UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations has issued a warning that a refugee crisis of historic international proportions is developing in Syria.
The U.N. is reporting this week that an estimated 5,000 desperate Syrians are fleeing their homes every day in a nation that now has 2 million refugees.
With the impending possibility the Obama administration, with or without the approval of Congress, will launch a unilateral military attack on the Bashar al-Assad government, the issue of the Syrian refugee crisis surfaced Wednesday in President Obama’s press conference in Sweden.
Sweden’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, reminded Obama that Sweden has taken the position that all refugees fleeing Syria are now welcome in Sweden, the first European Union country to make such a decision.
Sweden has accepted 14,700 Syrian asylum seekers since the civil war began last year, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
Sweden, a Nordic country with a population of about 9.5 million, expects to accept some 16,000 refugees from Syria this year among a total of 50,000 this year. Others are coming from nations such as Somalia and Afghanistan. It’s the largest number of asylum-seekers accepted by Sweden since the war in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Today, Syrian refugees are being given immediate temporary residence in Sweden, except for those who come from another EU country and, according to EU rules, first seek asylum in the EU country they enter.
“You’re in a small country now, and here we are deeply committed to the United Nations,” Reinfeldt reminded Obama, suggesting subtly that even if he obtains congressional authorization, he still lacks international approval for a military attack on Syria.
On his way to the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, the White House hastily scheduled the stop in Stockholm after canceling a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Disagreements regarding Syria and the Russian decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who has disclosed secrets about National Security Agency surveillance of U.S. citizens, are widely believed to be the reason Obama decided to cancel the plan to meet with Putin.
Syrian refugees flood surrounding countries
The Syrian refugee crisis has placed an overwhelming burden on the host countries’ infrastructures, economies and societies, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, noted. The agency noted that with an average of almost 5,000 Syrians fleeing into neighboring countries every day, the need for international support has reached a critical stage.
“The world risks being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian disaster,” said UNHCR special envoy and renowned actress Angelina Jolie. “The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications. If the situation continues to deteriorate at this rate, the number of refugees will only grow, and some neighboring countries could be brought to the point of collapse.”
According to the United Nations, 716,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon and are living in refugee camps. An estimated 515,000 have gone to Jordan, 460,000 to Turkey, 168,000 to Iraq and 110,000 to Egypt.
Jolie added that the world was “tragically disunited” on how to end the Syria conflict.
“But there should be no disagreement over the need to alleviate human suffering, and no doubt of the world’s responsibility to do more. We have to support the millions of innocent people ripped from their homes, and increase the ability of neighboring countries to cope with the influx.”
In addition to the 2 million people who have fled Syria since the civil war began last year, a further 4.2 million people are displaced inside Syria, the U.N. further reported. Consequently, more Syrians are now forcibly displaced than people from any other country.
Assad using ‘human shields’?
Meanwhile, the Associated Press in Beirut has reported that Syria is moving troops and weapons to population centers and hiding them in places where a U.S. military strike would necessitate killing civilians as collateral damage.
“The Syrian regime knows there are 30-40 potential targets for U.S. airstrikes, and they have had ample time to prepare,” Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and director of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut, told the AP.
“Half of them, if not more, have been evacuated, moved or camouflaged. This is the natural thing to do.”
Concerns in the international community are mounting that Assad has moved thousands of Syrian prisoners captured from rebel forces to act as “human shields” to deter U.S. fighter jet or cruise missile attacks on key military targets, the Daily Mail in London reported.
The Syrian Coalition in Istanbul said in a statement that Assad’s regime is amassing detained activists and civilians in prisons inside military locations that may be potential targets for foreign military forces.
“Using civilians as human shields is a blatant breach of International Humanitarian Law, and those responsible must be held accountable for crimes against humanity,” the organization said.