Syrian refugee crisis reaches tipping point on 8th anniversary

The Syrian conflict has reached a pivotal moment.

As the world prepares to mark the eighth anniversary of the crisis on Friday, there is mounting pressure for Syria's 5.6 million refugees in neighbouring countries to return home. 

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians now live in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

They told Newshub they can't go home yet. Many have family still in Syria who have told them not to return because it's simply not safe.

Khelfa Al Muhammed fled Syria with her children when Islamic State started bombing her local markets. They crossed the border into Lebanon and set up home in a tent - that was six years ago.

She says the threat in Syria remains.

"Where we come from, Islamic State are not defeated, they are still very present."

Her family lives alongside hundreds of thousands of other Syrian refugees. Her husband is unemployed and they rely on donations of food and money to survive.

"People still need help, the war for us is not over. There is still so much need."

In Jordan, 80,000 Syrians live in the city-sized Zaatari refugee camp. Even its youngest residents have war playing on their mind.

Six-year-old Omar doesn't like hearing planes overhead because she thinks it's the sign of war.

Seven-year-old Mohammed says he had to leave Syria "because there are a lot of bombs there - if we stay there we will die". 

The boys have lived in makeshift shelters 30km from Syria's border for five years, in a camp that was never intended to be home to so many for so long.

They both say they feel frightened when they hear adults talking about returning to Syria.

Surveys by the United Nations found that 76 percent of Syrian refugees do want to return home to Syria one day. However 85 percent said they had no intention of doing so in the next 12 months. 

While there have been a small number of verified voluntary returns, there are also accounts of families going home to Syria only to become refugees once again because it's simply not safe enough yet. 

But the 5.6 million Syrians - more than half of them children - who have fled to neighbouring countries may not have a choice.

Steffen Schwarz, head of World Vision's Jordan Response, says the international support and donations which these camps rely on is drastically reducing - and Syrians shouldn't be forced out. 

"In some places entire neighbourhoods have disappeared, people have lost all their property, people have lost family on the other side, and people will wonder if they should ever return, to be honest."

The choices are bleak for people like Khelfa, but like so many others who have wound up in places like the Bekaa Valley, for now there is no going back.

If you'd like to get involved, visit World Vision here.


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