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Opinion

For regional stability, help Syria's internally displaced

More than 5.75 million Syrians have been displaced in the two-year civil war. Some have fled to neighbor countries as refugees, but 4.25 million remain in Syria. Increased aid for these internally displaced is essential to managing the refugee crisis and maintaining regional stability.

By Megan BradleyOp-ed contributor / June 12, 2013

An internally displaced boy looks out of a tent in a village outside Damascus, Syria, Jan. 29. Op-ed contributor Megan Bradley writes: '[A]n improved response to Syria’s 4.25 million internally displaced persons requires not only money, but better access for humanitarian actors, and increased security for the displaced and their neighbors.'

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters/File

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More than a quarter of Syria’s population – 5.75 million people – have been displaced in the country’s two-year civil war. Media coverage, UN debates, and diplomatic interventions have focused largely on the implications of the refugee crisis for the stability of neighboring countries – particularly Jordan and Lebanon, which are now each sheltering approximately 475,000 Syrians. Less attention has been paid to what the UN General Assembly recently called the “very dire situation” of the more than 4.25 million Syrians uprooted within their own country.

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They are Syria’s internally displaced – forced from their homes, living within a war-torn country, with no place to go, often struggling to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and medical care. This crisis demands increased attention.

A recent humanitarian assessment of the ravaged governorates of northern Syria concluded that the internally displaced consistently rank as the population group most at risk of abuse and deprivation. Increased protection and assistance for the internally displaced is also essential to managing the refugee crisis, and maintaining regional stability.

Before they fled to neighboring states, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees were first displaced within their own country. Many internally displaced Syrians fled their country and became refugees due to violence and fear of attacks. Others who might have chosen to remain in Syria were forced to seek shelter abroad because of inadequate access to food, medical care, water, sanitation, and schools within their own country.

Why would anyone remain in a country where children are starving to death, and bread lines are bombed? Some Syrians have little choice, as they lack a safe escape route, or the resources to flee abroad.

Others, particularly those who have found shelter in relatively stable areas, may remain to care for family members unable to travel far, to continue working, or to watch over assets such as livestock or businesses. While humanitarian action cannot halt the bloodshed in Syria, increased assistance could make the option of staying in Syria more plausible for those who wish – or have – to do so.

For example, an estimated 30,000 doctors have now left Syria. The group Refugees International reports that some doctors displaced from northern Syria say they wanted to stay in the region to provide urgently needed care, but with their salaries no longer being paid, they have had to move to Turkey in order to provide for their families.

Some, working with aid groups founded by refugees and diaspora members, slip back across the border into Syria to care for the sick and wounded. With humanitarian agencies indicating that access to health care is the most severe need in northern Syria, this is a critical contribution. Supporting and expanding such health-care initiatives may make it more viable for those who wish to remain in Syria to do so, lessening the pressure on refugee-hosting states.

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