Today in Syria, there are over 6.5 million displaced people and 3 million of them have become refugees to other countries. The UN estimates that as of January 2015, 220,000 people have died. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been trying to make their way to other countries in the region as well as to Europe. The countries that are currently hosting the most refugees are Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. At the time of this writing Turkey houses the most—with a total of 1,938,999 registered Syrian refugees living in Turkey inside or outside its seven camps and many more unregistered. Jordan has three camps with over 622,000 refugees as of February 2015. In Iraq, the eight camps are only located in Iraqi Kurdistan. Lebanon and The Republic of Macedonia both have two camps each. Additionally, “7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country, bringing the total number forced to flee their homes to more than 11 million – half the country’s pre-crisis population.” (BBC)
According to the UN, an estimated 12.2 million refugees are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, including 5.6 million children. (UNHCR) Internal refugees do not receive the same attention as international refugees. According to Helton, “The narrow focus on providing relief to the uprooted who have crossed national borders fails to acknowledge the fact that tens of millions of people around the world today are displaced within their home countries. The result is unnecessary expense, instability, humiliation and suffering.” (Helton 71) It is particularly difficult for those individuals because access to humanitarian assistance is severely limited. Syria is considered to be the most dangerous place on earth right now, and it is difficult for humanitarian workers to enter. Consequently, those in danger have few resources to utilize. “Public security and the rule of law, finally will be crucial issues […] insecurity can thwart humanitarian assistance as well as the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.” (Helton 81)
The Syrian refugee crisis has come to be known as the worst refugee crisis since World War II. What has now become a civil war began as protests against the Assad regime in March 2011 in response to the arrest and torture of teenagers making graffiti on a school wall that depicted revolutionary slogans and ideas. Police opened fire on protesters, which lead to more protests demanding that Assad step down as president. The government forces responded with more force and by July, hundreds of thousands were protesting across the country. With the force being exerted by the government, protesters took up arms to defend themselves and eventually to try to eliminate security forces from their local areas. Due to the instability in the country and the power vacuums that developed in the contested areas, the conflict has now evolved into an issue of the country’s Sunni majority against the Shia (Assad’s sect) as well as the rise of fundamentalist groups within the territories, principally the Islamic State, referred to in the American media as ISIS.
In 2011, a UN commission of inquiry claims that since 2011, both sides (rebels and government forces) have committed war crimes including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. The BBC reports that “Government and rebel forces have also been accused by investigators of using civilian suffering – such as blocking access to food, water and health services – as a method of war.” (BBC) This is a clear example of the military tactic of targeting civilians previously discussed. Furthermore, in August 2013 the Syrian government used chemical weapons against their citizens (Syrian and Russia contend that it was rebels who conducted this attack and used the weapons.) According to the BBC, “Facing the prospect of US military intervention, President Assad agreed to the complete removal or destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal as part of a joint mission led by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The destruction of chemical agents and munitions was completed a year later.” (BBC)
The result of the escalating violence turned civil war has been the worst refugee crisis in modern history. “In December 2014, the UN launched an appeal for $8.4bn (£5.6bn) to provide help to 18 million Syrians, after only securing about half the funding it asked for in 2014. By a year later, it was less than half funded. (BBC) The UNDP report, “Syria, Alienation and Violence: Impact of Syria Crisis Report 2014,” estimate the total economic loss since the start of the conflict was $202bn and that four in every five Syrians were now living in poverty – 30% of them in abject poverty. Syria’s education, health and social welfare systems are also in a state of collapse. (UNDP)
What we have seen in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis is that although there are systems and conventions, which states have instituted and agreed to abide, there is resistance to living up to these conventions in practice. Following the November 2015 terror attacks on Paris, the American media and many political leaders began trying to institute policies that would enact a ban on Syrian refugees and prevent them from being resettled in the United States. At the time of this writing, 31 of the 50 United States of America have declared that they “are not accepting” refugees from Syria. (Fantz and Brumfield CNN) Although, according to the Refugee Convention, and thus international law, it is illegal to refuse protection to those individuals.
In Europe, there are several policies that affect the entrance and establishment of refugees into Europe. In 1985 the Schengen Agreement created the Schengen Area, which established free movement within this defined area between states, free of border controls and cooperate visa regulations. This matters because once an individual can make it into the boundaries of that area; they are guaranteed freedom of movement between states. Another is the Dublin Regulation, which establishes which state has the responsibility to evaluate an asylum application as well as have the responsibility or financing operations necessary for transportation of the individual. The major criticism of the Dublin Regulation is that it places undue stress on the state where the migrant/refugee enters, which tends to be the southern states (Greece, Italy and Hungary) and the northern states do not share the burden.
The summer of 2015 marked the beginning of the European refugee crisis—when the numbers of refugees to Europe peaked and tragedies of people’s attempts to reach Europe, such as drowning via boats traveling across the Mediterranean Sea, became frequent stories in the media. Syrian refugees account for 52% of the refugees arriving. Due to this crisis, we have seen Europe offering cash transfers to Turkey in order to prevent refugees from continuing on to Europe. Four-fifths of refugees to Europe arrive through Turkey, in 2015 alone, 615,000 people arrived through Turkey. (Bajekal)
How can I help?
Helping for this issue can be quite tricky. Most governments have issued warnings advising people from traveling to Syria due to the instability and high risk of danger. Major American organizations which are there operating, to which you could contact or donate include:
- American Refugee Committee
- Catholic Relief Services
- International Medical Corps
- Lutheran World Relief
- United States Fund for UNICEF
- USA for UNHCR
- Save the Children
- Oxfam America
- World Food Program USA
Large International Organizations include:
Doctors Without Borders is providing medical care and search-and-rescue support to people crossing the Mediterranean and at reception centers in Europe.Find out more about Doctors Without Borders and how you can help here.
The World Food Programme is providing food vouchers for over a million refugees in countries including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. However, a recentlack of funding has forced serious cutbacks, and hundreds of thousands have lost their benefits. Find out more about the World Food Programme and how you can help here.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is involved with helping refugees and migrants in a number of countries and provides for basic needs such as shelter and medical assistance. Find out more about The Red Cross and Red Crescent and how you can help here.
The International Rescue Committee provides basic needs including safe drinking water and sanitation to migrants and refugees who are in urgent need.Find out more about The International Rescue Committee and how you can help here.
World Vision brings clean water, hygiene kits, basic household items, cash assistance and other critical basic needs to families in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq to help prevent them from having to make the dangerous journey to Europe.Find out more about World Vision and how you can help here.
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station is a group that works to protect people trying to escape from North Africa to Europe by way of the Mediterranean Sea. Find out more about the Migrant Offshore Aid Station and how you can help here.
Don’t see any organiation here that you feel is addressing how you want to contribute? Start your own organization! If you live near a place where refugees are going to be re-settled, start a group that will collect items needed for incoming families like Refugee 613. Make support groups, get a fundraiser going at with your church, work friends or school community.