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As Syria’s two-year civil war rages out of control, more than one million refugees are seeking asylum in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, creating what the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls a “worsening humanitarian emergency.”
Refugees have settled in camps and surrounding cities, but have found that instead of sanctuary, they still face desperate conditions. Those displaced have been taken advantage of and forced to find shelter in sheds, barns, basements, abandoned buildings, or makeshift tent camps, according to IRC staff.
“We use a hole in the ground outside as a toilet and there’s no refrigerator,” a Syrian man living in Jordan stated in an IRC report. “But we don’t have any money to buy fresh food anyway. It is better here than in Syria because we’re safe, at least. But we lost everything, including our dignity and our privacy.”
Many of the refugees have to pay for shelter or plots of land to pitch a tent, which is difficult for the majority who fled with only the clothes on their backs.
“A number of women and aid workers told me that some landlords exploit their tenants’ poverty,” an IRC representative reported on the organization’s website. “Without a steady income, families quickly run out of money for rent. Then a young daughter may be coerced into marrying the landlord in exchange for housing. If there is no young daughter, the euphemism for the mother’s only other option is what’s called survival sex.”
In addition, “Domestic violence in refugee communities is exacerbated by the economic stress and poor living conditions,” the IRC report stated. “Syrian women say they feel unsafe in crowded shelters where they have minimal privacy, yet they are scared to report violence, because of shame or fear of reprisal from family members. Others just don’t know where to turn for help.”
Besides a lack of food, electricity and plumbing, weather conditions have caused major challenges. Those without insulated or water-tight shelters are finding themselves in freezing conditions and pools of putrid water and mud when it rains.
“Many children...are already sick from poor water and sanitation” with their “health likely to worsen with the weather,” the report stated.
It revealed these emerging health concerns do not include those suffering from life-threatening war wounds, chronic illnesses, and other medical issues.
With no end to the conflict in sight, conditions are only predicted to worsen. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres stated during a press conference as reported by Reuters: “Now if this escalation goes on...and nothing happens to solve the problem, we might have in the end of the year a much larger number of refugees, two or three times the present level.”