Case study on Humanitarian crisis in Syria

Syria- An Introduction:

Syria is a West Asian country that has borders with Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. It also has a Mediterranean Sea beachfront to its west. Syrian Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Assyrians, Circassians, Armenians, Greeks, and Mandaeans are among Syria’s ethnic groupings and religious denominations, with Arabs constituting the biggest ethnic group. Sunnis, Alawites, Shiites, Christians, Jews, Mandaeans, Druze, Salafis, Ismailis, and Yazidis are among Syria’s religious communities. Sunni Muslims makes up the majority of the population. Syria was traditionally a territory that encompassed the ancient world’s Levantine areas. Syria’s present state has remnants of several past kingdoms and civilisations. Damascus, the country’s capital, and Aleppo, another metropolis, are among the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Syria became a parliamentary republic in 1945, when it joined the United Nations as a founding member. This marked the end of the French mandate in the province, which had been ruled by the Ottomans for centuries. A Ba’athist coup d’état took place in 1963, and the Ba’ath Party has been in power since. The country was in a state of emergency from 1963 to 2011, which meant that residents were not protected by the constitution.

The beginning of the problem:

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2011 and extended throughout the Arab world, including Syria. These were a series of peaceful and armed pro-democracy uprisings. The government crushed many of them with a strong fist. The Syrian government replied against the demonstrators, highlighting the country’s profound sectarian split. Protesters in the nation were violently suppressed. The civil conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, is still ongoing and has had a devastating impact on the Syrian people. As a result of the bloodshed, millions of people have been displaced and murdered. Syria has been a focal point for a number of proxy conflicts conducted by regional factions and foreign entities that support these factions. Syria was ranked lowest in the Global Peace Index from 2016 to 2018. In 2019, it moved up one position to the second-to-last position. ISIS, a terrorist organisation that formerly controlled various sections of the nation but currently has any real authority and no territory under its control, has also been a participant in the civil conflict.

Factions In the Civil War:

There are several factions involved in this conflict, all fighting for different reasons. The groups may be depicted as pro or against Assad, the country’s current President, for ease of comprehension.

Pro Government (Assad Supporters):

  1. Syrian militia: Syrian Armed Forces (SDA) (Armed Forces of the Syrian Government)
  2. Forces of National Defence (NDF)
  3. Shabiha is an unofficial militia made up primarily of members of the country’s Alawite minority (Assad belongs to the Alawite group)
  4. Iran: Iran, a Shia country, regards Assad, also a Shia, as its closest Arab friend.
  5.  Egypt
  6. Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist political, military, and social organisation based in Lebanon.
  7. Russia has launched military airstrikes against demonstrators and is a UN supporter of the Syrian regime. Apart from other military concerns, Syria is home to Russia’s only Mediterranean naval station and an airfield.
  8. Iran has recruited Shia militias from Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Anti-Government also called Syrian Rebels:

  1. Syrian National Collaboration (SNC): A Turkish-based coalition of anti-government groups attempting to establish a civil and democratic state in Syria. Several Gulf states have recognised it as Syria’s legitimate government.
  2. SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces): SDF is a coalition of primarily Kurdish, but includes Arab, Turkmen, and Syriac-Assyrian militias, led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). It has spent the most of its time battling ISIS and the Al Nusra Front (a jihadist group aiming to create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law).
  3.  The Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by Saudi Arabia, was founded in 2011 by a group of SDA officers who defected.
  4.  Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, its military wing. The SNC does not recognise SSG.
  5.  Turkey: Turkey backs Syrian rebels but opposes the YPG. Also opposed to US assistance for the YPG.
  6. Sunni Arab governments, like as Saudi Arabia, provide support to the insurgents.
  7. The United States provides the rebels with arms, training, and military support. The United States withdrew from Syria when ISIS was defeated, as this was America’s stated goal.

Other factions:

ISIS and the Al Nusra Front were among the other players. Both the government and rebel groups opposed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in attempt to retake the regions ISIS had taken over.

The Beginning of humanitarian crisis in Syria:

The Syrian war has resulted in one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. Over half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million people have been forced to evacuate their homes in search of safety and opportunity since 2011, many of them many times. Families still remaining in Syria are battling to live and satisfy their basic needs: 13.4 million people, including 6.7 million internally displaced individuals, require humanitarian aid.

Discontent with the Syrian government grew into an armed conflict after protests calling for Assad’s removal were violently suppressed. The unrest in Syria (which began on March 15, 2011 as part of the larger 2011 Arab Spring protests) grew out of discontent with the Syrian government and escalated to an armed conflict after protests calling for Assad’s removal were violently suppressed. The Syrian Armed Forces and their domestic and international allies, a loose alliance of mostly Sunni opposition rebel groups (such as the Free Syrian Army), Salafi jihadist groups (such as al-Nusra Front and Tahrir al-Sham), the mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are currently fighting each other (ISIL).

Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the United States are among the foreign governments that have either directly intervened in the conflict or supplied support to one or more factions. Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah all provide military assistance to Syria’s Arab Republic and Armed Forces, with Russia undertaking airstrikes and other military activities since September 2015. The multinational coalition led by the United States, which was formed in 2014 with the stated goal of combating ISIL, has carried out airstrikes largely against ISIL, as well as some targeting government and pro-government targets. They’ve also sent special troops and artillery teams on the ground to fight ISIL. Since 2015, the United States has provided material, financial, and logistical support to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its military branch, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Since 2016, Turkish soldiers have engaged in direct combat with the SDF, ISIL, and the Syrian government at various points, but they have also actively supported the Syrian opposition and controlled huge parts of northern Syria. Between 2011 and 2017, Syrian civil war violence spilled over into Lebanon, with opponents and supporters of the Syrian government battling and attacking each other on Lebanese land, with ISIL and al-Nusra engaging the Lebanese Army. Furthermore, while declaring itself impartial, Israel has traded border fire and launched many strikes against Hezbollah and Iranian soldiers in southern Syria, whom it considers a danger.

Almost all sides engaged, including the Baathist Syrian government, ISIL, opposition rebel groups, Russia, Turkey, and the US-led coalition, have been accused of grave human rights abuses and atrocities, according to international organisations. The violence has resulted in a significant refugee problem. Several peace attempts have been made during the war, notably the United Nations-led Geneva peace negotiations on Syria in March 2017, but combat has persisted.

Humanitarian crisis and its effects on people of Syria:

About 6.8 million Syrians are refugees and asylum-seekers, and another 6.7 million people are displaced within Syria. This means 13.5 million Syrians in total are forcibly displaced, more than half of the country’s population. Nearly 11.1 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance. And about half of the people affected by the Syrian refugee crisis are children. (Reid, 2021)

The international humanitarian law and its violation by different parties

All parties to the Syrian war have violated international humanitarian law and human rights to varying degrees. All parties, in particular, are guilty of deliberately targeting civilians. The government, ISIL, and extremist organisations, among others, have all utilised rape and sexual assault as a weapon of war.

  1. The Syrian government and its Russian allies have used indiscriminate weaponry against people, including barrel bombs and cluster munitions, and have specifically targeted medical institutions and schools, as well as humanitarian workers and items. Opposition-held civilians have been subjected to imposed sieges accompanied by attacks (e.g. artillery shelling); Syrian planes have also dropped chemical weapons on such places. The dictatorship has unjustly arrested, tortured, and killed tens of thousands of individuals. The Syrian government and its allies have been accused of violating the Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC) which Outlaws the use of chemical weapons but not their possession. They have also violated Article 55 of International Human Law by denying access to Humanitarian Relief to civilians and also violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 5 which stated “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  2. Armed Syrian opposition organisations have also attacked people indiscriminately and surrounded government-controlled towns, depriving inhabitants of food and medical supplies. Armed gangs have been accused of illegally detaining individuals and carrying out summary killings. Another violation of Article 55 of International Human Law.
  3. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has carried out suicide attacks in civilian areas and implemented strict religious regulations in regions under its control, which it has enforced through corporal punishment and the death sentence. Yazidi women from Iraq who were transferred to Syria were treated as sex slaves and subjected to sexual assault. ISIL has also desecrated key ancient cultural sites, like Palmyra. ISIL has been accused of violating the UN Convention for the Suppression of The Traffic in Person and Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) and UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – CEDAW (1979)
  4. Kurdish militias have carried out what look to be retaliatory mass evictions of residents from places they have taken control over, and have even demolished homes in certain regions. The YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) has also been accused of forcibly recruiting young boys and men to fight in its forces thus violating the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. (wikipedia, n.d.)
  5. The multinational coalition’s airstrikes have killed people. Air warfare must adhere to the rules and traditions of war, especially international humanitarian law, including protecting combat victims and avoiding assaults on those who are protected. Because there are no treaties specific to aerial warfare, unlike land and sea warfare, which are covered by rules like the 1907 Hague Convention and Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which contain pertinent restrictions, prohibitions, and guidelines, there are no treaties specific to aerial warfare but since coalition airstrikes have killed civilians, they have violated article 51(2) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions.

