At the center of Za’atri, in northern Jordan, there’s a bustle of commercial activity. The “Champs-Elysees”, as the main street is known, hosts more than one hundred small street businesses, including rudimentary food shops, barber shops, clothes shops and even a tiny library. Coffee shops are on the rise, and surrounding the “downtown”, as it is called, there are already 12 neighborhoods, and even some soccer fields.
This description could seem certainly alluring if you don’t have in mind that Za’atri is not a city, but the second largest refugee camp in the world. It is a camp that houses some 120.000 Syrians since 2012 and where, according to a UNHRC description, “each night a thunderstorm of mortar and artillery fire can be heard across the border in Syria”.
Certainly, due to its large population, Za’atri could be considered as the fourth largest city in Jordan –actually, its overcrowding propelled the creation of another camp, 20 km east of the Jordan northern city of Zarqa, in the Marjeeb Al Fahood plains.
Yet, despite the large number of people housed there, Za’atri only represents a fraction of the real refugee situation.
So far, the Syrian war has created 2.1 million refugees and the United Nations calculates that the number can well reach 3.2 million by December 2013, and rise by an additional 2 million next year if the conflict drags on.
Also, there are more than 4 million people that are displaced inside Syria –a number that can rapidly climb to 6,5 million in 2014.
The humanitarian crisis, then, can only be described as catastrophic, and it will only get worse: according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, up to 8,3 million people –more than a third of the current Syrian population—would be in need by the end of next year.
One won’t have adjectives harrowing enough to describe that scenario.
One won’t have either strong enough words to explain the pressure receptor countries would be under. Jordan would have to deal with an almost incessant flow of Syrian refugees and manage at the same time the 450.000 Iraqi refugees that it already hosts. Lebanon, Turkey and even Iraq would face the same fate.
So far, international aid isn’t helping to refrain this pressure. Despite $1,3 billion has already been poured in, this sum only covers less than half of the estimated needs –for at least $2.9 billion are needed just right now to cover basic assistance services according to the United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR). Just figure out what the situation will look like if the number of refuges doubles –and it most than certainly will.
Want to make things even worse? Let’s look broadly at what is happening inside Syria.
Chemical weapons apart –the inspections and destruction operations are already in place--, the battlefield isn’t producing a clear winner, and one can just wishfully think that the current situation is at a stalemate –despite it seems that Al-Assad might have a slight advantage.
Let’s look at the numbers. Syrian armed forces right now accounts for 180.000 people –10.000 out of which are paramilitary. Lebanese Hizbollah forces –up to 4.000 fighters—back the Al-Assad regime, and the Iranian Quds –200 men—are providing the regime with intelligence support and military guidance.
On the other side, there is an Opposition coalition –based in Istanbul-- made up of exiled politicians (its Chairman is Ahmad al-Jarba). There is also the Free Syrian Army (FSA), comprising about 100.000 fighters on the ground, and supervised by the Supreme Military Council (lead by the General Salim Idriss). A plethora of other smaller –deeply fractioned, warlord-lead-- military groups and local brigades also fights against the Al-Assad regime.
The increasing radicalization of the opposition groups is a matter of great concern. Right now, out of the 100.000 fighters, 20.000 vindicate militant Islamist agendas. There is also Jabhat Al Nusra, a group directly linked to al-Qaeda, and the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), initially made up of fighters from Iraq and that now has 8.000 members.
These groups –especially the latter—are attracting large numbers of foreign supporters. By mid-2012, and according to an article in the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, the number of foreign fighters in Syria was small and comprised mainly by Libyans who strived to topple a dictatorship. Yet, when the northern border was liberated in July 2012, the situation changed: flocks of foreigners from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Chechnya joined the opposition forces. According to the Washington Post, from 6.000 to 10.000 foreign fighters have already joined the opposition in the past two years –a number that exceeds by far the level of volunteers who fled to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Most of them were clearly jihadists who wanted an Islamic theocracy established in Syria, and despite they initially joined Al-Nusra, in early 2013 they tended to move towards ISIS. The reason: ISIS is well-funded and thus it offers better conditions to its fighters. The economic support it delivers is such that, according to the Washington Post, the group has added 2.000 Syrians recruits and over 1.500 foreign fighters just in the past two months.
This situation prompted Al-Nusra to react in order to protect its fragile dominance. ISIS has repeatedly coaxed Al-Nusra into joining them, but Al-Nusra leader, Mohammed al-Jolani, has resisted the merge. By contrast, he sought the support of other opposition groups and, thus, on September 24, 2013, led the creation of an “Islamic Alliance” that, according to a joint declaration, aimed at transforming Syria into a regime “based on the rule of Sharia and making it the sole source of legislation”.
This Islamic Alliance has cut all ties with the Syrian National Council, and claims that it represents 75% of the rebels, for it includes important opposition forces, such as: the Tawheed Brigade, the biggest Free Syrian Army unit in Aleppo; Liwa al-Islam, the largest rebel group in Damascus; and Ahrar al-Sham, a nationwide group comprised by Syrian Salafist fighters.
To make things even worse, the fights among opposition groups are ramping up. Some local groups are resisting the dominance of ISIS and trying to refrain its increasing strength –using the arms if necessary –despite so far they have not been quite successful. In Azaz, in the north, ISIS battled the local faction, the Northern Storm Brigade. In the east, in cities like Raqqah and Deir el-Zour, similar clashes also were found. In all cases, ISIS leaved victorious.
Al-Nusra is also fighting against local groups, especially in the North of the country. Last month, for example, they clashed with kurds in the town of Atma and finally booted them out.
These clashes have had a direct impact not only in Syrian soil but also in the neighboring countries—especially Turkey. The fighting in Atma took place quite near of the border with the Turkey’s Hatay province and prompted Turkey, not only to shut its border (it was a main entrance for supplies, including medicines and food), but to began building up a two-meter high wall.
Summing up, the war in Syria is far from being resolved and, regrettably, it is far more close to a nightmare than to a manageable situation.
The worst-case scenario is not only foreseeable. It is already in front of us.