The fog is dense and heavy as I watch yet another family queue in line at the Najjar Comprehensive Clinic, a health clinic located about two miles from the Syrian border in southern Turkey. The attending medical staff from International Medical Corps tell me that yesterday, more than 500 patients registered and received a broad spectrum of free health services, ranging from routine vaccinations to minor surgery. Today they expect to see about 350 by the end of the day. It’s only 11:00 am, and there have already been about 220 children, men, and women registered at the clinic. One of them is Hamida, whose infectious, youthful smile veils the story she is about to tell me.
Hamida is a mother of six children, all under 15 years of age, and she first came to the Najjar clinic about a year ago. She arrived in one of our ambulances that transported her from the Syria-Turkey border after she was hit by shrapnel from a barrel bomb. When first seen by the orthopedic surgeon at Najjar, part of the shrapnel was still in her body, wedged against her lower neck and pressing against her spine. Today, she is walking, albeit slowly, and has increasing movement in her arms – not enough to hold her youngest child; her mother helps her with that – but enough to lift her arms to show me the scars that appear to be healing well. The unseen scars from the trauma experienced by Hamida, her children, and her extended family will also heal one day, but recovery will take time and will not be as visible.
Unfortunately, Hamida’s story is not unique. She in one of more than 1.6 million Syrians who have come across the Turkish border, seeking refuge from a bloody war that will soon be entering its fifth year with no end in sight. Here in Turkey, refugees have come from Alepo, from IdIib, from Hamah. They are from small towns, once peaceful farmland, and the rural countryside that has been transformed into a battleground. The United Nations calls the Syria crisis the world’s largest humanitarian and security disaster. More than 12 million people inside Syria in need of humanitarian aid, 7.6 million of whom have been displaced from their homes, many of them multiple times as the frontlines of the conflict continue to shift. And more than 3.8 million Syrians have fled to the safety of neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are on the front lines of this crisis and are absorbing the lion’s share of Syria’s refugees. In addition to the social and economic stress of the influx of Syrian refugees, the Syria crisis now poses an even greater threat to regional peace and security, as evidenced by the recent unrest in Iraq. Humanitarian aid alone cannot address the ever-expanding needs in the region; it must be coupled with development-oriented programs that invest locally in people, communities, and institutions to help build resilience. This paradigm shift, as outlined in the United Nations Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), will help not only reduce the costs of humanitarian responses in the short- and medium-term but also affected communities and national systems, as they seek long-term, sustainable solutions to cope with the effects of the crisis.
With the average time a refugee remains in a host country approaching 20 years, the time for changing the way we address refugee needs is well overdue. The fate of Hamida and millions like her hangs in the balance.