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Survey reveals reasons for Syrian exodus

15 October 20150 comments

Syrian survey graphicA new survey of Syrian refugees has revealed the reasons behind the exodus from the war-riven nation while casting doubt or assertions that many are ‘economic’ refugees.

The Washington Post newspaper surveyed civilians in a UNHCR refugee camp in Turkey to list all the reasons they decided to leave Syria.

The survey found more than half (57%) of ordinary civilians said that they left because it was simply too dangerous to stay. Just over 40% said this is also the main reason they left.

Many others give more detailed versions of the same reason.

Some said they left because the Assad government had occupied their towns (43%) or destroyed their homes (32%).

Others told of being threatened with violence if they did not leave (35%).

Many left at the urging of family (48%) and friends (38%) or following the lead from their neighbours (32%).

Yet others pointed to the increasingly high costs of finding even basic access to food and other necessities (32%) and left once they finally ran out of money (16%).

The Post also interviewed ex-fighters in the camp who recently had left Syria.

Most, around 70%, said they had realised they were not very good at fighting. Most, around 51%, said fighting was too emotionally stressful and 49% decided that risks associated with combat were just not worth it.

Some fighters had become frustrated with their leadership. 65% of respondents reported that they left in part because of incompetent commanders and 59% said their units lacked discipline; while 52% said they thought that they were no longer working as a team.

Also, 48% of the ex-fighters said they had given up on the cause. They felt that it was impossible to win and no longer worth the risk.

The survey found that many civilians in the camps saw nothing left for them to return to in Syria. Their homes have been occupied, looted, or destroyed.

Many said they had exhausted their savings, and there was no end in sight to the violence that compelled them to flee.

Another group was also deeply demoralized but would return to the fight in Syria if prospects for winning were better.

43% say they would fight again if they thought they could really win, but were demoralized by their unit’s disorganization and lack of discipline.

56% would consider going back if the group had better leaders, 48% if they were paid more for fighting, and 30% if there were less corruption.

Many also see Western intervention in the conflict as a potential game changer that could tip the balance in their favour. A strong majority of ex-fighters, 76%, claim that they would fight again if the West were to intervene militarily.

Since 2011 violence and civil war in Syria and Iraq have displaced millions.

An estimated 1.7 million refugees are in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, more than 600,000 in Jordan, hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Egypt. Another 7 million are internally displaced inside Syria.

Roughly half of the country’s entire pre-war population are refugees, at home or abroad.



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist