Syrian refugee crisis pushes nearby nations to limit

Neighbouring countries tell delegates in Berlin financial support is not enough

Syrian Kurd refugees pass a child to waiting hands on the Turkish side of the border, just west of Kobani in Syria. Photograph: Bryan Denton/The New York Times

After nearly four years, Syria’s neighbours say they have reached breaking point in their hosting of millions of civil war refugees, warning a Berlin conference yesterday that they face “host country fatigue”.

More than 40 countries meeting in the German capital agreed to boost financial support for Syria’s neighbours, but the countries now home to the majority of the three million refugees said financial assistance was not enough.

Lebanon's prime minister Tammam Salam warned the conference that the current situation was an unsustainable "daily tragedy". His country, with a population of just 4.5 million, has taken in some 1.1 million refugees in the past 3½ years of a conflict that has claimed almost 200,000 lives.

Mr Salam warned that the huge strain was a breeding ground for resentment among the Lebanese population, with new arrivals driving up rents and driving down hourly pay rates. “The massive influx of Syrians into poor communities totally unprepared to cope with such a sudden burden has had a destabilising effect,” he said, “with a variety of challenges and threats that constitute a fertile ground for extremism and violence.”


‘Huge burden’

Turkey's deputy foreign minister, Naci Koru, said international contributions had covered just 16 per cent of its spending on Syrian refugees to date. "This has fallen significantly short of our expectations," he said.

Meanwhile, Jordanian foreign minister Nasser Judeh said the 1.5 million refugees in his country had placed strain on all resources, from water supplies and school places to hospital beds. "We are not just talking about the suffering of the Syrian people that affects us all, but the huge burden countries like ours are carrying on behalf of the world community," he said.

“We are approaching host- country fatigue in which the limit of our ability to address the needs of Syrian refugees is being tested and has already been reached.”

UN refugee commissioner António Guterres agreed that the international assistance to date left much to be desired given Syria was the most dramatic humanitarian crisis of recent times. "The conflict has spilled over into Iraq, threatens the security of its neighbours and global peace and security," he said.

The German hosts of yesterday’s refugee conference said it had provided more than €650 million to tackle the cost of the Syrian crisis including €140 million this year.


German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier said international aid had to move beyond assisting refugees to supporting hospitals, schools, water and waste systems in the neighbouring countries. "This is not only a question of more money," he said. "We also need to use the funding more effectively and more sustainably." He said that Germany has taken in some 70,000 Syrians since 2012 and is willing to do more.

“We hear the call from host countries to reduce the number of refugees,” he said.

The US pledged an additional $10 million at the conference, bringing to $2.9 billion the level of support since the start of the Syrian civil war.

Delegates agreed that a long-term strategy was now required to support both refugees and their host countries. More than 50 non-government aid organisations issued a joint appeal in Berlin for aid spending for Syrians to double and for western nations to take in at least 180,000 of the three million refugees.

In Europe, Sweden has taken in the largest numbers relative to its population – more than 67,000 in absolute numbers or 7,014 per million population. Ireland has taken in 1,945 refugees.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin