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What It Means When 5 Million Syrians Leave Their Country

Article published on New York Times on 03/30/2017  By Russel Goldmanmarch

The scale of Syria’s refugee crisis is dizzying

As the war there stretches into a seventh year, more than five million citizens, nearly a quarter of Syria’s prewar population, have fled their country, seeking shelter mainly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.

The Crisis in Scale

Five million people is roughly equal to the population of Norway. If nearly a quarter of the United States’ population left the country, it would be as if the combined populations of California, New York and Florida had disappeared.

In addition, 6.3 million Syrians have been internally displaced by the war. Altogether, about half of all Syrians have been forced from their homes because of violence.

With no end to the war in sight, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, predicted that 480,000 more Syrians would become refugees in need of resettlement this year. That is as if the entire population of Sacramento abandoned the city — and the country — over the course of the next nine months.

Since the conflict began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 people have been killed.

The International Burden

The five million Syrians who escaped war, starvation and deprivation now live mostly in one of five countries, often in squalid camps teeming with people. The majority of those refugees, nearly three million, have sought shelter in Turkey.

Turkey, a country of 75 million, has absorbed a contingent of refugees equal to 4 percent of its population. The country’s location on the doorstep of Europe has increased its leverage in negotiations with the West about the fate of refugee resettlement, but the sheer number of people has taxed the country’s resources.

Since February alone, 47,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey.

Two million other refugees are scattered through Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

Last year, the United Nations sought pledges to resettle 500,000 Syrians around the world. Since then, only half that many have been given homes.

“We still have a long road to travel in expanding resettlement and the number and range of complementary pathways available for refugees,” Mr. Grandi said. “To meet this challenge, we not only need additional places, but also need to accelerate the implementation of existing pledges.”

The United States previously pledged to make 64,000 places available for Syrians. But President Trump has sought to decrease the number of refugees entering the United States. In January, he signed an executive order barring all Syrian refugees from entering the country, but he was forced to replace it when federal courts blocked it. His second order is also tied up, working its way through the courts.

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