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Housing Refugees of the Middle East Conflicts: Where Will They Go?

Housing Refugees of the Middle East Conflicts: Where Will They Go?

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs the ICRC guest book, as Mr. Maurer Looks on; 3rd Oct., 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2017 (IPS) - Prolonged conflicts in the Middle East have led to a deadly humanitarian crisis, with as many as 17.5 million people displaced in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In Syria alone, 11.5 million people have fled their homes—more than three people a minute—since the beginning of war in 2011. Five million have fled the country, and six million live in ad-hoc shelters across the country.

The new numbers, in a report by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) highlight the sheer magnitude of movement in the region, and the struggle of everyday life in first-hand accounts.

“When the siege of east Aleppo started last Ramadan [2016], the situation grew even more difficult as people were stranded for 190 days. The situation there was in a state of paralysis. My son was always hungry as there was nothing to eat or drink. Food was extremely expensive. We were forced to eat different kinds of lentil-based food. As a result, I lost 25 kilos,” said Yasser, a businessman in Aleppo, who watched his son die as his building collapsed after a bombing.

Aleppo, a flourishing economic hub in northern Syria, laid in ruins after four years of hellish fighting between varying warring groups. When the fighting finally ended on Dec. 15, 2016, 35,000 people were evacuated to neighbouring areas in just one week. As residents move back into the city, livable housing remains a major problem.

In Ramadi, Iraq, which was recently liberated from the Islamic State, fighting damaged almost 80 percent of the city. By March, more than a year since the war ended, only 60 percent of its civilians were able to return to the city. Nationwide, even before the Iraqi offensive on Mosul began in October 2016, almost a tenth of Iraqis were uprooted from their homes.

In Mosul, at the beginning of April this year, nearly 274,000 remained displaced from their homes in the city.

In all cases, the extent of damage has been complicated by tactics of urban warfare—firing in densely packed cities, and employing sieges against civilians.

In three cities—Foua, Kefraya and Madaya—in eastern Aleppo, for instance, nearly 60,000 civilians were trapped in a siege that lasted 190 days in 2016. Similarly, in a 15-month siege in Taiz, Yemen, nearly 200,000 people were caught in the cross-fire.

Matters are made worse by continual use of high-impact weapons that destroy urban infrastructure—a single broken pipe, for instance, can deprive 100,000 people of water.

“What we are witnessing is a sustained assault on, and massive disregard for, the provision of health care during times of conflict,” said ICRC President Peter Maurer and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) President Dr Joanne Liu in a co-written editorial for The Guardian.

The report urges parties involved in the conflict to uphold the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), protect urban settings, and work to the pressing concerns of civilians.

On May 3, 2016, spurred by ongoing attacks on volunteers and medical facilities, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2286, which called on all warring parties to protect medical facilities and personnel.

 
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