By Mitchell Prothero, McClatchy Foreign Staff
IRBIL, Iraq — Nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced either internally or externally as refugees in the worst humanitarian crisis to strike the Middle East in at least a century, according to new data released by the International Rescue Committee.
The complex civil war, which has now morphed into a three-way free-for-all among rebels, the Syrian regime, and a caliphate of Islamic extremists attacking virtually everyone, has driven at least 3 million people from Syria into neighboring countries. The movement is stressing already fragile nations such as Jordan and Lebanon, who have born the brunt of the exodus even as both deal with their own unstable internal political situations.
Turkey also has received hundreds of thousands of refugees and continues to struggle to control its own border; thousands of foreign Jihadi fighters have used Turkey to access the Syrian battlefield. They offset the tens of thousands of Syrian fleeing the fighting, leaving southern Turkey awash in desperate refugees and militants of all stripes.
In terms of world history, the IRC, considered one of the world’s most effective aid organizations, says the situation has reached a level of disaster not seen worldwide since the Rwandan genocide more than 20 years ago that saw fewer people — about 1.5 million — displaced but nearly a million killed. The casualties in the Syrian conflict have been estimated by the United Nations conservatively at over 200,000 dead since it began in early 2011.
The lack of a coordinated international effort to address such an enormous catastrophe in the volatile region makes no sense in the modern era, according to an IRC official.
“This new milestone is as unacceptable as it is tragic. This level of human suffering, anguish, and misery does not belong in the 21st century — it is a devastating new hallmark of human failure,” said IRC President David Miliband. “It should not take these numbers for the crisis to hit the headlines — we are witnessing the biggest humanitarian catastrophe for a generation in one of the least stable and most dangerous parts of the world. This crisis needs more public attention, more international financing, and crucially more political endeavor to tackle the root of the crisis: political dysfunction that has led to violence, chaos, and death.”
The situation in Lebanon, which has absorbed at least 1.2 million refugees into an already unstable population of about 4 million people — and an additional estimated 300,000 Palestinian refugees that have been living in camps for decades — poses the greatest concern.
With a government widely considered the least effectual in an already unstable region, Lebanon has refused to formulate an official government plan to deal with crisis, leaving virtually all of the aid and organizational work to either outside aid groups or even to the refugees themselves, who instead of living in camps where the population can be easily accessed by aid groups — such as the enormous Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan — are scattered throughout Lebanon in small makeshift camps, private homes, or even living on the streets.
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