Jeffrey Crisp, senior director for policy and advocacy at Refugees International, and Rochelle Davis, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Georgetown University, join the RAND Corporation's Andrew Parasiliti to discuss the long-term welfare of Syrian refugees and the burden on host countries. Davis and Crisp describe the current demographics and conditions of refugee communities, noting that after three years of conflict in Syria, refugees are more often leaving the country in destitute conditions.
PARASILITI: Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting on the Syrian refugee crisis. I am Andrew Parasiliti. I'm director of the Center for Global Risk and Security at the RAND Corporation.
In addition to a death toll now numbering 190,000, the U.N. High Commission on Refugees has documented 3 million Syrian refugees outside Syria and another 6.5 million displaced within the country. The highest concentration of refugees outside Syria are in Lebanon, 1.2 million out of a population of approximately 4.4 million, 616,000 in Jordan, 213,000 in Iraq, 140,000 in Egypt, and now approaching 1 million in Turkey, given the exodus following the activity and warfare around Kobani.
Half of the refugees are women and girls, and at least 25 percent are children seventeen or younger. To compare, there are approximately 3 million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The U.S. has provided $2.9 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria, with $1.4 billion to help address the refugee crisis. As long as the war continues, I think we can expect that the refugee crisis, which is already urgent, will go from bad to worse. And absent a political solution in Syria, which includes addressing the refugee crisis, they could become, these refugees, a regular feature of Middle East politics, furthering political and economic strain on Jordan and Lebanon in particular, in addition to the urgent humanitarian assistance required to assist these populations.
To discuss the refugee crisis, I'm pleased to welcome Jeffrey Crisp, senior director for policy and advocacy at Refugees International; and Rochelle Davis, associate professor of cultural anthropology at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. Both have extensive experience dealing with refugees in Syria and the Middle East and elsewhere. And let me remind our speakers and our audience that this meeting is on-the-record.
Rochelle, let me start with you. Last year, when I was with Al-Monitor, I interviewed Kristalina Georgieva, the former European Union's commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid, and crisis response. And she told me that Syria, quote, "is the crisis that makes me lose my sleep," unquote. That was last year.
Please put the Syria refugee crisis in global context for us. How bad is it? And can it get worse?
DAVIS: I think it can get worse, unfortunately. I think what we're looking at, if we take Syria's total population of—sorry, of 22 million people and the numbers you cited total almost 10 million people displaced from their homes, so half of the country is no longer living in their places of residence or their homes, I mean, that should make people sort of pause to think about.
The other thing that I think we're seeing, because this is—we're into the—sort of the third year of a large refugee movement outside of the country and displacement inside of the country is that those people who are finally crossing borders, whereas three years ago they may have crossed borders with some money and they may have been fleeing sort of political oppression, now they're fleeing with nothing. And they're coming even more destitute and after three years of really difficult conditions inside Syria.
So they don't come with either internal resilience to sort of keep themselves together very much, although they are survivors, and they don't come with material things to survive. And so I think we're going to see increasingly more desperate movement of refugees, depending on where it's happening.
PARASILITI: Peter, compared to a year ago, we now have the situation in Iraq, since June, with the Islamic State coming there. How has—how has the situation in Iraq compounded the Syrian refugee crisis?
CRISP: Well, you've already outlined the severity of the Syrian refugee crisis in terms of the numbers within the region, which is, of course, enormous and which have taken place just in three year—just over three years.
And I guess one could say that the last thing that the region needed was another large-scale displacement, but as the result of the territorial gains made recently by ISIS, that is exactly what has happened. There's been a massive outflow of people within and from Iraq.
I've not been to the region personally myself, but a couple of my colleagues are in the audience, have been there recently, and so they've been able to provide me with some kind of firsthand information about what's happening. So let me just briefly outline some of the consequences of the—of what's been happening in Iraq.
Firstly, as I said, massive new displacements, 800,000 IDPs moving from lower Iraq to northern Iraq. And, of course, there are already 200,000 Syrian refugees in that area. Unfortunately, the Baghdad government has not been providing the support which is required to enable the north of the country to support that many newly displaced people. 140,000 new refugees to Turkey, which as you've said is already housing well over 1 million Syrian refugees.
The new influx from Iraq has also put increased pressure on scarce humanitarian funds. I think as most of the audience will know, there's been a spate of recent emergencies—South Sudan, Central African Republic, Syria, et cetera—humanitarian budgets were already under severe pressure. The recent events in Iraq have put even more pressure on that.
And similarly, the capacity of the humanitarian system to respond to this new crisis has been limited. I was in Geneva just last week, and some of my former colleagues at UNHCR were describing how difficult it is to find experienced humanitarian aid workers who are prepared to go to the field and stay there for substantial period of time. So the humanitarian system is struggling.
And then just one other thing I would add is that I think one of the key problems that we're going to be confronting in northern Iraq at the moment is the whole question of winterization. The winter onset is coming quite soon, within two to three weeks, the end of October. As you know, it gets extremely cold in the north of Iraq. The conventional tents and other equipment provided to refugees in the summer are simply not adequate. So there will be a need for a massive push, and that, of course, will require additional funding to winterize the accommodation that the refugees have in northern Iraq.
PARASILITI: Thank you. You mentioned, Peter, about how Iraq was responding to the crisis. Rochelle, if you could—you could pick up on that, tell us, how are the countries of the region coping with the refugee flow? Peter mentioned Iraq, but what's being done...
PARASILITI: Sorry, Jeff, I'm sorry—sorry, Jeff.
CRISP: That's OK.
PARASILITI: What's being done, what's not being done to handle the refugee flows in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Is there a capacity to do more? Or are they already maxed out in terms of this capacity?
