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In the spring of 2011, conflict broke out between the Syrian government and opposition groups demanding reforms. Since then, roughly 100,000 Syrians have been killed, and more than six million are thought to be displaced inside the country. The fighting and destruction continue to spread as the government and rebels struggle for control of the country. As of February 2014, more than 2.4 million Syrians have registered as refugees in neighboring countries, and refugees already in Syria from third countries are being displaced again in growing numbers. Government restrictions and violence by non-state armed groups limit aid agencies' ability to provide humanitarian assistance.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Best estimates as of February 2014 suggested that 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, while more than 9 million inside the country may be vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is the country’s main aid provider, but the Syrian government has heavily restricted which organizations may provide aid to whom, and in what form. As a result, the response to those in need has been inadequate even as their numbers grow weekly.
Before the conflict began, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported a large population of registered Iraqi refugees in Syria, primarily in and around Damascus. This population has remained heavily dependent upon humanitarian aid because employment opportunities are few. However, UNHCR has had to cut back its capacity by almost half due to the conflict, leaving some Iraqis without protection and services. Tens of thousands of Iraqis had fled back to Iraq as of June 2013 and are facing sectarian conflicts back home, as well as a lack of basic services and high unemployment.
Palestinians in Syria also face a difficult choice: to live in danger, or to seek refuge in a nearby country that may not welcome them. There have been reports of Palestinians inside Syria being specifically targeted by both government forces and rebels, as well as simply being caught in the crossfire. Scores of Palestinians who left for Jordan during 2012 have been held at a transit center on the border, forbidden to enter the country and unable to return to Syria in safety.
Well into the fourth year of the conflict in Syria, it is clear that Syrian refugees in the neighboring countries will not be able to return home in the near future. In Lebanon, where one in four residents is a Syrian refugee, the demands of providing emergency assistance to refugees while trying to support disadvantaged host communities have become especially complex. Lebanon’s government has not been able to come to agreement on approving a range of support projects for both Syrian refugees and disadvantaged Lebanese nationals. And while this political debate goes on, tensions between hosts and guests continue to rise.