In March 2011,the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, was threatened by pro-democracy forces who demanded an end to the authoritarian practices of the Assad regime, in place since 1971. Violence erupted when police and military attempted to suppress demonstrations. When the demonstrations continued following Assad’s 30 March speech to Syrian protesters, Assad appealed to the wishes of demonstrators and ended the emergency law and dissolved Syria’s Supreme State Security Court, which was in place to give due process to those who were accused of challenging the government. Despite these actions, protests continued and the violence against ensued by the military. After attacks on their cities, thousands of residents fled across the Turkish border, into Lebanon and surrounding Member States. Since 2011 the number of refugees is estimated at over 9 million, whom are taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq;”an additional 6.5 million are displaced within Syria.
The 1994 Arab Convention on Regulating Status of Refugees in the Arab Countries defines a refugee as someone who:
"is outside the country of his nationality or outside his habitual place of residence in case of not having a nationality and owing to well-grounded fear of being persecuted on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of or return to such country. Any person who unwillingly takes refuge in a country other than his country of origin or his habitual place of residence because of sustained aggression against, occupation and foreign domination of such country or because of the occurrence of natural disasters or grave events resulting in major disruption of public order in the whole country or any part thereof.”
Considering the breadth of the above definition and the millions of civilians it applies to, several organizations have pledged aid to the people of Syria. The European Union (EU) intervened and imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes on specific government officials thought responsible for the violence against protesters. The Syrian refugee crisis is no longer a domestic situation, but has expanded into an international emergency that requires the coordination of all Arab leaders.
Arab Refugee Response
The HOS has partnered the League of Arab States with the UNHCR on issues relating to refugees in the Middle East, including the “Arabs-Hand-in-Hand-With-Iraqis” campaign for the Iraqi refugees. The Arab League continued their support of UN policies with Resolution 194 (III) of the United Nations General Assembly, which declares the rights of refugees to return to their homes with restitution for damages or compensation in the event that they do not return. In regards to the Palestinian refugee crisis, the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) organized the Lausanne Conference to decide the outcome of the Arab refugees. The Conference was a chance for the Arab League to assert their individual and combined interests. King Abdallah of Jordan shared his personal interest in negotiating with Israel, “[the] agreement would achieve territorial gain for Jordan, specifically dealing with the West Bank.” The leader of Syria, Husni Zaïm, proposed a plan to Israel separately, to assist in the refugee crisis in return for land, which was refused.By September 1949, the League had abandoned its efforts to find a solution based on Resolution 194.The Economic Survey Mission (ESM), comprised of UN and LAS observers, was formed by the UNCCP to report back to the Conference after failed attempts of finding a solution based on Resolution 194. Through reports by the ESM, the necessity for the Public Works Programs was realized, allowing idle refugees to work and thus relieve the cost of aid. In a report from Conciliation Commission member, Mark F. Ethridge, to the US Secretary of State, Ethridge declared Israel’s lack of cooperation as being the primary factor in the failing of the Lausanne Conference.
The HOS followed a similar pattern of the Lausanne Conference of 1949 when addressing the refugee situation in Syria in early 2011. President al-Assad reluctantly allowed the Peace Plan, an observer mission headed by the LAS that allowed Arab observers to enter the country. The Plan also initiated talks between the government and opposing forces, called for the end of violence, and demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from cities and release of the prisoners. On 28 January 2012, the Arab League announced an indefinite suspension of its mission, citing "a harsh new government crackdown made it too dangerous to proceed and was resulting in the deaths of innocent people across the country" With the unsuccessful results, the HOS then voted to impose sanctions against Syria, despite Article 8 of the League’s Charter, which reads:
“Every member State of the League shall respect the form of government obtaining in the other States of the League, and shall recognize the form of government obtaining as one of the rights of those States, and shall pledge itself not to take any action tending to change that form..”
The Assad regime has received global pressure from foreign powers, as well as the Arab community since the pro-democratic Arab Spring protests began. In addition to the economic sanctions and travel bans, Syria has also been suspended from LAS by a majority vote. On 14 November 2011, King Abdullah of Jordan was the first Arab Head of State to call for Assad to step down.
