Recent UNHCR figures (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) show the rapid escalation of the refugee crisis engulfing Syria and neighbouring countries.
Far from a steady growth in refugee numbers, instead it shows an alarmingly steep increase of people fleeing violence in Syria to camps across the border. And this doesn’t include many thousands of people arriving in border communities already struggling to cope. With as many as 4 million more displaced within Syria itself, this is a huge and long term crisis.
Today, Oxfam raises its Syria Crisis response to a ‘Category 1’ emergency. This is not a media soundbite (we don’t refer to it publicly). What it means is that our humanitarian teams with years of experience in all kinds of emergencies put the scale of human suffering they are encountering, the complexity of the situation, and therefore the size of response needed from Oxfam and other agencies at the very highest level. It’s also an internal directive for all Oxfam staff to urgently prioritise work on Syria above all else.
This is not something Oxfam does lightly. To put this into perspective, the Asian Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 was one of the very few other Category 1 emergencies of the last decade. This emergency was accompanied by shocking footage that revealed the scale of the disaster in the starkest possible terms, and the UK public responded with unprecedented generosity (up to £1M an hour was donated in the immediate aftermath).
Other ‘Category 1s’, such as the chronic food crisis in East Africa in 2011-12, are every bit as important, but more easily overlooked: the causes are complex, and the consequences unfold slowly over time, making them difficult, if not impossible, to capture at a single moment in time. So it is with Syria.
But in the absence of defining images to crystallise the plight of refugees fleeing violence, UN figures like these at least go some way to illustrating that the crisis in and around Syria is huge and growing, and Syria’s families need our help more than ever.
Here, across the Oxfam confederation, it’s going to be all hands to the pump over the coming weeks and months. If you can help, please donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal.