity or drinking water, on agricultural land where many refugees work long hours to eke out a meager salary.

“No one in the world is working seriously to end the conflict so that we can go home,” said Ali, who fled his home in the central Homs province at the onset of the conflict that began in March 2011.

Many of the more than 4 million Syrians now living as refugees in the Middle East and beyond share Ali’s resentment and sense of abandonment.

“Over the years, we’ve realized that the promises made by the United States and others were just empty air,” said Osama al-Raqa, 22, who missed attending university because of the war.

“I dream of leaving to Europe,” he said, in the same camp in the northern district of Minyeh.

“Europeans eat and live in houses. We, on the other hand, are homeless and the whole world treats us like a burden.”

Syria’s conflict began with anti-government protests but spiraled into a war after a regime crackdown.

It has since claimed more than 230,000 lives, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Refugees ‘Sinking Into Poverty’

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Thursday that the number of Syrian refugees now stands at 4,013,000 people, with another 7.6 million displaced inside the country.

“This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

“It is a population that needs the support of the world but is instead living in dire conditions and sinking deeper into poverty.”

UNHCR said 1 million Syrians had become refugees in just the last 10 months, and the overall number could grow to 4.27 million by the end of the year if the pace continued.

The crisis is the largest handled by UNHCR in a single conflict for nearly 25 years, since the agency assisted some 4.6 million Afghan refugees in 1992.

Most Syrian refugees are sheltering in neighboring countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, where many live in poverty with few legal protections.

“Worsening conditions are driving growing numbers towards Europe and further afield,” Guterres said, adding that poverty was also driving increased child labor and early marriage among refugees.

UNHCR estimated that $5.5 billion are needed this year to help Syrian refugees and the increasingly overwhelmed communities hosting them.

By June it had received just 24 percent of that amount, forcing cuts to food aid and schooling for refugees.

‘Nothing Has Changed’

In Lebanon, where the government has not allowed the creation of formal refugees camps, host communities are struggling with an influx of more than 1 million Syrians.

That has strained the already-stretched resources of a country with only 4 million citizens, and prompted the government to tighten its borders and crack down on those without official papers.

“The police detained my four sons with seven other people on Sunday because they didn’t have papers,” said Khaled Sheikh, 53, who described the camp in Minyeh as like a prison.

“We don’t have any work, and we can’t leave the camp” for fear of arrest.

Syrians made up a third of the 137,000 people who tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in the first half of 2015, the UNHCR says.

Guterres urged European countries to do more to “fully assume their responsibilities and … extend the mechanisms of solidarity that have been created.”

NGO Oxfam also urged the international community to “restore the lost faith in humanity of an entire generation” by donating more, taking in refugees and working to end the Syrian conflict.

On the ground in Minyeh, refugees said they had no expectation that the international community or the media would do anything to help.

“I don’t want to talk to the media. I’ve been talking to the media for three years and nothing has changed,” one woman said.

Photo: Daily life in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, located 10 kilometers east of Mafraq, Jordan, on June 04, 2014. Dominic Chavez/World Bank via Flickr

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.