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Syrian Spillover: National Tensions, Domestic Responses and International Options

Authors Ellen Lust
Publisher Project on Middle East Democracy
Place of publication Washington, D.C
Publication year 2015
Published at
Language en
Subject categories Political Science


The Syrian conflict has resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, with 220,000 casualties, more than 7.6 million internally displaced persons, and about 3.8 million refugees. The refugee crisis places extraordinary pressures on Syria’s neighbors. Host communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt face increasing tensions over scarce resources as well as between the local and refugee populations. This report examines the Syrian refugee crisis and the challenges it poses to host countries and especially municipal administrations, which often lack both the resources and capacity to address the crisis effectively. The nature of Syrians fleeing their home country changed over time and varies across space. The first wave of refugees were either active supporters of the uprisings, while those fleeing later were worse off and therefore often forced to settle close to the border. Refugees are not distributed evenly across the region; Lebanon and Jordan are affected particularly severely. High numbers of refugees strain local services, including electricity, water systems, solid waste management, health services, and education. The refugee crisis has caused rent and food prices to rise, while depressing wages for low and medium-skilled workers. The refugee crisis spurs social and political tensions. Local residents often see refugee communities as disproportionately benefitting from humanitarian aid, while the presence of the refugees makes their own lives more difficult. Refugees can also alter the sectarian or ethnic balance and thus exacerbate pre-existing factional power roles, which may have especially severe consequences in Lebanon. Host communities have addressed the refugee crisis by trying to limit the impact of refugees, on the one hand, while attempting to adapt to changing circumstances, on the other. They have imposed border restrictions and established measures such as curfews, restrictions on owning businesses and property, and limits on movement in the country. Slowly, however, host communities realize that measures aimed exclusively at restricting the livelihoods of Syrian refugees will not succeed. Host communities have also sought to mobilize local resources and proposed institutional reforms to strengthen state performance and expand local powers. The international community has also become increasingly aware that the crisis calls for strengthening governance mechanisms. Despite enormous sums that have been poured into alleviating the Syrian crisis, international response plans have fallen short of targets. Moreover, resources are allocated unevenly. Only the most seriously affected communities are being served, and education, the training of health workers, and the provision of basic needs are particularly underfinanced. Moreover, international donors lack coordination, thus hampering the implementation of projects. The crisis requires steadfast engagement from the international community. The community should maintain commitments for humanitarian aid, assisting both host communities and refugees living inside and outside of camps. International actors should also help to foster communities’ abilities to mobilize resources. This can be accomplished, in part, by placing a premium on enhancing communities’ ability to undertake projects independently. Strengthening institutions that foster accountability and good governance can also help create resilient communities that can respond to the crisis—and potentially leave Syria’s neighbors with stronger institutions and more effective governance than before the crisis. At the same time, the international community should put pressure on Syria’s neighbors to maintain open borders and treat refugees with dignity, while opening their own borders to resettling refugees, thus alleviating pressures on Syria’s neighbors. Finally, the international community should work fervently to end the bloody civil war. Ultimately, the Syrian refugee crisis will end only when the tragic violence inside the country comes to an end.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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