DAVIS: I think it's really important, first and foremost, to recognize the generosity of the host countries who have kept their borders open for the most part and allowed in, I mean, many hundreds of thousands of fleeing people in desperate situations. And so everyone can always do more, but I think it's really important to recognize what they have—what those countries have done.
And I think—a useful way to look at it is to divide them into sort of two groups with Turkey and Jordan being countries that have a very strong centralized government that provides services to its population, health and education, and that are very intent on kind of keeping—keeping those systems functioning. And they—particularly Jordan, based on its experience with Iraqi refugees—have tried to incorporate Syrian refugees into those education and health care systems, rather than recreate new systems in which to—in which to have them—have them only be refugee-focused, although there are those, as well, within those countries, because of the need.
And then you have other countries like Lebanon and Iraq which have very weak central government control over education and health care and security and some of those other things. And that has been where humanitarian organizations and U.N. bodies have really stepped to the fore and tried to provide these services, as well as local governorates and local municipalities have also really had to kind of figure out how—what to do with these people.
I mean, I think Lebanon is—is—is a country that we should sort of really be in awe of because it has 4.47 million people in it, as you mentioned, with 1.2 million Syrians in it, which is like 20 percent of its population has been added in the last three years.
And the fact that—that there isn't wide-scale demonstrations among the Lebanese against that—I mean, there are certain flash points and touch points and violence, but the fact that these countries and their populations have made it a point to live with the Syrians and to try and make this work for everybody, as bumpy as it is, I think is a—is important to always remember.
PARASILITI: Jeff, how do you evaluate what—we're hearing about what the Arab states are—the neighbors are struggling with, all of the neighbors, and the response from the United States, Europe, and the international community? You said you were talking to contacts in Geneva and others who are addressing it. What's being done? What more needs to be done?
CRISP: I mean, given the recent spate of armed conflicts and refugee movements and internally displaced situations, I think one has to acknowledge that the international response has been quite impressive and quite substantive. You've already given the figure of $3 billion from the U.S. government. My own country, the U.K., has provided rather less, but still a significant amount of money, 700 million pounds.
And so I think one can say that the international response has been quite effective in terms of the resources mobilized. An interesting characteristic of this crisis is the new money coming in from what we call non-traditional donors, in other words, other states in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf. That kind of money is much harder to track. It doesn't go through the conventional U.N. channels. And so it's been much more difficult to work out exactly who's providing how much money and what it's going to, but it seems fairly evident that there is a significant amount of new money coming in from the Arab states and from individual donors in that region.
PARASILITI: Is the money enough?
CRISP: Money is an essential starting point. I think the big question over any large-scale humanitarian operation is, is that money being used in an effective and efficient manner? I think almost inevitably—and this is no excuse—but almost inevitably, in any large-scale humanitarian operation one can find examples of inefficiencies, wastage, perhaps even corruption.
I visited the region several times in the last couple of years. I haven't come across large-scale evidence of that taking place. Something that I think is going to be very interesting to watch is a very large-scale independent evaluation of the whole refugee operation that UNHCR has just commissioned and will be publishing shortly. And I think it would be extremely interesting to delve into that report to see what they find out about the effectiveness and the efficiency.
But certainly key donors—not just the USA and the U.K.—are very eager to see that their dollars and their pounds are used in the most effective way possible, have been monitoring the operation extremely closely, and I've not heard any major complaints about the way that it's been run.
PARASILITI: And just one more question on the specifics of the aid. And you brought up an interesting point about the winter coming. Is the first order of business--in dealing with these flows of refugees--housing, health, education? How would you prioritize it? And are we meeting all of them?
CRISP: Yeah, I mean, I think unless you can meet all of those key essential needs, people are going to be in trouble. Something I may mention a little bit later on, I also—with that in education. Education is often not seen as a kind of lifesaving activity. It's seen sometimes as a bit of a luxury, and it's the first thing to go when funding gets scarce. But I think if we're to think in terms of the future of the Syrian population, the Syrian people, whether they remain in their countries of asylum, whether they go back to Syria, whether they manage to move on to another part of the world, having education and having skills is absolutely essential. So in addition to kind of the essential needs that you've outlined, I would add education is an absolute priority.
PARASILITI: And it's a nice opening for me to plug some of the work of the RAND Corporation in this area. Our Center for Middle East Public Policy has been developing a project on tracking education, refugees, information in that regard, and I think it's very important work.
CRISP: If I could just add one—one issue that hasn't come up yet, which I think is worth mentioning, is something which is—I wouldn't say essentially unique, but it's unusual about this particular refugee situation, is the fact that the vast majority of refugees are not housed in camps. In fact, according to our calculations, probably 75 percent to 80 percent of the 3.3 million refugees are living with host communities, and that has some advantages. It's obviously more of a natural lifestyle to live in a community, rather than living in a camp. And anybody who's been to Zaatari Camp in Jordan can tell you this is not a natural environment for people to live.
But also, when people are scattered, it makes it more difficult to access them, more difficult to identify the most vulnerable refugees, and it actually may increase the potential for conflict or tension with the host communities, because they're living side-by-side and sometimes competing for the same resources and the same jobs.
But I think it is quite an interesting aspect of this crisis that has forced the humanitarian community to think much more systematically about, what does it mean to provide relief to refugees who are not in camps?
PARASILITI: This is another nice opening. Rochelle, I know you've done work in the Palestinian refugees over the years. If you could comment on what Jeffrey was mentioning, and how do you see the impact of these refugee populations, Syrian refugees, Palestinian refugees, over time, in terms of the political and economic challenges in the region, the governance challenges? And are there lessons learned from the Palestinian refugee situation that we can apply here?
