After five years of civil war, Syria is in ruins. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions are displaced, Islamist terror is spreading and the country has disintegrated into rival territories. With the influx of refugees, Europe is feeling the consequences of the war’s ongoing horrors. How can the conflict be contained?
A number of problems and conflicts began building in Syria in the 1980s, a situation that ultimately caused parts of the population to rise up against the Assad dictatorship. In 2011, peaceful protests took place on a broad scale, first in rural areas and then in the country’s major cities. Assad used violence to suppress the protests, provoking a civil war.
Syria is now in its sixth year of warfare. More than 250,000 have died, 13.5 million people – over half the population – have been displaced and much of the country's infrastructure has been destroyed. The country has splintered into separate areas controlled by rival groups which are fighting each other using extreme violence. The situation in the refugee camps located in neighboring countries is extremely difficult. The United Nations lacks the money and resources to ensure humane conditions for the Syrian refugees living there.
What was once a civil war has now evolved into a complex war by proxy. Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to support Syria's Sunni majority and reduce Iran's influence in the region. As a result, Teheran has joined Russia to assist the Assad regime, which views itself as the protector of the Alawite minority (which adheres to Shiite Islam). Moreover, Turkey would like first and foremost to prevent a contiguous Kurdish-controlled area from being established on its border, while the United States considers the "Islamic State" (ISIS) to be the major threat and is therefore bombing the terrorist militia from the air.
Recently there was a glimmer of hope: Thanks to cooperation between Washington and Moscow, the UN Security Council passed a resolution laying the groundwork for a peace plan for Syria, including a ceasefire beginning February 27. Sporadic fighting continues, however, and the large number of countries and groups involved in Syria’s civil war are making it more difficult to find a diplomatic solution.
If the international community wants to succeed in containing and eventually ending the war in Syria, it must find solutions for the conflict’s various aspects. For example, since considerable distrust exists between the country's assorted ethnic and religious groups, the United Nations must spearhead an effort that would guarantee the groups' safety and security. Moreover, the humanitarian situation must be radically improved, regional efforts to build trust and resolve the conflict must be expanded, and the prospect of a new Syria must beckon, one that offers more opportunities for social, political and economic participation. That is the only way displaced Syrians will be able to return to their homeland and work together to rebuild it.
The fourth report in our series Facts on the European Dimension of Displacement and Asylum examines the current situation in Syria, illustrating which rivalries are preventing a solution to the conflict and which practical measures are needed to reduce Syrians' suffering in the short term and end the warfare over the long term.
About our series
Released at regular intervals, each report in our series Facts on the European Dimension of Displacement and Asylum examines a country affected by the current refugee situation. In addition to issues relating to displaced persons and human rights, each country's degree of democratization is analyzed in detail and its relationship with the European Union discussed. The analysis also looks at possibilities for cooperating with Brussels. Past reports shed light on the situation in Turkey, Ukraine and Libya.
The complete analysis for Syria is available in the sidebar on the right.