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The second Syrian refugee crisis

Syrian refugees who fled to neighboring Arab and Muslim countries have begun wearing out their welcome, yet fear returning. The world, much like before, is largely apathetic.

Young Syrian males refugees strike in front of the Budapest Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on Sept. 3, 2015. Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons.
Young Syrian males refugees strike in front of the Budapest Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on Sept. 3, 2015. Credit: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

The war in Syria is nearing its end; all the Damascus regime must do is seize control of Idlib province in the country’s north, the last rebel-held stronghold. The attack on Idlib, with Russian and Iranian support, is, therefore, only a matter of time, and in light of Ankara’s recent rapprochement with Moscow we can assume Turkey won’t try to stop it.

Because a great many Syrians who oppose the Assad regime have found refuge in Idlib in recent years, we can also assume the war’s final stage will be its bloodiest, and will almost certainly force hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Syrians to seek refuge with their neighbor to the north—Turkey.

This time, however, the Syrian refugees could discover the gates are closed, as Turkey has already declared it will not allow them entry. Ankara already has its hands full trying to get rid of the millions of Syrians already in Turkey.

The Turks are simply fed up with the Syrian refugees, approximately 2 million or so in number, who they received with open arms just a few years ago. Turkish politicians—in step with a growing public sentiment that Syrian refugees cause trouble, spread crime and violence and also take jobs—are now openly calling for their expulsion and for rapprochement with the Assad regime. In some places in Turkey, anger has devolved into violence against refugees, mainly targeting job seekers.

Turkey is not alone. Egypt, too, is seeing a groundswell of antipathy towards the refugees (there are 250,000 or more in Egypt), which is also targeting the more affluent among them who have opened businesses in Cairo that compete with local businesses.

In Lebanon, the rising tide of criticism against the Syrian refugees, who have greatly burdened the country’s economy, has sparked tensions that have spilled into violence.

And finally, in Jordan, which throughout the years has taken pains to concentrate its 1.5 million refugees in camps in the country’s north, there are increasing calls to force them back to Syria.

The refugees were initially welcomed warmly by their host countries, the publics of which empathized with the uprising in Syria. The revolution was perceived in these countries as a fight by Sunnis against the Alawite sect, headed by Syrian President Bashar Assad, an ally of Shi’ite Iran. But local interests, existential necessities and the fact that the refugees are, after all, foreigners, ultimately trump good intentions.

The refugees are now learning that hospitality has an expiration date, and that when temporary refugees become permanent residents attitudes tend to shift accordingly.

The Syrian refugees, however, have no interest whatsoever in returning to the cruel bosom of the Assad regime. Syria, for its part, views these refugees as potential enemies because they hail from those areas that spawned and waged the revolt, and it also fears they will become an insurmountable economic burden. To be sure, Syria’s rapid population growth (which reached some 25 million people in 2011) was one of the main factors behind the revolution. Now, after nearly one-third of the country’s residents have become refugees, the population, in the words of Assad himself, has become “more homogenous.”

The world has remained largely apathetic to this crisis. These refugees have already been abandoned once before, when the Assad regime slaughtered and kicked them out of their country, and now they are being forsaken yet again.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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