Polio woes for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the region

The “West” and the majority of the Muslim world appear to have divergent views on two things about the Syrian civil war: the centrality of the conflict and what constitutes the “worst case scenario.” For the West, the prospect of al Qaeda or other Islamist militants prevailing is a nightmare. But for many Sunni Muslims, the nightmare is already here.

The onslaught against the Sunni majority turned Syria into the favorite destination of militant Islamists worldwide. It has provided al Qaeda, which boasts not one but two affiliates there — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al Nusra Front — an opportunity to rebrand itself and given its recruitment efforts a shot in the arm.

Last week, 72 prominent Saudi clerics issued a statement calling on Muslims around the world to support a recently formed Islamist coalition in Syria known as the “Islamic Front.” The good news is that the Front does not include the two al Qaeda affiliates, and the clerics did not call on Muslims to travel to Syria. However, the characterization of the conflict as a “Jihad,” or holy war, is a troubling development.

More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, which has turned millions more into refugees.

Now, in surroundings even dirtier than the war they escaped, Syrian refugee children in Lebanon face another potential threat: Highly contagious and potentially deadly polio.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are attempting to vaccinate as many as 23 million children across the region. According to the WHO, vaccinations will also be carried out in other countries including Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.

Tiny Lebanon, which neighbors Syria and has absorbed the highest concentration of refugees – over 800,000 so far — is considered to be at particular risk.

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