refugee crisis
Syrian refugees protest at the Syrian-Turkey border in 2011. Turkey has taken in almost 2 million refugees in the last five years.
Photo by Adobe Stock.
Turmoil in the Middle East has meant vast movements of population as people flee conflict, most recently in Syria. Feeding those people has meant big challenges for aid agencies and governments, and for the grain sectors in the countries most affected it has meant increased and changed demand as emergency action is followed by the need to deal with an increasingly long-term problem.

“The world is witnessing unprecedented numbers of people forced to flee their homes,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted on its website. “Driven by the Syria crisis and conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Burundi and Central America, they are rising every day.”

The initial impact of the Syrian crisis was felt most in neighboring countries.

“More than 4 million refugees from Syria are in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt,” Amnesty International said in a report published in December 2015. “Lebanon hosts approximately 1.2 million refugees from Syria, which amounts to around one in five people in the country. Jordan hosts about 650,000 refugees from Syria, which amounts to about 10% of the population. Turkey hosts 1.9 million refugees from Syria, more than any other country worldwide.”

Iraq, where 3 million people have been internally displaced in the last 18 months, hosts 249,463 refugees from Syria, Amnesty said. Egypt hosts 132,375 refugees from Syria.

“The UN humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is just 40% funded,” Amnesty said. “Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive just $13.50 per month, or less than half a dollar a day, for food assistance. More than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan living below the local poverty line.”

UNHCR’s November 2016 description of the problems faced as winter approaches showed how many people are still involved.

“With the onset of winter and temperatures falling in parts of the Middle East, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has started delivering life-saving assistance to 4.6 million displaced Iraqis and Syrians to help them weather the adverse conditions,” it said. “Nearly 15 million displaced Iraqis and Syrians face yet another season of grinding hardship and uncertainty, away from their homes and livelihoods. The continuing offensive in Mosul, Iraq, has already displaced scores of thousands.”

In early 2015, an attaché report analyzing the food market in Lebanon put the figure higher than Amnesty International’s.

“Predominately Arab and Muslim, the population of Jordan today is nearly 8 million, with an influx of at least 1 million refugees from Syria in the last two years,” the report said. “Jordan is also host to large populations of registered Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.”

Another attaché report looked at the effect on Turkey.

“Turkey has hosted more than 2 million Syrian refugees since the civil war began in Syria,” the report noted. “The refugee population currently comprises 4% of Turkey’s total population, which has impacted Turkey’s demographic structure and thus market preferences.

“As the Syrian population remains most consistent in Istanbul and southeast Turkey, entrepreneurs have opened a number of Syrian-style restaurants and bakery shops in these areas. The ease of these new developments suggests that the bakery sector in general offers a lot of opportunities for growth and development.”

A more recent attaché report on Egypt, considering the challenges facing the country’s grain subsidy system, noted that one element was “the increasing presence of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Sudan living in Egypt, the total of whom are estimated at 5 million.”

||| Next page: Immigration to Europe slowing |||

Immigration to Europe slowing

refugee crisis
A Syrian Refugee family at camp in Passau, Germany, on Aug. 1, 2015.
The flow of refugees has extended to Europe, despite the difficulty of making the crossing.

“Around 100 people are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea yesterday,” UNHCR said on Dec. 23. “The Italian coastguard carried out four rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean Sea. These latest tragedies bring the number of casualties in the Mediterranean this year to over 5,000. This is the worst annual death toll ever seen.”

On Jan. 5, Human Rights Watch published a graphic of where people had died. The graphic was titled, “Europe’s map of shame.”

The UN agency has called on Europe to do more and to work harder to coordinate its efforts.

“Some countries, such as Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy and Sweden, were more affected than others,” the UN agency said.

The number of applications has eased. According to the most recent Asylum quarterly report from the E.U.’s statistics organization eurostat, “the number of first time asylum applicants in the E.U.-28 decreased by 15% in the third quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter of 2015, while it increased by 17% compared with the second quarter of 2016.”

Overall, the number of persons seeking asylum from non-E.U. countries in the E.U.-28 during the third quarter of 2016 reached 358,300. This was 64,800 less than in the same quarter of 2015, it said.

“Citizens of 146 countries sought asylum for the first time in the E.U. in the third quarter of 2016,” eurostat said. “Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis were the top three citizenships of asylum seekers, lodging 87,900, 62,100 and 36,400 applications, respectively.”

Germany has been at the forefront of efforts to help refugees, including offering haven for a large number of people, following the lead of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Her decision late last summer to open the German border to refugees transformed Merkel into a historic figure,” the German magazine Der Spiegel said on its English language website. “It was the most consequential decision of her entire decade in office. The U.S. news magazine Time named her Person of the Year and in the fall, she was widely considered to be in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

From January 2015 to November 2016, according to the most recent figures from Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, 1.14 million new applications for asylum were made in Germany, according to statistics provided to World Grain by the German flour millers association, Verband Deutscher Mühlen.

Syria was the biggest country of origin with 18.4% of applications, followed by Afghanistan with 12% and Iraq with 9%. Almost 40% of all initial applications made in the month of November were from the first three countries, according to Verband Deutscher Mühlen.

Typical foods from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq include unleavened bread made from wheat flour, but also grain-based foods made from millet, hard wheat and rice, products that are, for the most part, exported to Germany.

“What proportion of soft wheat milling products, the typical milled product from Germany, there is in the diet of refugees cannot, given the current level of knowledge, be accurately estimated,” the association said.

It explained that in Germany, which it described as a typical bread consuming country, each citizen consumes an average of 70 kilograms of milled grain products a year, overwhelmingly from soft wheat, followed by rye and spelt.

“As far as the amount of grain milled for bread is concerned, we can’t tell whether the statistically measured small rise in milling tonnage has a direct relationship with the number of refugees coming to Germany, particularly as so far we only have figures for the grain marketing year 2014-15,” the association said. “The figures for the period with the highest number of arriving refugees, the years 2015 and 2016, are still not available.

“We do know that total milling of grain in Germany from the marketing year 2013-14 to marketing year 2014-15 rose from 8,167,486 tonnes to 8,300,367 tonnes, an increase of 133,151, or 1.6%. The Federal Office for Agriculture and Food is expected to publish its report on the structure of the milling industry in 2015-16 in March 2017. It is possible that this might provide more information, but even then, the number of factors that play a role in any change in the milling tonnage is large and it is difficult to rank their importance clearly.”

The refugee problem isn’t going away. On Dec. 17, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a statement on the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

“With the situation in Aleppo, Syria’s war has reached an historic low,” he said. “A great city and its population are in tatters and catastrophic failings have been exposed in the international community’s collective resolve. Together with other organizations, UNHCR is doing what it can for the many thousands of civilians who have been forced to flee. But humanitarian action alone can do little to protect in a situation where there is seemingly a collapse of common humanity on all sides.

“Aleppo has become a metaphor for the disastrous situation that Syria is in today, with half the population having been forced from their homes. The forcibly displaced of Syria as a whole urgently need help as another bitter winter sets in. The protection of ordinary people has to be a priority, and for that to happen better humanitarian access in all areas is essential. This is a plea to all, and for real, practical and meaningful change.”