Breaking Down the Numbers of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Posted by Caroline Raclin / February 10, 2013

A Syrian refugee stands on top of a water tank at Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, January 9, 2013. [AP File Photo]

Caroline Raclin is a Special Assistant in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) at the U.S. Department of State. She traveled with a joint State Department-USAID delegation to Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait January 22-31, 2013.

It was near midnight. We were driving in the desert with no headlights, and Syria was 20 feet to my left. To the right was a mass of shapes -- it took me a minute to realize I was looking at 850 Syrians who had just crossed safely into Jordan. One man was carrying designer luggage normally seen in airplane cabins; one girl had no shoes. I walked amongst these scared, war-numbed people, and it hit me that this was only a tiny portion of those leaving Syria.

Roughly 763,000 people have fled Syria -- 240,000 to Jordan -- and an estimated 2.5 million are displaced internally. Before that night, those numbers seemed horrific, but had little real meaning to me. They are round statistics, indicators of an escalating war. But after hearing a woman recall her husband's death and a family describe their village being leveled by barrels of explosives, I better understood the scale and frequency of atrocities.

The next day we visited Za'atri camp, where some refugees I met that night are now living. They had received a sturdy tent, bedding, and food rations. There is an area for children to play, many health clinics, and psychosocial support for survivors of gender-based violence. Though not comparable to their former lives in Syria, Za'atri is a safe place for families to heal. The difference between their situation the previous night in the desert and that morning in Za'atri was astounding.

We also met refugees settled in the town of Mafraq; roughly 70 percent of all refugees in Jordan live in urban areas. One family, headed by an elderly woman and including 13 children, was receiving rental assistance from humanitarian organizations. A man was using food vouchers to shop at the local market. Though the vouchers didn't cover Nutella, he also bought it as a rare treat for his kids.

So where is this assistance coming from? While the generosity of host communities cannot be overestimated, the majority of assistance has been provided by the international community; and the United States has been both a principal financial supporter and leading humanitarian advocate for the Syrian people. The United States has given $365 million, including $155 million at a recent conference intended to bolster the UN response to Syria. Over 50 countries pledged more than $1.5 billion, and the UN will use this money to help those inside Syria and in neighboring countries.

Once again, the numbers are mindboggling. I can't imagine what $1.5 billion looks like, so I think about it another way: $3,200 buys one prefabricated trailer for a family of five. $80 provides enough food vouchers to feed two children for a month. $150 buys blankets for 10 young men in the bitter winter.

Sadly, the continuing war will result in thousands more Syrians fleeing their homes. But instead of being cowed by the unfathomable numbers, I will remember the terrified families that night on the Syrian border and know that this is both a mass and an individual crisis.

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Mari in the U.S.A. writes:

To Lelia P.: I think that it is very likely that the Obama administration is in fact arming the al-Qaeda elements in Syria, using Qatar as a proxy as they did with Libya.

Posted on Thu Feb 14, 2013

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Folks say "there is no cookie cutter aproach" to a given crisis, but yet they allways try and advocate for a "diplomatic solution".

Well, in some crisis...and Syria is one, where there is no diplomatic solution.

It should be quite self evident to everyone including the Russians that only force of arms will enable the transition of power from Assad's government into a transitional one that can actually achive some actual "diplomatic solution" internally to resolve the conflict. A diplomatic resolution to the civil war in syria is not possible with Assad still in control of miltary forces, and the sooner he and his minions are defeated on the battlefield, the faster the Syrian people can live in peace and start to rebuild their nation.

This is the stark reality.

The President said tonight that "We will continue to put pressure on ..." in regards to Addad and his continued murder of Syrian citizens.

Well Let me just opine to folks @ State, that when a feloow destroys the nation he leads and murders its citizens, yet remains unscathed in his own delusions of grandure sitting fat and happy unharmed in his palacial digs...that "continued pressure" is a poor and bankrupt joke, a vile insult, and a hypocritical mockery of the President's own call for Assad to step down.

I know this sounds harsh and unforgiving of impotence in the face of the wanton acts of tyrants...and it is.

But if you want to "put pressure on..."

Then make Assad homeless...and drop a big rock on his house!

Oh what? Are we afraid the Russians would get upset/ or that somehow America would violate Syrian soveregnity, or worse...engage in the targeted killing of a terrorist?

Oh please...let the world whine about it after the fact, while the Syrian people breath a sigh of relief at long last that Amereica finally did the right thing, despite the objections of Assad's supporters.

Best regards to Sec. Kerry; as a citizen I am obligated to call it like I see it, and I have met my obligation hereby.


Posted on Wed Feb 13, 2013

John in Tennessee writes:

Although any war zone is tragic, I really don't see how the US can be financially responsible for Syria's refugee's...We are currently undergoing a financial struggle in own Gov and economy right now.

Posted on Tue Feb 12, 2013

Ashim C. in India writes:

365 million and 1.5 billion works to less than a dollar and little more than 3 dollars respectively.

Posted on Tue Feb 12, 2013

Lelia P. in New York writes:

Mari, your point's interesting because the 'al-Qaeda-affiliated mercenaries' are angry at the US for *not* providing support (e.g. guns) and instead funneling money to the somewhat impartial UN.

It's a sticky situation, trying to mix impartial humanitarian aid and an obviously partial government, but I think the US goverment is walking the line ok.

- Not born An American, but proud to be one

Posted on Mon Feb 11, 2013

Edmund R. writes:

Ms. Raclin's description of life around the war zone and the work done to help the helpless adapt to their new and hard life caused by war deeply moved me. She put a face on the faceless, the masses who are displaced and depend so much on the good will of the US government. Bravo for our side of someone else's war. America at its best!!

Posted on Mon Feb 11, 2013

Mari in the U.S.A. writes:

Sadly, the US bears a major share of the responsibility for the crisis, since our government has opted for supporting al-Qaeda-affiliated mercenaries in an effort to get "regime change", rather than adhering to the UN charter and supporting a diplomatic solution.

Posted on Mon Feb 11, 2013

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