Refugee Crisis in Syria:

Syria has one of the largest refugee crises of the world. The Syrian Arab Republic’s pre-war population was projected to be 22 million people in 2017, including permanent residents. The United Nations (UN) recognised 13.5 million of them as displaced individuals in need of humanitarian assistance in 2016. Since the commencement of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, more than six million people have been domestically displaced, with another five million crossing into neighbouring countries in search of asylum or being housed in Syrian refugee camps throughout the world. By the end of 2019, over 13.2 million Syrians have been forcefully displaced. At least 6.7 million of them have fled Syria, with the remainder migrating within the nation. Palestinians who had previously sought sanctuary in Syria account for an estimated 120,000 refugees.  

In 2015, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) was developed as a cooperation platform for neighbouring nations (excluding Israel) and Egypt. By 2016, the UNHCR has received promises from a number of countries to permanently relocate 170,000 registered refugees. Syrian refugees have exacerbated Europe’s migration crisis, with the UNHCR receiving almost a million asylum seekers in Europe by August 2017. With nearly 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Turkey is the largest host country for registered refugees. The UNHCR is in charge of humanitarian relief to Syria’s internally displaced people (IDPs) and Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq (countries bordering Syria), Egypt, and UN agencies collaborate on the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), which includes UNHCR and 240 partners. “A strategy document, coordination platform, advocacy tool, and financial appeal,” it says. The 3RP was launched at the end of 2015/2016, replacing the previous inter-agency Regional Response Plan and coordinating each country’s response plans, with national leadership and ownership as a foundational principle, to ensure that in-country systems are used effectively and that parallel systems are avoided. It issues strategic overviews and wide assessments on the situation in member nations, with a focus on humanitarian aid outside of Syria. Food and aid, safe water access, formal education for children, primary health care consultations, shelter help, and pay employment are among the issues addressed. According to the 3RP, financing is not keeping up with the region’s needs: just 6% of the 2017 Plan has been financed in the first three months, compared to 63 percent for the 2016 Plan. The 3RP also requested assistance, as well as pledges to resettlement.

As per the 1951 Refugee Convention (UNHRC, 2021) and its 1967 Protocol define the word “refugee” and establish the rights of refugees, as well as the legal responsibility of States to protect them, with 149 States party to one or both. In case of Syria the majority of the refugees have fled to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt with Turkey having 1.3 million refugees, Lebanon having 1.2 million refugees, Iraq having 249,463, Jordan 650,000 and Egypt 132,375 as of 2019. Other Middle Eastern countries such as Armenia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have also opened their gates for Syrian refugees.

An asylum seeker in one EU nation must be repatriated to that country if they attempt to migrate to another EU member under the Dublin Regulation and as per this Syrian refugee have been admitted to countries such as Sweden which was the first and only EU country to grant permanent citizenship to these refugees, Macedonia, Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany, Greece.

In North America, Canada said in July 2013 that it would relocate 1,300 refugees by 2015 and would provide $100 million in humanitarian help. The Liberal Party of Canada vowed to welcome 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of 2015 before the 2015 federal election. Canada achieved its aim of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees on February 27, 2016. From November 2015 to January 2017, Canada continued to process applications and admitted 40,081 refugees. The government has at least two resettlement programmes: refugees can be sponsored through the Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) programme or through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSR). While in US under President Obama’s administration The United States surpassed its initial objective of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in late September 2016, resettling over 12,500 migrants around the country. But following the November 2015 Paris attacks, thirty-one state governments (all but one led by a Republican governor) criticised Syrian refugee admittance, with some attempting to prevent it. The governors’ attempts to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country were unsuccessful in court, and most, but not all, of them “appears to have quietly shelved the case.” The United States had donated $5.9 billion in aid to Syrian refugees under the Obama administration, making it the second-largest contributor of Syrian refugees behind Turkey. With Trump administration coming to power On January 27, 2017, new US President Donald Trump announced that he had signed an executive order suspending any further resettlement of Syrian refugees to the US indefinitely until further notice due to security concerns (excepting “refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the individual’s religion is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality,” which could include Christians, Shia Muslims, and others). It continued after a more stringent security screening system has been put in place. President Trump had stated two days before signing the executive order that he was interested in creating safe zones in Syrian territory to allow refugees to live there while fleeing violence, and that European countries made a “terrible mistake” by admitting millions of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern trouble spots during the 2015 European migrant crisis. With the US Supreme Court voting on December 4 in favour of upholding the Trump Administration’s third iteration of the travel ban. After US courts halted the first two components of the contentious travel rule, the ruling allowed full enforcement of the ban to continue. The restriction enabled the Trump administration to strictly control migration from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Venezuela, Yemen, and Syria.

Refugee crisis and the Way forward:

With the 2015 refugee crisis and the flooding of asylum seekers in the countries like Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey facing the overburden of refugees and the cases where terrorists have been masked as refugees and with the 2015 findings by the Swedish Security Services finding 500 cases of suspected terrorism links or war criminals and things took for worse when On November 13, 2015, a gang of individuals, including EU citizens and non-EU nationals, detonated suicide explosives at a football stadium, opened fire on crowded cafés, and kidnapped 1500 people from a music theatre. The assaults claimed the lives of 130 individuals. With a greater number of cases of such incidents and the famous case of Munich shooting, Ansbach bombing, and the Würzburg train attack there has been a rise in the right-wing politics and rise of scepticism against refugees in particular Muslim refugees and with the study conducted by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an average of 55 percent of people would support halting further Muslim immigration, with support ranging from 40 percent in Spain to 70 percent in the United Kingdom (Poland). According to research conducted by the European Social Survey, 25% of respondents were opposed to all Muslim immigration, while 30% favoured allowing only “some” Muslim immigration.  

The problem of refugee and humanitarian crisis will continue till all the parties in conflict will not sit and come to a conclusion, with 2 super powers involved and a number of other factors like ISIL, Iran, Turkey and Hezbollah the Syrian crisis cannot be resolved until a solution is reached which not only is friendly to the pro-democracy population but is also accommodating enough that all the religious minorities can live there peacefully. Under the auspices of the United Nations, diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France, among others, drafted the Geneva Communique in 2012, a plan for peace in Syria that included political transition. The text has since served as the foundation for two UNSC resolutions, Resolutions 2118 (approved in 2013) and 2254 (adopted in 2015), both of which emphasise the importance of political transition.

 The lack of readiness on all parties to compromise on their positions on political transition has impeded UN efforts. The Syrian government has consistently refused to consider any possibility of a transition that includes the departure of Assad, despite the opposition’s belief that this is the only way to achieve peace.  Stephan De Mistura the former Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy invited Syria’s warring parties to the negotiation table in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2017 to consider ways to break the unending cycle of killing that has killed over half a million people. He stated that a new round of talks will take place in June 2017 to implement UNSC Resolution 2254, which serves as a framework for a democratic transition in Syria. However, as Syria approached the six-year mark of its civil conflict, reaching a peaceful, diplomatic solution rather than a military one is proving increasingly challenging. Internally as well different communities and religious groups also need to be given equal representation. Unlike the old times where the Alawites ruled and controlled everything and the rest of the communities got bullied. 

 Despite the fact that Resolution 2118 is primarily concerned with the use of chemical weapons during the war, it is noteworthy because it relates to Chapter VII of the UN charter, the UN’s founding instrument, to which all member states are obliged. According to 2118, the UNSC member states, which include five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as ten non-permanent members, can “impose measures” on the warring parties in accordance with Chapter VII in the event of “non-compliance” with the resolution. While many countries have tried to enforce an embargo on the Assad government on the pretext of it using chemical weapons Assad’s friend Russia always seems to veto any action taken against him.  

Once a structure is put in place then only the rebuilding and resettlement process and can start and the refugee crisis can come to an end with countries like US, Turkey and the EU already paying for the resettlement for the refugees and also funding the rebuilding and humanitarian work In Syria what’s left to do is to bring the dead to justice for the crimes committed by the various factions have committed throughout these years and establishing a  stable democracy which the people desired in 2011.  While the Principle of Non Refoulment and Article 14(1) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1951 Refugee convention, 1967 Optional protocol helps the people of Syria the growing feeling of hate and rise of right-wing politics are not helping their case. The only plausible solution is that there comes a framework in place which ensures equal opportunities to these refugees and at the same time help those who were radicalised by ISIS also once the conflict is over then as per the 2016 London Conference and the U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants the rebulbing and rehabilitation process in Syria can start.  

Naman Anand
Naman Anand
Naman is an alumnus of Motilal Nehru College, University of Delhi. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Diplomacy, Law and Business from O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat.