Recently, much of the coverage of the Syrian civil war has focused on the two million refugees who have fled the country since the onset of the war. While this issue deserves all of the attention it receives, another issue which has been largely absent from the media coverage of the Syrian war is the staggering number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and refugee populations from other countries still in Syria, such as Iraqi refugees, who fled Iraq over the course of the last decade. These people are the forgotten victims of the Syrian war.
According to USAID, there are an estimated five million internally displaced persons in Syria. IDPs have been forced to flee their homes and now face stark living conditions. Those not able to take shelter in the homes of relatives must oftentimes live in abandoned properties or in makeshift tents. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to the
ongoing violence in the country. Additionally, IDPs in Syria are increasingly vulnerable to poverty, starvation, and disease. Unfortunately, IDPs receive little to no international aid for a couple of reasons. First, funding for humanitarian action has been minimal and fails to address the basic human needs like food, shelter, and medicine and clean water. The second reason is that the Syrian government has engaged in blocking international humanitarian aid in many areas of the country, making it difficult for many IDPs to access aid.
In addition to the vast number of Syrians who have been forced to flee from their home, the conflict has also greatly affected the Iraqi refugees in Syria. The UNHCR estimates that there are currently 480,000 Iraqis living in Syria, now facing the same violence they sought to avoid by coming to Syria. Even before the Syrian civil war, life in Syria was difficult for Iraqi refugees. As Iraqi refugees were not permitted to work when they came to Syria, this meant they depended on international aid, remittances, and what little income they could make from informal sector jobs. Unfortunately, this means that many Iraqis have been forced to resort to desperate measures to make ends meet, which can range anywhere from selling as much of their food assistance as they can manage to the prostitution of young girls. When the conflict in Syria began to spread, many Iraqi refugees were once again displaced within Syria to avoid the most violent areas of the country. Nevertheless, many Iraqi refugees are forced to remain in theses war torn areas of the country because they cannot afford to move to safer areas, where the rent is higher.
Currently, the assistance gap for Syrian refugees is huge, with only 45% of the UNHCR appeal for international aid having been met. While people generally associate this need with Syrians seeking refuge in other countries, it is just as important for Syrians and Iraqi refugees who have not fled the country. These individuals face an incredibly difficult situation which needs to be highlighted more moving forward. The international community must do more to assist the refugees of the Syrian conflict both inside and out of Syria’s borders. To help the UNHCR to provide assistance to refugees both within and outside of Syria, you can donate to the UNHCR appeal for Syrian refugees here.