On Friday, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported nearly 230,000 registered Syrian refugees have fled their homeland to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Of these, at least 80,000 have fled to Turkey.
Just in the last week, two more refugee camps have opened in Turkey to handle the rising number of Syrians fleeing the violence of civil war. Three more are expected to open to handle an additional 30,000 in the coming weeks, according to the UNHCR. In Jordan, the Za’tari camp currently is hosting more than 23,000 refugees, with about 1,400 new arrivals daily. Syrians fleeing to Kurdistan in Iraq are growing in number.
Resources are strained to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to Syrians taking refuge, as sanitation, bedding, water and food are urgently needed. Turkish officials have indicated that 100,000 refugees may be their limit, but at current rates of arrival the refugee population appears certain to exceed limits suggested by Syria’s neighbors individually as well as collectively.
Neighboring countries are concerned that Syrian violence also will spill into their territory as they seek support from the international community, and the United Nations specifically, to share in the burden by setting up refugee camps in Syria itself. The United States and Western nations hesitant to become saddled with involvement.
Christians in Lebanon are particularly fearful of the arrival of Sunni Muslim refugees arriving there from Syria. Sunni leadership of rebel forces in Syria is a source of fear also for Christians in Syria itself, who comprise about 10% of the population.
On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council warned against any attempts to undermine security and stability in Lebanon, which has experienced numerous violent outbreaks due to tensions with Syria since spring 2011. The warning came couched in a unanimous resolution to renew peacekeeping presence via the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, condemning “all attempts to threaten the security and stability of Lebanon, reaffirming its determination to ensure that no such acts of intimidation will prevent UNIFIL from implementing its mandate.”
U.S. concerns particularly focus on possible use of chemical or biological weapons by the Syrian government against its own people, including those fleeing. President Obama warned Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last Monday not to cross that “red line” and suggested that the U.S. would consider military action in response to such a move.