BEIRUT – The massive, chaotic influx of Syrians fleeing their country's civil war has stretched the resources of the neighboring countries taking them in and raised fears of sectarian fighting spreading across the region. As the U.N. refugee agency announces that the number of Syrians who have fled their country and are now seeking assistance has passed the one million mark, here's a look at the problems facing Syria's neighbors who are hosting them:
LEBANON — Lebanon is home to more than 300,000 registered refugees, with many more not on the books scattered around the country. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres says the influx has caused Lebanon's population to swell by as much as 10 percent. Despite grave risk to its own stability, Lebanon has kept its border open to the refugees, but the sheer numbers are straining health, education and housing services to the brink of collapse. Many Lebanese fear the Syrians are becoming a burden on an already fragile nation still recovering from its own civil war. The refugee issue in Lebanon is also complicated by the country's own sectarian rifts and divisions between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, exacerbating tensions between Shiites and Sunnis. Lebanon's Christian factions, meanwhile, are calling on the government to close the borders entirely, saying the influx of Muslims from Syria will endanger the delicate demographic balance. For political reasons, Lebanon has not established camps for the refugees. Lebanon's Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said recently the refugees are becoming a national security threat.
JORDAN — Jordan is home to than 425,000 registered refugees, and the numbers are growing daily by 2,000 to 3,000. Most of the Syrians are staying in the Zaatari refugee camp, and authorities are building another camp to manage the massive surge. Jordan also provides refuge to more than 3,000 senior police and army officers who defected from the Assad regime, and also hosts the most prominent politician to defect to date, former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab. The defectors are kept in seclusion for their own security. Jordan is still reeling from an influx of Iraqis who fled sectarian fighting in their homeland unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago. Amman is concerned about rising sectarian tensions in Syria and the growing influence of Islamic radicals among the rebel fighters in Syria, believing that these elements — if left unchecked — could spread the instability around the region.
TURKEY — Turkey is home to nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees in camps, with another 100,000 living on their own. The Turkish government has been funding and managing the refugees, whom they have sheltered in 17 camps that have schools, medical centers and other social facilities. Ankara has spent some $700 million on those facilities since the Syrian conflict began two years ago, and government officials say they've received about $90 million from foreign donors. While Turkey's borders with Syria remain open, the country is carefully managing the flow of refugees, processing the new arrivals as more accommodation facilities become available to house them. But Ankara, too, is reaching its limit of how much it alone can do to help Syrians fleeing conflict.
IRAQ — Iraq is home to more than 100,000 refugees. The majority of the Syrians in the country are ethnic Kurds who have found shelter in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. As many as 40,000 of them live in a camp of tents and cinderblock shacks near the Syrian border, while the rest have found jobs and homes in towns across the region, where the Iraqi Kurdish government allows them to move around freely. Some Syrians have sought refuge in Iraq's restive Western province of Anbar. The exact number is not known, but they are believed to be mostly Sunnis who dominate the revolt against the Assad regime, which is largely composed of members of the leader's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Officials from the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, which has been accused of siding with Assad in the conflict, have raised concerns that violence from Syria's civil war could spill over into their own country. Iraq is still reeling from a bloody sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands of civilians as Shiite and Sunni militias fought for dominance after Saddam Hussein was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion 10 years ago.