DAVIS: So I think there are lessons learned, particularly if we don't look at the international community, but we look at the Arab countries that host Palestinians and the Palestinian themselves. One of the things that I haven't heard talked about at all is how the Syrians call themselves. And you'll notice they call themselves nazuhein (ph). They call themselves displaced. They don't called themselves laj'een, which is refugees.
And following this up, I was told that because Palestinians are refugees, because they have been displaced from their home since 1948 and they haven't gone back, and the Syrians say we're not those people, we're not going to be laj'een, we're not going to be like the Palestinians. We're going back to Syria.
And so everyone in these areas thinks of them as people going back. Now, I think that may be shifting in some ways, as the conflict really morphs into something that is not—not sort of an opposition to Assad and Assad, and people are caught in this and now may not want to go back, depending on what happens.
And it's hard to sort of draw other lessons from the Palestinian refugees in particular, although it's important to note that almost—sort of the vast majority—there were 500 Palestinian refugees in Syria, most of whom still remain in Syria, because they've—Jordan closed its borders to them and will not let them in, and it's hard for them to get into Lebanon. They have to have different sort of access, and they can enter, but they end up being illegal very quickly. And they can't afford it, because Lebanon is very expensive and they don't really have places to go anymore, because the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are so full, you can't even find an empty apartment in them.
But I think sort of most importantly, it's actually the lesson of the Iraqi refugees that many people draw on, because for Iraqis, as well as for Syrians, as well as for Palestinian refugees, they had to learn how to be refugees. They had to learn how to think of themselves as people who needed aid and to interact with a community that was providing them aid in a way that is not natural to any of us. We're all sort of citizens of a state, and regardless of the state's politics, we have a particular relationship with that state.
And once you become a refugee, you have a different relationship to the state authorities, but you also have to think of yourselves differently. And I did a series of interviews in Jordan and Lebanon with Syrian refugees, and one of the questions I thought was important to ask, because no one—in all the work I've ever read on Palestinian refugees, had ever asked it, and that was, what do you miss most about your country or about your home or about, you know, living in Syria?
And so we took all of their answers and compiled them and published them in a piece called "What Do You Miss Most?", because their answers were so striking. And one man in particular—and it sort of resonated among—out there on the interwebs as it traveled, he said, "I miss my dignity."
And I think that that's really sort of—a sort of important thing to remember about how Syrians have had to learn to be displaced like everyone else who's ever displaced, but learn to be refugees, just as everyone else has before them.
PARASILITI: What have we noticed in the refugee camps in terms of political trends? I would assume there's a lot of opposition politics, activity, radical—potential radicalization of the populations. Or are they still just focused on staying alive and trying to get home?
DAVIS: In thinking about how to respond to this question, I think it's really important to always remember that people want to do something to make their lives better. And Syrians are the same way. And so for so many Syrians, there aren't many options of what to do. They've—there are active movements of nonviolent and civil sort of society movements inside Syria that were very—very resolutely clamped down on by the Syrian government, as well as internal Syrian opposition sort of things going on. And now they are set with the Islamic State. And so you have people there who want to sort of make Syria come back to life in whatever form that they believe in. And they want to do something.
And so radicalization may be happening, but it's because people, I think, in some ways feel that there's something to do. And so, I mean, I would advocate for there to be more than just food and education and—I mean, I think education would be one of the most important things to focus our attention on now, but more than just sort of food and health care, and thinking them as—thinking of Syrians as bodies to be cared for, but actually to sort of cater more to their sort of mental and spiritual selves, because they are resilient and they will rebuild themselves and their lives.
And so if there were projects out there for them to do things, whether those are civil society organizing among refugees, whether that is, you know, training programs for them to become, you know—to have certain jobs, I think that that would be a good step to move away from radicalization and a move towards sort of—thinking of them as there's not a lot of hope for them in the next couple of years to go back or for them to be resettled.
CRISP: If I could just pick up on that, I mean, it's a question I've been asked with growing frequency over the past year, is the experience of being an exile radicalizing Syrian youth, particularly young men. And I'm not totally surprised that that question is being asked. It's an area that's characterized by sectarian conflicts, but militant extremism, religious extremism. So you put the two together and it's easy to come up with (inaudible)
I would have to say that on my visits to the region, talking to aid workers, talking to national government officials, security officials, I've never heard this issue raised as a major concern. Now, in the longer term, just as you've suggested, I think, you know, leaving a population so large and coming from a country where they had some education previously, I think, leaving a country—leaving this population kind of festering without things to do, there clearly is a risk of some form of radicalization. I wouldn't go into the details as to what form that might take.
So I think we really do as a humanitarian community have to think through, what are the kind of useful activities that we can provide to these people? The obvious answer to that is provide them with livelihoods. And I think, you know, livelihoods would go a long way to giving people a meaningful and, as you mentioned, dignified existence.
The problem with that response is it's very easy to say and much more difficult to implement. You only have to go to a country like Egypt. You go to Cairo. You can see mass unemployment on the streets, young men, young women without much to do. So the idea of suddenly creating large numbers of jobs for Syrian refugees becomes problematic: A, problematic in actually creating the jobs and, B, creating jobs for Syrians and not some potentially for Egyptians, and thereby increasing the risk of tension between the two.
So I think radicalization is a kind of an issue that's worth thinking about, but we have to think practically about what can be done to give people the kind of dignified life that would not lead them in that direction.
PARASILITI: Does the organized resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. and elsewhere have a role to play in addressing the refugee crisis?
