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For Syrian refugees, apathy turns into open hostility

A recent United Nations report indicates that the total number of Syrian refugees now surpasses three million

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

A recent United Nations report indicates that the total number of Syrian refugees now surpasses three million with at least another 6.5 million displaced within Syria. As the war-torn country reaches yet another morbid landmark and as discussions surrounding security and terrorism now dominate most conversations regarding the conflict, the international community led by the U.S. must still demonstrate the seriousness of their commitment to Syrian refugees.

Neighboring countries are overwhelmed with the relentless influx of those fleeing the conflict, with Turkey – long bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis – experiencing a significant uptick in violence against Syrians. Several weeks ago, Turkish officials secured the safe transfer of at least 2,000 refugees – 400 families – from the southeastern city of Gazianetep to nearby refugee camps after days of volatile unrest and demonstrations against Syrians erupted into violence, injuring at least several people.

An in-depth Oxfam report reveals that the international community is epically failing at addressing the humanitarian crisis

Brooklyn Middleton

Meanwhile, the situation in Lebanon, where – despite an estimated population of 1.1 million Syrian refugees, no official camp has been constructed – is a true catastrophe. Recent reports have indicated Lebanese officials will finally begin building official camps with the decision coming amid a major surge in violence; days ago, gunmen ransacked a makeshift refugee camp, setting tents alight in what was the latest in a string of “revenge attacks.” In August, fierce clashes between jihadist factions and Lebanese security forces led to at least 30 Syrian refugees being burned to death, their charred bodies found strewn about in a makeshift refugee camp on the outskirts of the restive border town of Arsal.

The reality

The reality of fleeing Syria only to be burned to death in brutal spillover in Lebanon is as unbearable as it is preventable; radical Syrian rebel factions including al-Nusra Front cadres have slowly infiltrated Lebanese territory and it was only inevitable their wrath would strike Syrian refugees. Lebanon and the international community cannot feign shock over their deaths; makeshift camps housing vulnerable refugees fail to offer protection against even the most basic threats – this is an obvious fact proven year after year.

Amid heightened tensions between local populations and refugees and mounting concerns of diseases triggered by the unsanitary living conditions in the unofficial camps, an in-depth Oxfam report reveals that the international community is epically failing at addressing the humanitarian crisis on a myriad of different fronts. The damning report indicates that the U.S. has contributed only 60 percent of what the aid organization refers to as its “fair share” obligation. Russia, despite being seen as a supporter of the Assad government in Syria, has given only one percent. Shamefully, the report went on to note that Japan, Italy, and France have all given under 35 percent of their “fair share.”

The impetus to contribute sufficiently to mitigate the crisis shouldn’t only be assessed as an ethical consideration – it is unlikely there will be any significant progress made against radical rebel factions’ recruitment of Syrians while the humanitarian disaster continues raging.

Poignant question

In an especially trenchant Op-Ed, Eleanor Acer with Human Rights First called out the United States for only settling 121 Syrian refugees, asking the poignant question: “If the country with the largest resettlement program in the world doesn't step up, who will?”

This is spot-on, of course, but while the U.S. is likely to continue citing bureaucratic red tape as a weak excuse for the lack of progress on the resettling front, it would be less easy for the U.S. to justify not contributing to Lebanon’s efforts to begin constructing suitable refugee camps and to Turkey’s existing programs for Syrian refugees.

In President Obama’s address to the nation regarding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - hours before the 13th anniversary of the September 11th al-Qaeda attacks - he noted his administration’s commitment to protecting “innocent civilians who’ve been displaced by this terrorist organization.” Moreover, predicating the need for change in his foreign policy on regional security considerations, his administration has shifted from an almost entirely hands-off approach to Syria to a far more involved role. But notably, President Obama has also begun publicly incorporating justifications for action based on humanitarian concerns; this is a critical development and one that must be extended to all Syrians affected by the conflict.

While the U.S. continues mulling the most effective way to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS – without giving even the slightest boost to the Assad regime - it must also indicate its seriousness at aiding Syrian refugees, beginning with contributing that crucial 40 percent at a minimum.

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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.