Two Numbers: Homesick for Syria

Two Numbers
Jasper Rietman.

Photographs of a rare snowstorm in January that flattened refugee camp tents in Lebanon and Jordan brought new attention to the plight of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by nearly four years of war.

Since March 2011, fighting between troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and opposition forces, coupled with brutal violence by the militant group ISIS, has resulted in a mass exodus that shows no signs of reversal. Surrounded by violence on all sides, half of Syria's prewar population of around 22 million have abandoned their homes, including 3.8 million refugees outside Syria and 7.6 million internally displaced. With their savings dwindling and unable to work or attend school, many of the refugees are living in dire poverty.

More than 95 percent of the refugees who have escaped Syria are in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, and thousands more have sought safety in Iraq and Egypt. Faced with social services stretched to the limit, Lebanon recently started requiring Syrians to obtain a visa at the border before entering the country.

Around 209,000 refugees have sought asylum in Europe, more than half of them in Germany and Sweden. Germany has granted asylum to the most Syrian refugees of any Western country, 3,788. The United States has so far not received many applications for asylum, according to Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. He expects to receive more applications in the coming years, and between 1,000 and 2,000 refugees are expected to be resettled in the U.S. this year.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees, however, are waiting to go home. Representatives of Assad's government and some rebel groups met in Moscow for peace talks this week, but the chances of a breakthrough look slim. In the meantime, it's cold in the refugee camps.