Regardless of where you live on this pale blue dot, no one has escaped the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization, United Nations, and even our own CDC here at home have told us the inevitable, that the most vulnerable populations among us will be hit the hardest. Truer words have never been spoken. Let’s take a look at a rapidly brewing humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
We all know that war-ravaged Syria has displaced millions of people. This crisis of despair is on-going. No sooner have things begun to stabilize, now we see the coronavirus is upon the very refugee camps created to protect those who lost loved ones, their homes, and nearly all their worldly possessions. Currently, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been working together to bring relief to these refugee camps. These NGOs have been working in concert with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Northeastern Syria (NES).
The main NGOs leading the relief effort in the NES include; WHO, Kurdish Red Crescent, and the United Nations. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse due to the arrival of the coronavirus. These organizations were granted limited access to three checkpoints along the Syrian border, but that number was reduced from three to two, and now to one.
It’s not difficult to understand why, but medical supplies must get through, as there are just not enough medical facilities, doctors, equipment, PPEs, medicines, or the required supply chain to deal with this pandemic in NES, not to mention the actual refugee camps. Testing is also at issue. Although there have been few coronavirus cases reported in Syria this is most likely because test kits simply have not been made available.
In the districts in the Northeastern Region of Syria medical facilities do not even meet the minimum standard of 18 hospital beds per 10,000 people. The international relief efforts now operate about 58 primary health facilities, 37 mobile clinics, and 13 hospitals – all of which rely on medical supplies, and PPE from across Syrian borders. NGOs have attempted to complain to the United Nations’ Security Council of Syria’s failure to allow shipments, but Russia vetoed the request to look into the issue at the last meeting.
The Syrian Government claims it has facilitated shipments and processed all the paperwork required, but the NGOs say none have arrived. Have the Syrian refugee camps been forsaken amid the coronavirus? Test kits that moved through Damascus seemed to have pit stopped there, and never made it to their final destination. The total number of infected and the total number of deaths from Covid-19 are simply not known reports foreign policy think tanks tracking COVID-19, like the FDD.
As things get worse and stuck in the bureaucracy and/or in various UN committees people are dying. Although the fighting has stopped, the Syrian Government is not too keen on cross border deliveries to the region which could potentially include weapons, more fighters, or the means to pick up the conflict battle in the future. Turkey doesn’t want the Kurds moving through its border, and the Syrian government doesn’t want any more problems from the Kurdistan area of Iraq moving from one side of the border to the other.
Most Middle East countries do not want these refugees and with the price of oil down they can’t afford to take them even if they did want them. While the rest of the region deals with their own coronavirus problems and they have their hands full, many are on the verge of economic collapse.
Russia as an ally of Syria and involved in the war effort to protect Assad’s Syrian military is not interested in the humanitarian crisis, only protecting the borders during a non-fighting period. If supplies cannot come from Turkey or Iraq, then could they come from Jordan? Well, there seems to be a problem with that, as it would require the convoys to traverse too much of Syria and go through a region where they don’t belong according to a leading report on current events affecting Syria and the Middle East.
Normally, such a humanitarian crisis like this would get the full attention of the world, but right now there is simply too much coronavirus chaos, and nations’ leaders are preoccupied with their own challenges and medical supply needs. Remember everyone needs medical supplies now, so even if the deliveries could be made, they’d still fall short of need, at least this is what indications of how COVID-19 is affecting foreign policy in Syria show us, notes the FDD.
One could say that a big crisis just received the ultimate force-multiplier (the coronavirus pandemic) adding more variables, shortages, and time to any potentially viable solution to the Syrian refugee problem. If you will recall, the EU had already been told by many of its nation members that they were full-up with immigrant refugees even before the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian Government is even using this coronavirus crisis to plant malware and spyware onto the smartphones of those in Syria to find out what they are up to. They are offering an APP for Android Phones that claims to be a digital thermometer so users can track their temperature, it doesn’t work, as it merely shows the same temperature whenever used, but it allows access to the phone and gives geolocation data as well.
As major cities in Syria like Aleppo were bombed by the Russians and the Syrian army millions were displaced and many fled to neighboring countries. Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and other nations simply couldn’t take anymore. The refugee camps got bigger and bigger, barely manageable, and somewhat controlled chaos at first to an impossible humanitarian crisis not seen in nearly a decade. The data and science and technology information affecting COVID-19 and the Middle East suggests that the refugee camps could lose 100,000 people before all this is over.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Some blame Assad and his regime, some blame the United States, some blame ISIS, some blame Iran, some blame Russia, and foreign policy researchers on COVID-19’s effect say it’s not surprising.
It’s hard to say what will happen to all those refugees, or how many will survive the latest coronavirus crisis, especially considering the issues with hunger in the camps along with the ever-present problem of starvation and extreme weather events the region has experienced so far. Coronavirus and its effect on policy in Syria and the Middle East are not fully known yet, but those with a watchful eye on the issues tell us, this won’t end well.