As the Syrian civil war has raged for months, many view the situation as hopeless—believing that the country will continue to self-destruct, and that there is little that the international community can do—particularly due to the radicalization of each side, leaving few forces who stand for moderation. But failing to take action does not just condemn the people of Syria to a grisly fate. Indeed, such behavior threatens the stability and even existence of Syria’s neighbors, in particular Lebanon and Jordan.

Since the outbreak of the violence, approximately one million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, becoming almost a quarter of the population of that country. Though they have found there a respite from the war, they are still lacking basic necessities. Lebanon has neither the resources nor the capacity to assist its new inhabitants. It lacks a strong central state, sustainable institutions, and a single national security apparatus. The government itself is rent apart between Hezbollah and groups seeking to exclude the organization from the Lebanese governmental body. Political assassinations and targeted car bombs are common. Weaponry is widely proliferated and uncontrolled. Moreover, minimal legal framework exists to address the refugee problem, and many are barred from working. Impoverished and homeless, thousands of refugees live on streets or in abandoned buildings. Consequently, crime has risen, as have acts of violence and racism against Syrians, increasing tensions.



In many areas in Lebanon, this hostility has festered into radicalism. Anger toward Hezbollah for aiding the Assad regime, coupled with desperation and disappointment due to inadequate assistance from Hezbollah as part of the governing Lebanese body, has led some Syrian refugees to join opposition forces or other radical Sunni groups, such as Mustaqbal and the Al-Nusra Front, that are fighting against Hezbollah and Assad. Kidnappings, murders, and bomb attacks have abounded. The Iranian embassy in Beirut was destroyed in what was the first bombing of an embassy in Lebanon since the civil war. Tripoli, the largest city in northern Lebanon, has likewise been attacked. With a porous border with Syria and an open flow of arms and militants between the two nations, Lebanon hovers on the brink of chaos.

In Jordan as well, the situation of the refugees is rapidly deteriorating. The refugee population there, totaling over half a million or almost ten percent of the population as of last summer, is straining government resources and growing the budget to unsustainable levels. Survival is difficult in many of the overcrowded camps. For instance, the refugee camp Zaatari which holds the most refugees, is considered Jordan’s fifth-largest city by population. In this camp, there is no running water, and refugees are not always allowed to work. Those who do work illegally face the potential of being thrown out of the country. Others, who have taken up residence in Jordan’s cities and towns, strain government resources by overpopulating already poor areas. Concurrently, the regime is facing domestic political instability as it attempts to navigate new political reforms aimed at increasing government transparency and effectiveness, alongside the long-term issues that arise with the attempts of the Palestinians and the Israelis to negotiate peace along its border. Consequently, tension and violence are rampant, threatening a regime that is already unstable as a result of domestic protests and demands for far-reaching reform.

Not only does the radicalization of refugees threaten Lebanon and Jordan individually, but it also is likely to affect the broader regional stability of the already tumultuous Middle East. With the potential of terrorism to proliferate across the region, nearby countries face the threat of violence and consequently need to focus more on their military and border security. And as the reverberations of radicalization are felt, nearby leaders begin to wonder whether they too will need to crack down or face overthrow. As long as Syria continues to spawn extremism, the entire Middle East faces the threat of terror and violence, if not further destabilization and state destruction.

But it is not only the Middle East that is affected by this phenomenon. With the loss of accountability of state officials comes an increasing reliance on smaller, more sectarian groups, who are unaccountable to the international community. Moreover, the instability of regimes results in the insecurity of vital resources in the area and the depreciation of the overall area’s economy. Similarly, extremism coupled with fluid borders leads to weapons dispersion and proliferation, which can be potentially crippling if very dangerous weapons, such as chemical and biological weaponry, were to be found in the hands of terrorists.

The problem of radicalization of refugees is a critical one, and must be quickly addressed. The international community should view the plight of the refugees not merely as a humanitarian concern, but as a strategic and political crisis. Consequently, United Nations calls to increase aid to border areas cannot be ignored. Instead, increased money and resources should be funneled into the area, to provide refugees with adequate resources to remain where they are and not return to Syria. Moreover, such action would preclude their joining a militant group, which many do in order to procure funds and assistance for themselves and their families. And if there were enough resources, local citizens would feel less threatened by the influx of refugees who seek to compete with them for the already strained resources of the countries.

Whether or not an end is in sight is irrelevant to the question of aid—delaying aid will only lead to increased radicalization, and make such a phenomenon even more difficult to halt. As such, the decision of the international community to ignore appeals by the United Nations Refugee Agency for funding is one that, if not quickly rectified, will have lasting consequences reaching far beyond the refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. And in the meantime, those countries with particularly threatened allies in the area might do well to consider the threats posed to their relationships as a result of increased extremism and terrorism in the region. Appropriating additional funds will not only assist the refugees, but will also soon play a vital role in securing the continued well-being of their alliances.