The Syrian cage

Modern humanitarianism is struggling to keep pace with rapid developments in the tactics of modern conflict.

    Syrian refugees wait to board a Jordanian army vehicle after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families [Reuters]
    Syrian refugees wait to board a Jordanian army vehicle after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families [Reuters]

    Forgotten somewhat in the shadow of the seismic fallout from Britain's decision to leave the European Union, the conflict in Syria continues to worsen. Bereft of a functioning peace process and beset on all sides by armed actors, Syria's civilian population faces the further challenge of being increasingly trapped in the centre of a deadly storm.

    They can't travel south. In late June, following an attack on their forces, Jordan declared its border region with Syria a closed military zone, while announcing that no additional refugee camps would be built or expanded.

    A humanitarian disaster is on the horizon as no food and little water has reached some 64,000 Syrian refugees stuck on the border.

    Inside Story - Who's to blame for the worsening refugee crisis?

    Speaking at a recent conference on migration, Professor Dawn Chatty, of the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, described Jordan as "preventing Syrians from coming into the country and deporting people back".

    Meanwhile, the Kingdom's foreign minister said the country's security outweighed humanitarian concerns.

    Pushing back refugees

    Travelling north, the single most popular route out of the country is becoming increasingly fraught.

    Earlier in June Turkish border guards killed at least eight Syrian refugees, including several children, as families were reportedly "fired on indiscriminately" after attempting to cross into the country.

    READ MORE: The death of the Syria peace process

    Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch Refugee programme director, shared another story that suggested that Turkey was looking to build automatic shooting gun towers every 300 metres along the border, in addition to more fences.

    Inside the country there are now 6.6 million internally displaced Syrians, including nearly 850,000 people in hard-to-reach areas and more than 330,000 in besieged locations.


    Turkish towns on the border are increasingly pushing back against allowing more Syrians in.

    The nearby regional hub of Gaziantep has suffered several attacks and following the major attack on the Ataturk Airport Turks are calling for further security measures to protect against security threats from Syria

    To Syria's west, the Lebanese army continues to fortify the infamously permeable border and is in active conflict with extremist groups near the town of Arsal.

    The security concerns emanating from Syria were put into sharper focus towards the end of a June when eight suicide bombers attacked a Christian town in the Bekaa Valley.

    Finally, to Syria's east are ISIL's heartland and the fires of the Iraqi conflict.

    Inside the country there are now 6.6 million internally displaced Syrians, including nearly 850,000 people in hard-to-reach areas and more than 330,000 in besieged locations.

    Thread all of these trends together and it becomes clear that increasingly Syrian civilians are trapped by the conflict within the country and by the actions of the neighbouring states encouraged by European countries fearful of the migrant crisis.

    Syrian refugees arrive at the area of Al-Roqban in Jordan [Getty]

    Humanitarian agencies wanting to help Syrians trapped inside this cage face huge challenges of their own.

    More than 50 humanitarian, human rights and civil society groups backed a report from the Syria Campaign that accused the UN of giving in to demands not to help rebel-held areas.

    Threat of aerial aid drops

    The threat of aerial aid drops suddenly allowed UN convoys into many hard-to-reach areas, but often this access was accompanied by a subsequent heavy bombardment.

    There is a $16.1bn shortfall in this year's UN humanitarian funding appeal, and one wonders what the price will be for such seeming indifference to this conflict of a generation.

    READ MORE: Can the world provide Syrians with aid from above?

    The decision by armed actors, primarily the regime, to treat aid access as a means of war has huge implications for the principles of humanitarianism and makes a mockery of the once powerful notion of "responsibility to protect".

    Modern humanitarianism is struggling to keep pace with the rapid developments in the tools and tactics of modern conflict and there is an urgent need for thought leadership as well as technological innovation in the fields of humanitarian technology to address these challenges and help reach those civilians inside Syria.

    The notion of seeing Syria as a security problem to defend against rather than a conflict with a vast humanitarian consequence that needs to be addressed for moral and legal as well as strategic reasons has to be challenged.

    The country cannot be sealed off to civilians looking to survive a war that has killed a quarter of a million of their countrymen and women and set back Syrian life expectancy 20 years.

    Murdered British parliamentarian and former aid worker Jo Cox once wrote: "Syria is our generation's test, our responsibility."

    With Europe in flux and a new US president in the White House in the new year, there is another chance for some of the world's biggest powers to step up to this biggest of challenges.

    James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues and a research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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