Since last month’s chemical weapons attack, Syria has chased the coup and chaos in Egypt off the front pages. Nevertheless, both crises continue to shake the social and political foundation of the Middle East. This has been true, on and off, since early 2011. But now the two countries’ crises are converging in a worrying new trend: the flow of Syrian refugees into – and then out of – Egypt.
My colleague, Mark Yarnell, and I were recently in Mogadishu, Somalia. Anyone visiting Mogadishu can see the new construction and other evidence of money flowing back into this city, which was devastated by years of conflict. As Mark and I drove around, we also saw the downside of these changes. Many sites where internally displaced people (IDPs) were living a year ago had since been cleared by private landowners and the government.
I have just completed a five day trip to Mogadishu where my colleague, Garrett Bradford, and I visited camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). There are more than 300,000 IDPs living in makeshift shelters in camps spread across the Somali capital. Some camps, like the one near the dilapidated Parliament building, are teeming with thousands of families. Others consist of just a few dozen people living on private, undeveloped housing lots.
More than 100,000 people are now living in displacement camps in northern Myanmar, driven from their homes by conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). While about a third of these individuals are living in government-controlled areas, the vast majority are located in zones controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the KIA’s political wing.
In recent weeks, stories from the unfolding crisis in Jonglei State, South Sudan, have started reaching Western newspapers. More than 100,000 people are estimated to be displaced, trapped in soon-to-be malaria-infested swamps beyond the reach of aid agencies. The government of South Sudan has denied access to the displaced and wounded, leading to fears that the situation in this severely food-insecure state could rapidly deteriorate into a full-scale humanitarian emergency.
As Hassan shuffled around the room with my camera in hand, snapping photos of his cousin Juhanah, his grandmother told the story of how their extended family came to share this simple concrete dwelling in southern Turkey. Like the stories of many other Syrian families taking refuge in neighboring countries, hers was one of trauma, loss, and uncertainty.
It has been nearly a year since Somalia established a new federal government, ostensibly ending years of political transition. Some areas in Somalia are indeed experiencing increased stability and economic revival, but overall, a severe and complex humanitarian crisis continues and many challenges remain – especially for the country’s 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
As the number of Syrian refugees continues to grow and host communities feel the crunch, Lebanon is considering changes to its immigration policies which would limit the number of Syrian arrivals. Lebanon has been very welcoming toward Syrians so far, but with Syrian refugees now comprising roughly 25 percent of its population, there are fears that the demographic balance of the country is in jeopardy. Many here also worry that high social tensions related to the refugee influx could cause internal conflict.