CRISP: My answer to that question will be very simple: yes and no. Let me explain why I say yes and no. Yes, I think resettlement to the USA and to other prosperous countries—and even less prosperous countries—for example, Uruguay recently set up a resettlement program for Syrian refugees.
So I think the resettlement programs to the U.S. and other prosperous countries would send an important signal to the countries in the region that they're not being left alone, they're not being left to bear the brunt of the reference influx by themselves, that other states are willing to share the responsibility and share the burden. And that might encourage states in the region to keep their borders open and to pursue decent policies towards refugees.
The reason I will be also more cautious in saying that resettlement offers any kind of a solution is simply in terms of numbers. In a situation where you've got 3.3 million refugees at the moment, predicted to rise to 3.59 by the end of the year by the United Nations, if we take the U.S., which is the world's leading resettlement country, it only resettles 70,000 people per year. So even if every one of those 70,000 slots were to be given to a Syrian for the next three years and taken out of the region, you'd still be left with 3 million refugees in the region.
So I think in terms of numbers, we couldn't really look to resettlement as a major part of the solution. But in terms of a symbolic gesture and maintaining solidarity with the refugees in the region I think it has a small, but valuable role to play.
PARASILITI: What are the specifics of a successful resettlement program, just briefly?
CRISP: Well, the specifics of a successful resettlement program will be firstly that you identify the people who are most in need of protection and the most vulnerable members of the population. There's always been a tendency on resettlement countries to say, let's grab the best and the brightest and the best educated people. But according to humanitarian principles, resettlement should be really targeted at the people with the most serious protection problems and the most important vulnerabilities.
And then I think bringing things closer to home, a successful resettlement program is one that doesn't just bring people to a country, dump them there, and leave them to get on with their lives unsupported. You can imagine bringing refugees from Syria or, indeed, any other part of the world. Probably you don't speak English, have not been educated in English, bringing them to the U.S. and simply leaving them by themselves would not be a great idea in terms of their long-term future. So I think adequate support in the country of resettlement would be the second fundamental component of successful resettlement.
DAVIS: Can I add something onto that?
PARASILITI: Yeah, please.
DAVIS: I've been thinking about this idea about vulnerable and vulnerability in terms of how we define refugees and look at them, and those are traditionally people, women and children, people with health issues and the elderly. And I did a—when I was doing research, I was struck by how many young men sort of between the ages of eighteen to thirty were—had fled Syria because they didn't—because they were going to be conscripted into the Syrian army and didn't want to fight in the army against other Syrians and kill other Syrians. And so they fled the country.
And they have a lot of problems in the host countries, because they don't often come with their families. Their families often send them out or fake their kidnapping or some way to get them out of the country. And then they're in Jordan or in Lebanon or in Turkey, if they manage to get there, without any familial support. And they also don't—and these host countries see them as a danger. Young men tend to be seen as dangerous, open to radicalization and such.
And yet if they get caught and sent back to Syria, they will certainly be at the very least imprisoned and most likely tortured, and many of them executed or tortured to death, or those sorts of things, for deserting the army. And I would encourage us to think about this particular population that is—you know, that is in a situation of forced conscription to fight in this god-awful situation, to think of them as vulnerable, I mean, along with other people, because those are the very people that have—are doing the fighting, and if we can remove them from the fighting, then we can play a role as a humanitarian aid community, et cetera, in sort of trying to stop the fighting.
PARASILITI: Well, thank you. Great discussion. We now invite our audience members to join in. Please wait for a microphone and speak directly into it and state your name and affiliation and keep your comments and questions concise so we can get in as many as possible.
QUESTION: Thanks, Andrew. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council and Al-Monitor. I wanted to ask—I mean, I know it's very difficult to get statistics, but if you have any idea what percentage of the children, refugee children are getting some form of education, what percentage of the refugees who are adults have any form of gainful employment at all.
And, Ms. Davis, also your comments about these young men, any idea how many of these young men are out there who've deserted military service? Thanks.
DAVIS: You want me to try and answer that?
CRISP: No, I can't answer it, actually. I mean, that's a kind of baseline data that would be extremely useful to have. I suspect that somewhere hidden away in UNHCR that information is available. I could make an attempt to retrieve it.
I think some forms of information are more easy to find than others. For example, percentage of children in education, it should be possible to find a rough figure. I think in terms of livelihoods for adults, much more difficult to get that, because people are working part-time or on-and-off or occasionally or in the informal sector, so that might be more difficult. But I think getting that kind of basic demographic data would be an important part of running a successful refugee relief operation.
DAVIS: I can answer parts of that. Six months or so ago, there were about—roughly 30 percent of Syrian children, maybe less, maybe 25 percent, were enrolled in school. The highest number was in Jordan, which was...
QUESTION: You mean the refugee children?
DAVIS: Refugee children, sorry, yes. Syrian refugee children were enrolled in school. Highest number was in Jordan, which was around 40 percent, I think. I would also have to check statistics. There are a number of issues. There's also informal education, which is a little bit different, and whether people count that as school or not, enrolled in school, I don't know.
Turkey's—the refugees in Turkey are not under the statistical—they're not under UNHCR. They're under the Turkish AFAD body. And so these statistics are not necessarily available for Turkey, although the Turkish government is producing them, but they don't—they may not be kept in the same way that the UNHCR keeps them. So everything is this multiple system of putting numbers together.
About employment, it's in no one's interest to publish those numbers on unemployment, because if people—if the governments start to see that there are 50 percent of Syrians in Jordan are gainfully employed, they will potentially start cracking down on them. And so I think that—I think everybody just doesn't talk about it.
