In a post on Thursday, Kemal Kirisci, an expert on Turkey at the Brookings Institution, addressed some of these questions:
In spite of numerous appeals by Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, to the EU and the United States to make resettlement available, as of August 2015 there were only about 100,000 spots available, which is less than 3 percent of the overall number of Syrian refugees. The EU and the United States have resettled fewer than 9,000 Syrians since 2011, a truly miniscule [sic] number compared to the burden carried by Syria’s neighbors.
As for funding for humanitarian assistance, the burden-sharing picture has not been much better. The U.N. has struggled to find funding to assist countries hosting refugees and to provide humanitarian assistance into Syria. Only half of that assistance budget for 2014 was met, while in August the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for 2015 and 2016 remained almost two-thirds underfunded.
In a situation of such protracted displacement, Syrian refugees are increasingly recognizing that hospitality for them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey has maxed out and “la barque est pleine.” The international community is failing to address the humanitarian crisis—let alone the political one—in Syria; Guterres’s appeals have pretty much gone unanswered. This depressing picture is compelling Syrian refugees to take the ultimate risk of trusting their self-resettlement to the hands of human smugglers, rather than the EU, the United States, and international agencies.
Kirisci told me that while there are 1.9 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, there are perhaps something like 250,000 unregistered refugees in the country. They are unregistered for a variety of reasons; some live outside government-run refugee camps (as do most of the registered refugees), while others fear that registering will prevent them from moving beyond Turkey to the European Union. If they’re not registered, it’s difficult for these refugees to leave Turkey legally or be resettled elsewhere through official channels.
The European Union has not yet developed a “credible resettlement program that Syrian refugees would have heard, or picked up through the grapevine,” he said. “And had there been such a program I think refugees would have thought twice, three times, before presenting themselves to the unscrupulous human smugglers.”
“As the [Syrian] conflict enters its fifth year, and with absolutely no prospects of a diplomatic solution, no effort on the part of anybody really to find a solution to the crisis in Syria, I think these people began to get very frustrated and concerned and panicky, and off they went,” he continued. “And off they went with a snowball effect, and the European Union has been caught unprepared.”
On Wednesday, despite widespread awareness of the numerical scale of the problem Kirisci described to me, many were caught unprepared for what it could look like: somebody’s son, lying face down on a beach, with his head to one side. The distribution of the photo raises a host of complicated questions, but its underlying resonance is simple: All our sons sleep just like that. And they deserve to sleep safely.