Posted by: Lister | June 11, 2007

Syria struggles to cope with refugees

More than 1.4 million Iraqis have fled to Syria since the 2003 invasion, with about 30,000 more arriving every month. It’s like the world is waiting for Syria to collapse under the weight of refugees.

Around 80 per cent of the Iraqis in Syria are believed to live in Damascus, according to the UNHCR, adding to the capital’s water and housing shortages. Schools and hospitals are struggling with the influx, with some schools reporting more than 60 students per class instead of the usual 30.

With the Iraqi refugees costing the state £500m over the past four years, according to a recent government statement, Damascus tried to tighten entry regulations a few months ago. The decision sparked protests in the capital and the government eventually capitulated, realising the issue could cause significant problems domestically.

“The government is now insisting that Iraqis register themselves to give details about accommodation, as Syria likes to have more control over the people here. However it is still very permissive, especially compared to Jordan and Lebanon,” said Mr Jolles.

[…] The influx of refugees, equivalent to roughly 8 per cent of Syria’s 19 million population, has resulted in inflationary pressure, doubling the price of accommodation and raising food costs by an estimated 10 percent in under two years. Petty crime and prostitution has also increased, with Iraqi women selling themselves on the streets for as little as £1.50.

Tensions are obviously rising between the locals and the refugees.

“People are complaining that Iraqis are raising the price of rents and oil, but if Syria doesn’t take them who will?” asked Dr Nabil Sukkar, managing director of the Syrian Consulting Bureau for Development and Investment.

Neighbouring Jordan is reeling from an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees, tightening entry requirements and imposing certain conditions on Iraqis that wish to stay in the country of 5.9 million people. Saudi Arabia is keeping its doors firmly shut, planning to build a US-Mexico style border fence, at the cost of a £3.5bn, to keep Iraqis out.

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