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Syria Displacement Crisis Worsens As Protracted Humanitarian Emergency Looms

IRC report calls aid levels for Syria crisis insufficient and spotlights forsaken urban refugees and ongoing sexual violence as issues that need urgent attention

NEW YORK, Jan. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Nearly two years into Syria's civil war, the region faces a staggering humanitarian disaster, requiring the international community to urgently scale up planning and funding for what is certain to be a long-term regional crisis, says the International Rescue Committee's Commission on Syrian Refugees.

"The Middle East is once again facing a human displacement tragedy," the commission states in its new report, Syria: A Regional Crisis. "Current assistance levels are drastically insufficient to address existing needs, let alone the barest requirements to respond to a lengthy humanitarian emergency and post-conflict recovery."

As of today, more than 600,000 Syrians have fled to over-burdened neighboring countries and the UN anticipates that number could soon exceed 1 million if the exodus continues at its current pace of about 3,000 refugees a day. Inside Syria, more than 2 million civilians are displaced and the UN estimates that 4 million are in dire need of assistance.

Inside Syria: Struggling to Survive Based on interviews with refugees, the IRC report says Syrian civilians are struggling to survive in communities besieged by violence, chaos and destruction. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble. Fleeing families face recurring displacement amid a moving frontline. Supplies of food, water and electricity have sharply dwindled, sanitation in many areas has halted, increasing the threat of disease, yet medical care has become scarce.

Partner organizations that provide emergency medical services and supplies inside Syria say the health care system has been decimated.  Syrian physicians described to the IRC "a systematic campaign to restrict access to lifesaving care through the strategic bombing and forced closure of medical facilities" and "intimidation, torture and the targeted killing of doctors in retribution for treating the wounded."

The report also details horrific levels of sexual violence, describing "rape as a significant and disturbing feature of the Syrian civil war." In the course of three IRC assessments in Lebanon and Jordan, Syrians identified rape as a primary reason their families fled the country. "Many women and girls relayed accounts of being attacked in public or in their homes, primarily by armed men. These rapes, sometimes by multiple perpetrators, often occur in front of family members," the report states. The IRC was also told of attacks in which women and girls were kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed.

Because of the stigma and social norms around the "dishonor" that rape brings to women and girls and their families, Syrian survivors rarely report rape. Many interviewed by the IRC also said survivors fear retribution by their assailants, being killed by "shamed" family members, or in the case of girls, being married off at an early age "to safeguard their honor." For survivors who manage to flee, there is a shortage of medical and counseling services to help them recover in the communities where they have settled and even there, challenges continue. Many women and girls face unsafe conditions in refugee camps as well as elevated levels of domestic violence.

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