It is projected by the UNHCR that by the end of 2014, Lebanon will be housing around 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon has been forced to close its borders due to economic turmoil, unable to support the refugees of a dispute for which it is not responsible for. Jordan has a history of supporting refugees and preventing humanitarian disasters. King Abdullah opened Jordan’s borders to Syrian refugees as well as made health care and education available, at the cost of the state. As a result, the job market has been devastated and unemployment is at an all-time high. Numerous other Member States are being affected similarly. The international community has provided monetary aid in many outlets, including the World Bank Group’s Multi-Donor Trust Fund to aid Lebanon and several other Member States housing refugees. The World Bank Group President said that “The plan to rebuild must include good governance, inclusive growth, sustainability, and quality education and health care.” He argued that “the seeds of transparency, citizen involvement, and the demand for more jobs have been planted throughout the region.”
Case Study: Libya
Libya’s Civil War can be traced back to the Arab Spring of 2012; the widespread pro-democratic protests resulting in the overthrowing of many countries leaders, including the leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi. Violence broke out between those loyal to Gaddafi and pro-democratic protesters. The protests increased in violence and spread across the country, beginning in February 2011 when security forces fired on the crowd in Benghazi, whom had been protesting. Protests began in response to the arrest of human rights lawyer Fethi Tarbel. The protesters called for Qaddafi to step down and for the release of political prisoners. Rebels to the violent attack in Benghazi responded by forming their own government, the National Transitional Council.
In response, the LAS and the Global Community stepped forward in an attempt to prevent full-scale civil war. The Security Council passed sanctions against Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, freezing his assets and enacting a travel ban and arms embargo. The International Criminal Court (ICC) stepped in in an attempt to prevent further violence. The United States, the European Union (EU), and a number of other countries also imposed sanctions. On February 28 the United States announced that it had frozen at least $30 billion in Libyan assets. France granted the National Transitional Council official recognition as Libya’s government. TheArab League passed a resolution on March 13, endorsing a no-fly zone over Libya to be enacted by the United Nations Security Council. NATO involved itself in the civil war, and successfully killed Gaddhafi on 20 October 2011.
Civil war became certain when the protests and attacks became a three-way battle. Reports show a connection between members of Libyan rebel groups and Islamic terrorist groups, such as Al Queda. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group--which fought Gaddhafi in the 2011 Libyan war and continues to fight in the 2014 Libyan civil war--has direct connections to the terrorist group Al-Queda, including the known Al-Queda membership of some of the LIFG’s top ranking members. In March 2011, the LIFG pledged its support to the National Transitional Council and joined its ranks.
After the increased violence, many Libyan citizens fled the country; tens of thousands fled across the Libya-Tunisia border to escape the rebel and pro-Gaddhafi forces.Media outlets reported that Almost 10,000 people fled their homes after violence erupted throughout the country. Reports suggested that the people of Tawergha were subjected to ethnic cleansing provoked by racism and vengeance from both Misratan and pro-Gaddafi supporters alike. In the aftermath there were many needs by those refugees, who had yet to return to Libya, as civil war continued after Gaddhafi’s death. The “International Committee of the Red Cross launched an emergency appeal for 6.4 million to meet the emergency needs for refugees affected by the violent unrest in Libya” According to a report from CIRET-AVT, before the revolution Libya offered employment to many foreigners. Libya has for some time absorbed the unemployed of neighboring states. Many immigrants worked in the petroleum and construction industries. About 3 to 4 million foreigners left the country due to the pressure of the events. 1.5 to 2 million Egyptians, 1 million Sahel, West and Central Africans, 600,000 Sudanese, more than 200,000 Moroccans, more than 100,000 thousand Tunisians, 60,000 Palestinians, 10,000 Algerians, as well as many Turks, Filipinos, Sri Lankans and other Asiatics. Because of these large numbers returning to their native countries--in addition to any possible Libyan refugees--the economies of neighboring countries will continue to worsen during this war.
Since the outbreak of protests beginning in March 2011, Syria has been engulfed in violence and loss at the hands of rebel forces and the military presence of President al-Assad. As violent clashes continued throughout the country, Syrian civilians were forced to flee from their homes in what became one of the most severe cases of displacement in recorded history. Over three million refugees have fled the borders of their country into neighboring Member States such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. The mass influx of refugees into States such as Lebanon and Jordan has severely impacted these States’s domestic socio-economic infrastructure and a unified Arab response must be developed by the Heads of States.