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Middle East and Africa

The Economy of Refugee Camps

The exile of millions of Syrians has led to the creation of both official and unofficial temporary settlements in the Middle East. Neighbourhood and village dynamics are recreated inside them, together with forms of commerce and exchange, and these help to keep the identity of a people alive

[This article is published in Oasis no. 24. To read all the contents buy a copy or subscribe] According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Syrian conflict has produced more than five million refugees. It is one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the Middle East since the Second World War and, in terms of numbers, it outdoes the latest conflict in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Since 2015, the refugees have been increasingly directed towards further-flung destinations such as Europe. The Middle East nevertheless continues to be the region in which the highest number of refugees is concentrated. Given that the conflict is dragging on indefinitely, the countries bordering on Syria are facing the issue of refugees settling in their respective host countries. After the major waves of Palestinian refugees in 1948 and 1967 and save in rare, exceptional case, the states in the region have always refused to accept the creation of new refugee camps. Nonetheless, Jordan and Turkey have questioned this policy and new camps have been opened on the borders with Syria. Looking beyond the figures and the debates that these can trigger in the host countries, there is a need to consider the significance of this exodus, the extent and prolongation of which have profoundly reshaped Syrian society. Exile is not the lot of just some categories of the population, such as those actively opposing Bashar al-Assad’s regime: it is involving whole sectors of Syrian society who are being forced to leave by the mass destruction and prolonged insecurity. The multiplication of actors in the conflict is causing Syrian territory to become increasingly fragmented, whilst the violence has become so widespread that finding refuge inside Syria (as a large number of refugees try to do initially) is becoming an ever more complex undertaking. The number of internally displaced persons concentrated in the safer zones continues to grow, making it increasingly difficult to access accommodation and primary services in many Syrian cities. Leaving Syria to seek asylum thus becomes the only possible option. The fact that the conflict is being protracted is pushing refugees to seek more durable settlement spaces where they can try to reconstruct a more stable life. [This article is published in Oasis no. 24. To read all the contents buy a copy or subscribe]

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