And the young men, you asked about the numbers. When we look at the breakdown of the statistics in terms of who is registered as a refugee, in Egypt and in Iraq, and now in Turkey, there are more male refugees registered than female refugees, whereas in Lebanon and Jordan, there are more females than male. So the number is still about 50 percent, 49.8 percent versus 50.2 percent or something. I mean, it's—it sort of—it's right on the 50 percent.
To me, that's statistically significant because when we think about—if there's 200,000 people who've been killed in Syria, the vast majority of them are men. So already you have a lesser Syrian male population. But also, it's traditionally women and children who sort of flee as refugees. But similarly, we have flights where 50 percent of them are men or otherwise. That to me says that they're fleeing in much larger numbers for a variety of reasons.
CRISP: If I could just maybe add—link to the issues you brought up, which is education and employment. I think one of the most disturbing characteristics of the Syrian refugee situation at the moment is the number of children who are being taken out of school in order to work to meet the household budgetary needs.
And one of the questions—which is a little bit of a mystery, and it needs—some more work needs to be done on it—is exactly how are the Syrian refugees making ends meet? We know that they brought some—normally they brought some resources with them, but normally those have now been depleted. The cost of living is often going up in the places that they've fled to because of the sheer numbers of people. Assistance programs—for example, my colleagues were in Lebanon recently and reported quite a substantial cutback in the assistance provided to Syrian refugees.
We know that there is some money coming in through remittances and some money coming in through working in the informal sector, but exactly how people manage to make ends meet, other than going through kind of what I would call negative coping mechanisms, which is, you know, sending your kids out to work when they should be in school, I think that's something where we need some more understanding.
PARASILITI: There's a question over here.
QUESTION: Tom Petri, House of Representatives. You touched on this, but, I mean, I just don't know the answer. Maybe you could help. You're focusing on the refugees, but not particularly on the—how the international committee is coordinating or not or maximizing its good effect, rather than creating more problems through not dealing with young men or doing it poorly or whatever.
Could you assess—or how we coordinate or who's in charge of all this and how we can make sure we're actually being effective, more effective?
CRISP: Maybe I have a first go at that one. As I said earlier, I think one of the interesting and important characteristics of this refugee situation is the number of people living outside of camps, within the community, alongside nationals. And as I mentioned earlier, that has some, you know, potential advantages and some potential disadvantages.
I think one of the issues that it's thrown up quite starkly is that you have a country like Lebanon where one in four of the population is now a refugee, so this is obviously having a very important impact on the Lebanese citizens that have absorbed these people into their cities and their towns and their villages.
From an institutional point of view, it's not actually clear who's responsible for assisting host communities. UNHCR as a refugee agency will say, well, that's not really our business. Maybe we can provide a little bit of assistance on the side to make sure that host communities are not too disadvantaged by having refugees in their presence.
But at the end of the day, UNHCR would say, Our mandate is to protect and find solutions for refugees, not for local people. So there seems to be a potential gap, or an actual gap, in the UN system when it comes to focusing on the host communities.
Now I guess one obvious answer to that kind of conundrum is to say, Well, it's really development agencies that have a more important responsibility than the humanitarian agencies.
I would probably have to say that in the Syrian context, as in many other humanitarian contexts, getting a smooth transition from the kind of short-term, immediate refugee relief, humanitarian assistance to the longer-term infrastructural and economic support provided by development organizations, seems to be taking place rather slowly—rather more slowly than people wanted or, indeed, anticipated.
But I think this whole question of who supports the host communities is a really central issue to arise out of this citizens and one that is now receiving much more attention from the humanitarian community than at any other previous point that I can remember.
DAVIS: Can I add something on that? The—one of the things that I think is unique about also the Syrian refugee situation is that UNHCR has stepped into the fray and tried to organize everybody. There's a huge portal you can go to that tells you who's doing the water projects and what part of what governorate in Jordan or in Lebanon or wherever, so you can—and it's all available to the public, so you can actually access all of that and see it.
And it coordinates—the money that comes in and what the projects are going to be. And I don't—I think that that is fairly unique in our—in our history. So that is being done much better than it has ever done—been done before.
When I talked about sort of the strong centralized states with the deep state kind of—versus the weaker ones, Jordan, for example, has to—the Ministry of Planning and something—the Ministry of Planning has to approve every project that is established for refugees. And up until the recent present, they would not let vocational training be done for Syrian refugees, whereas they used to allow that all the time for Iraqis, with the idea that they are—that the Syrians start getting vocational training, they're going to start working in jobs in Jordan and they don't want them to.
So Jordan keeps sort of a tight hand on what any—what any licensed NGO does. Now, there are charitable organizations in Jordan that do whatever they want because they're charities and they have different relationships and different funding streams, the ones that Jeff mentioned, coming from the Gulf, for example.
In Lebanon, though, the government has such little sort of—the central government has such little say in what's going in the country and little, I mean, control over it, as well, that there is sort of everything in Lebanon. And the UNHCR have sort of put money out to where—the people that it knows—you know, I mean, when I was in Lebanon, I ran across missionaries out there teaching Christianity to these Syrians in these camps. And that was not being well-received by the parents, for example. One guy said to me, "These kids are so small, they don't even know Muhammed. Why should they know Jesus?", is what he said.
CRISP: Something we saw in Jordan, which I thought was quite progressive, is a situation in which you have, you know, Syrian refugees living alongside very poor members of the Jordanian community, and in some cases, no better off at all than the refugees, and the government has stipulated to humanitarian agencies, yes, it's fine for you to work with the refugees, but we want 25 percent of your budget devoted to poorer members of the local population.
I thought that set an interesting precedent. I thought it was quite a progressive move. And it is a step in the right direction in terms of meeting the needs of the host communities. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if other refugee-hosting states start adopting similar mechanisms.
