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The distribution of Syrians in the Middle East

This article provides an overview of the distribution of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
© European University Institute / CERC Migration, Ryerson University

Developing on from the video interview with Fulya Memisoglu, we now take a closer look at the principal host countries for refugees of what the UN has called ‘the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era’.

Despite widespread public attention and controversy surrounding the arrivals of Syrian refugees in Europe over the last three years, it is often forgotten in the West that since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in March 2011 the vast majority of refugees have been hosted in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. In her video interview, Fulya Memisoglu offers us an overview of the situation in Turkey. Here we provide some broader context about the mass-scale relocation of Syrian nationals in the Middle East.

In its most recent Global Trends Report, UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN’s Refugee Agency – estimated that at the end of 2016 more than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million was displaced and, of this number, over 5.5 million were refugees who had fled abroad. According to UNHCR figures for September 2017, 5,108,000 Syrians were living in the four neighbouring countries. The refugees were distributed as follows:

• 3,208,000 in Turkey

• 244,000 in Iraq

• 655,000 in Jordan

• 1,001,000 in Lebanon*

Considering that the total number of refugees continued to rise to over 6 million by autumn 2017, these four countries together host around 85% of Syrian refugees in the world. Their combined figure greatly overshadows the almost one million Syrians who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2015 (where the top receiving countries have been Germany and Sweden), the 40,000 who have been settled in Canada, the 22,000 humanitarian visas granted by Australia (which also includes Iraqi refugees) and the 18,000 resettled in the United States.

Only 10% of Syrian refugees hosted in the region actually live in camps, while the vast majority live among locals in both urban and rural areas. Nevertheless, most refugees face high levels of poverty, live in overcrowded conditions, and have few job opportunities and limited access to education, medical and social services. The situation in Lebanon is especially dramatic, where the 1 million Syrian refugees account for 20% of the total population of a country, which, at 10,452 square kilometres, is roughly the same size as the US State of Massachusetts and somewhat smaller than Montenegro in Europe or The Gambia in Africa.

In recognition of the need to tackle the refugee emergency but also the economic difficulties facing the host countries, in 2015 the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) was set up to coordinate efforts between Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt and UN agencies such as UNHCR and more than 200 NGOs. As declared in the foreword to recent strategic review, the 3RP ‘combines a humanitarian response focused on alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable, addressing basic needs and preventing large numbers of refugees from falling deeper into poverty, with longer term interventions bolstering the resilience of refugee and host communities, while also capacitating national systems’ (2017-2018 Plan, p.3).

In order to better understand the impact of Syrian refugees upon the neighbouring host countries, Katharina Lenner, sociologist at the University of Bath, will discuss in a following step the consequences that this displaced population has had for the Jordanian economy and job market.

*According to the same UNHCR figures for the end of September 2017, 125,000 Syrians were registered in Egypt and a further 30,000 individuals in the rest of North Africa.

© European University Institute / CERC Migration, Ryerson University
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