MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This week, one picture from Syria is grabbing the world's attention. It shows a sea of people lining up for food. The backdrop is the rubble of a Palestinian refugee camp inside Syria. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was so moved by the image, he took to the Senate floor.

SENATOR TIM KAINE: A country of 23 million people, a proud country, is being transformed before our eyes into a land of rubble, skeletons, refugees, and ghosts.

BLOCK: Syria was once a destination country for refugees. Now, it's becoming the world's biggest source of them. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the long-term implications.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.N.'s refugee agency recently came out with staggering new figures about the crisis in and around Syria.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Five years ago, Syria was the world's second largest refugee-hosting country. Syrians are now about to replace Afghans as the present biggest refugee population worldwide.

KELEMEN: And that's saying something since Afghanistan has been in conflict for more than four decades. The U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, told a general assembly session this week that if current trends continue, there could be 4 million Syrian refugees by the end of this year.

GUTERRES: Neighboring countries have provided them with safety since the beginning at an enormous cost to themselves. Few refugee influxes have ever generated this profound an impact on their host countries, with such dramatic demographic, economic, and social consequences.

KELEMEN: And aid groups need to start looking at the long-term needs of these countries, says Nigel Pont of Mercy Corps.

NIGEL PONT: This is a refugee crisis that isn't going away. The bordering countries are being destabilized, both by the conflict and by the refugee presence itself, and there's a real need to invest in the communities. It's super important that we start that now.

KELEMEN: That means building up schools and hospitals and managing tensions between local communities and refugees, tensions that are rising, Pont says, over water in Jordan.

PONT: Before this crisis started, Jordan was the fourth most water scarce country in the world. It's now the third most water scarce country in the world, which is a pretty appalling statistic.

KELEMEN: That's one reason why Jordan, a new Security Council member, played a key role last week in getting the first binding U.N. resolution that deals with the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Jordan's ambassador to the U.N., Prince Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, calls on Syria and the rebels to obey the resolution and stop besieging cities.

PRINCE ZEID RA'AD AL-HUSSEIN: One hopes that this would create enough pressure on the parties in Syria to reach an understanding on the humanitarian condition, which will then ease the pressure on us in Jordan.

KELEMEN: At the moment, though, he says Jordan expects to spend $2.8 billion in the next year to help hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the country. And the government also has to keep an eye on Jordanian families who have opened up their homes to refugees.

AL-HUSSEIN: We are absolutely straining every effort and every nerve to be as welcoming and as accommodating as possible. But we do still need a great deal of help, and there has to be greater burden sharing across the international community.

KELEMEN: Prince Zeid fears that donor fatigue may be setting in. But if rich nations can come up with money to bail out big banks, he's hoping they'll look at tiny Jordan in a similar way.

AL-HUSSEIN: Compared to them, the struggling economy of a country that's opened up its borders to host refugees fleeing a terrible conflict, there doesn't seem to be a commensurate response.

KELEMEN: Lebanon, too, is under severe pressure from this refugee crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry is to attend a meeting on that in Paris next week. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.