PARASILITI: Question right there.
QUESTION: Thank you. Michael Barnett, George Washington University. And I think this is mainly for Jeff. One of the characteristics of humanitarian emergencies is that the humanitarian community afterwards almost always says, "We did more harm than good." And ever since Mary Anderson's pledge of Do No Harm, the humanitarian community has constantly evoked this concern that they're doing more harm than good and have admonished themselves so that in the future they need to make sure that they minimize the harm and maximize the good.
To what extent is that conversation taking place in the humanitarian community today vis-a-vis Syria? And can you tell us in general whether you think there's any question about whether the humanitarian community is doing more harm than good?
CRISP: I would have to be totally honest on that question and say that, in my interaction with people involved in the Syrian refugee operation, I've not heard a lot of concern about that question as to whether the humanitarian system or community is doing more harm than good. My impression is that people are really racing to meet the immediate needs of the influx, which has been faster than any of recent years, and so there's more kind of long term, and maybe actually even more philosophical questions have gone by the wayside.
I'm sure, as you said, you know, in retrospect when we come to the look at the Syrian operation in five or ten years' time, we'll find plenty of ways in which things could have done—been done better, been done differently and done in a way which caused more good and less harm. But I don't think, as far as I'm aware, at least, that process of introspection is yet taking place.
DAVIS: Can I just add one thing onto that? And I completely agree with what Jeff is saying. I think—particularly talking outside of Syria, I think when we look inside Syria, I think we have a lot more soul-searching that will need to be done, because I think we've really failed on that account.
Primarily, I think there are two things. The first one is, the U.N. did not send aid into the non-regime-controlled areas of Syria until—I think it was July or August of this year. They made the decision that they were only going to work with Damascus and with the regime. And so all aid going into Syria went through the regime, which meant incredible levels of hunger and depravation and sickness and all of that that goes with that in the non-regime-controlled areas, and aid then became a weapon in the war. The regime used it against those in the non-regime-controlled areas.
That to me was—I think that the U.N. should look back on that and say that was not the right decision. We should have much sooner—they also would have stemmed the refugee flows much sooner had they gotten more aid inside Syria and said to the regime, "We don't care." But, you know, this is in retrospect, looking back a bit, of course I can say this. And I—you know, the decisions were made at a particular time.
But the second thing that I think we always need to keep front-and-center and remember is that the best scenario for these refugees and for taking care of refugees and for making their lives better is to end the fighting in Syria so that they can go back. And without that, we're just, you know, putting Band-Aids on things.
PARASILITI: Yes, right—third row, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nancy Wilson from Relief International. We've got an enormous amount of work going on in and around Syria. And I think some of the points you made about the weak government and also the local population bear further exploration. Certainly, one is the competition for wages, driving wages down, and housing—driving housing prices up. But one of the pieces that struck me as unusual were the number of Lebanese near the Syrian border who previously went into Syria to get health care. And now with that border closed and things falling apart, they're in worse shape even in their own country.
And so the availability of funding, which we found UNICEF to be quite generous in looking at upwards of 30 percent of support that we provide for—can go for Lebanese families to be quite an important piece, because that's just really unrecognizable as a problem historically.
The other is the increasing pressure to actually invest in strengthening Lebanese government institutions. So in a way, seeing the government start to try and leverage this flow of resources to solve problems that it's had for a very long time, and I think that's going to be a confounding matter for the relief and development organizations, trying to figure out how to weigh those things up in the balance, so where governments start to use the presence of refugee assistance in order to meet other needs that they're finding.
But I think the tension is rising between the Lebanese and Syrians and could flash in some very unpleasant ways quite soon.
PARASILITI: Comments? Please.
QUESTION: I'm Audrey Kurth Cronin from George Mason University. If you were strictly looking from the perspective of the refugee crisis, how would you critique recent U.S. and European policy in a broader sense toward the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and especially toward ISIS?
CRISP: OK. Well, as a representative of a humanitarian and non-political agency, I'm going to duck the political and military implications of that question. I would say that as a European myself, the European response on the humanitarian front has been disappointing in some respects. There have been some exceptions, such as Sweden and Germany have admitted quite a substantial number of Syrian refugees, but Europe as a whole seems quite content for the refugees to remain within the Middle East region and has not responded particularly positively to the high commissioner's request for resettlement places in Europe.
Now, of course, those states would argue, yes, but we've been pumping large amounts of money into the relief operation. And there is certainly a considerable amount of truth to that statement. At the same time, I think it would have been a more positive engagement of the European states in terms of asylum and refugee resettlement would have actually been rather welcome, but we'll leave the political and military issues to my colleague.
DAVIS: As a tenured professor at Georgetown, I can take on the political, I suppose. I see there are sort of two factors that got missed somewhere along the way. And one was underestimating what the U.S. invasion of Iraq did in 2003, in terms of allowing in a type of fighter and a type of person that—allowing it to develop in Iraq, but also allowing it to come from other places, that has now manifest itself in the Islamic State sort of actors.
And I just don't think we ever got that, or we did and we didn't want to acknowledge it. But when the Syrian government sometime in 2011 lost control of the border with Iraq, to me that was like, "Oh, no." I mean, not that it—not that the Syrians or the Iraqis ever had very strong control of that border, but when it disappeared, that was just then open door.
So, you know, it conflated them in a way. And that nothing was done at that point to me—I think is more about the Americans' unwillingness to recognize how—just how bad what they did in Iraq actually has become.
The second issue I think that's really important is Russia. And nobody sort of talks about Russia or Russia's role or—and without Russian support of the Assad regime, we would not be having this conversation. I mean, the Russian regime has basically been a pipeline of everything that the regime needs to keep it afloat, because they run—they don't manufacture their own bullets and their own, you know, helicopter parts or any of those sorts of things. So that's all been coming. And that, the U.S. is kind of—I mean, they know it, but they don't want to address it head-on for all sorts of other geopolitical reasons.
And then there is Iran, which has also taken a role in there. And then when Hezbollah joined the fray in 2013, that—at that point, I said to Syrians that I knew, as well as others, this is no longer about Syria. This is about everybody else on the globe, and Syria is now just the field in which all of these battles are going to be played out.
That's my five minutes of that.
PARASILITI: Yes, in the back?
QUESTION: Hi, Matthew Hale from the Lifeline Embattled Civil Society Fund. My question—I wanted to follow up a little bit about civil society within the refugee population. What has been effective to get information out? Where have they been effective in being watchdogs? And what other support do they need? And how can they function better?
CRISP: You have any experience there?
DAVIS: That's a really difficult question. And I think it's different in different cases and different situations and different places. I think there are traditional leaders—so Syria, before 2011, had very little civil society. It had a lot of—it had a lot of government control, and it had a lot of people in government positions, so there were all sorts of what we would call nongovernmental organizations in Syria that were all governmental organizations, but that were totally controlled by the regime. And there were religious charities, as well, particularly Christian religious charities that had roles.
So there's not a long and deep tradition among Syrians of having civil society active in Syria, because of the repression of the regime. So when people have come out as refugees, there are people who had various roles who were organizers or teachers or other things who have stepped in and done those sorts of things.
Within Syria, there's tons of civil society organizing and resistance in various ways that has been largely—I would say—squashed and executed. I mean, I think the people have been killed, not just—not just that the civil society—they just actually eliminated the humans that did the work. And that's not just the regime that eliminated them. All sorts of people eliminated them.
But—so I think in the camps, those sorts of connections are growing, but I think it's also—because as Jeff said, so many of them are outside of camps, so many people are living in the local communities, that it's—that sometimes it's in the local communities where people are saying we'll give this building to you to use as a school. So can you guys find the teachers, for example?
And then the Syrian community will say, oh, yeah, we know three teachers who live over there and they bring them in, and then they have this informal school. I've seen this happening up near Aley in Lebanon. And then other people sort of work to get books and—you know, and so there's a lot of that kind of organizing going on. But I don't think there's much. I really don't.
CRISP: Well, I can't answer your question, but I think you've identified a very important gap in our knowledge. I mean, if you look at the literature that's been produced on the Syrian refugee crisis over the past three years, we now know quite a lot about the international donor response, about the U.N. response and the NGO response.
In terms of what we know about Syrian civil society or, indeed, the civil society of the host countries, I'm not familiar with very much literature at all in that topic. And I think, if I can be a little bit critical of the kind of research in academic community, they tend to go for the easy things to research. And it's obviously much easier to research the U.N. response than the civil society response. But if anybody's looking for a new topic to research, I think that would be an extremely useful one.
DAVIS: But you need to know Arabic to do it.
CRISP: And just to add to that, I mean, I think what we saw in Zaatari Camp in Jordan was basically in the early stages, at least the people who formed the leadership were actually the uncivil society. It was the gangsters. It was the criminals. And I think the U.N. and its partners have had a real tough job on their hands in trying to wrest control away from those people and to kind of reorganize the administration of the camps so that people are genuinely represented over the refugee population.
PARASILITI: There's a question here, second row.
QUESTION: Hi, I'm Father Andrew. I'm the chairman of St. Paul's. So we've been in the region since my predecessor had a conversion experience on the road to Damascus.
Without exaggeration. So we're probably the largest single organization that spans the countries in that part of the world. So I was concerned—we've heard these things about proselytization in the camps from sort of pseudo-NGO groups who are generally Protestant, Baptists. I mean, if a Muslim wants to become Christian, we're not allowed to receive them, and we're not allowed to proselytize. We have this concordat with the King.
But it leads to another question, which I have, which is—so I don't know, I probably spent much of the last three years going back-and-forth. And Christians are not allowed in the refugee camps. It's a known thing.
DAVIS: In Jordan.
QUESTION: In anywhere. They're not allowed in Lebanon. They're not allowed in Jordan. They're not allowed in Iraq. They're discouraged in Turkey, and I don't know anybody who would want to go to the refugee camps in Turkey right now.
Also, it's sort of painful when we talk about Russia. So I wanted to know if you've actually studied that question, because I've spent a lot of time in the camps, and I've not met a Christian. And I ask. And they know that when abuna (ph) is looking, that they should go.
The other question I have is, so the Iranians are paying for the arms that Russia supplies. But from the point of view of Christians in the Middle East, Russia's not so bad. I mean, they're the ones that got the nuns who were kidnapped from St. Thecla's Convent out. It wasn't the United States. I know, because I talked to everybody in the State Department who would listen and they weren't interested. It was the Qataris and the Russians.
When the family that I stayed with one night in Ma'loula was executed and the wife of the priest I stayed with was raped to death, it was the Russians who came in and helped the family.
So when Metropolitans of the Russian patriarchate stand up and say, well, you know, we're the only ones who are helping the 10 percent of the population in that part of the world that's Christian, what am I as the first American chairman of St. Paul's supposed to say? And why do you think it is that we don't pay attention to these sorts of things?
CRISP: Quick follow-up question. When you say Christians aren't allowed into the camps or anywhere, do you mean proselytizing organizations?
QUESTION: I mean Christians. I mean Syrian Christians.
DAVIS: I don't think that's true. I don't think it's a policy, and I don't think it's—I mean, it's certainly not a policy.
QUESTION: I've been to every single camp (OFF-MIKE)
DAVIS: But that doesn't mean...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) seen them. And I've been told that they're not welcome. So whether that's...
DAVIS: But that's different than not allowed.
QUESTION: I think it's a distinction without a difference. If they're not allowed, they're not allowed. I mean, mostly it's just a guy with an AK-47 that tells you what to do. You don't ask for the paperwork. I mean...
PARASILITI: What about his question to about the role of Russia and its support, political support, other types of support for the Christian community?
DAVIS: But I think this is part of the sectarian game that everyone is playing, because it works in their—in a variety of different people's interests, and certainly—I mean, I'm not—what I think has happened in Syria—I mean, Syria was the place where Christians in the Middle East had the most freedom to do and live and be who they were.
I mean, I went to Syria in December of 2010, and I've been doing work in Jordan, and I thought, I'll go to Syria. It's Christmastime. So I went on the 23rd, and I was going to go to the government offices on the 24th and 25th and 26th and talk to all the people I needed to talk to. And my Palestinian Muslim friend in the refugee camp, he said, Rochelle, what are you doing? He's like, it's Christmas. I was like, yeah? But you guys are all Muslim. He was like, no, it's closed. Everything is closed. It's Christmas. I was like, but you guys aren't Christian. He was like, Syrian Christians are a part of our community, and the government closes for Muslim and Christian holidays.
And it's, like, totally different than the way we think about religious freedoms or tolerance or any of those sorts of things. But that doesn't mean that Christians aren't also being used in this whole sectarian game that everyone is playing.
And so, I mean, I would put the Russian response in how that gets used in all of these ways as part of the Sunni, the Alawi, the Shia, the Christians. I mean, it's just a tragedy. There's no—there is no one good in this. There is no one doing anything good in this. It is just—it is just a disaster.
And everyone is sort of looking out for their own interests. And the people who are the—who are the victims are the people. The civilians who are trying to live their lives, whether their Christians or Druze or Sunni or Muslim or Alawi or whatever they are, Kurds, I mean, you can—so I would be really careful about saying certain people protect certain people, because they protect them for various kinds of interests.
One of the reasons I also think that Christians are not in the refugee camp in Jordan, and perhaps also in Iraq, is because they—and I know this experience from Iraqi Christians, as well—they tend to have connections to other Christians and other churches in those communities, and so that is where they go to find refuge. So if you're a Syrian Christian and you show up in Jordan, you go to your church, first of all, and people in the church sort of pick you up and take care of you.
You don't really want to go to Zaatari Camp if you can help it. So anybody who can get out of a camp is going to, and the—and the churches in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey, and I don't know about Iraq, but in those three countries, the Christian communities that are there have done an incredible job of providing assistance to Syrian refugees without any regard to religious affiliation of the Syrian refugees.
I mean, I was in Mafraq in Jordan with—and I met up with people in a church who were having a clothing drive. And they had just people coming into the church, picking up used clothing that they could use. They didn't ask who these people were. They didn't care who they were. And then they were going and they were taking donations also to various families that had just arrived in the town. It didn't matter who they were or what they were.
So, I mean, I think—I think it's really important to paint the picture that these are people and then they really care about each other and care about humanitarian terms, and that they are ultimately the victims of all of this sort of global power struggle.
PARASILITI: We have time for just one more question. You've been patient.
QUESTION: Hi. Sam Worthington from InterAction, obviously, with the international NGO community, so I'd be curious your sense of the role that the international NGOs have played, particularly cross-border work from Turkey, and what changes do you think the NGO communities need to take with regard to the crisis.
CRISP: Well, I haven't looked specifically at the cross-border issue. Something that I have been trying to find out a little bit more, as you know as well as I—probably better than I—many months were spent on negotiating the Security Council resolution which would facilitate the cross-border delivery of aid, which as you explained earlier had been blocked, and most of the assistance was going through Damascus.
And I really don't know what difference that Security Council resolution has made. I know there was quite a bit of kind of interest, even excitement when it went through, the idea that it would facilitate more cross-border aid, that it would provide aid to people who were not being reached. It might even be able to stem the flow of refugees to some extent.
Whether that has actually taken place or not, I'm simply unaware of, and I'd like to find out. But I know that at one point the Syrian authorities were talking about border monitoring, checking every lorry that came to the border in order to deliver cross-border aid. I'm not aware—perhaps my colleague is—of what is actually happening.
QUESTION: The NGOs (OFF-MIKE) a million people in northern Syria (OFF-MIKE)
DAVIS: I don't know the answer to it, either. I mean, I think that there's a lot of—I think the Islamic State's existence and its push through northern Syria has really made people very security-conscious. I mean, you would know better from your own sort of work. I have former students that are doing a lot of work on the border with various aid organizations, and I talked to a number of Syrians that they work with.
Because these organizations who work on the border and send aid across don't actually ever go into Syria, it's really, I think, a giant mystery what happens when that aid goes across. So people back in Turkey working with the aid organizations ask for pictures and ask for some documents and proof. If that's enough, who knows?
I mean, the fact that there are not—the fact that there cannot be people in Syria who can independently monitor and also feel safe enough to be there is a huge problem, but we just need to acknowledge it and move on. I mean, I—I don't know what else—I mean, I personally don't know what else to do, but I don't even know what other governments could do, other than stop what's going on.
PARASILITI: Jeffrey, comment?
PARASILITI: Well, I'd like to thank our panelists for a great presentation and discussion.
And a reminder, we were on-the-record today.
CRISP: Thank you very much.
PARASILITI: Thank you.