Syrian Refugee Crisis: What to Know and How to Help

Photo+credit%3A+fair.org

Photo credit: fair.org

Mary Berg, Editor-in-Chief

The challenging humanitarian, economic, and cultural issue that is the Syrian refugee crisis has gained global attention over the past year, especially in the past few months. Maybe you have seen the infamous image of a three-year old lying dead on a beach in Turkey, an overcrowded raft in the Aegean Sea, or one of several stories featured in the popular blog Humans of New York. In either case, it often seems difficult to comprehend the situation, or know how to help. However, there are ways to combat this issue, and help find a solution, even from across the pond.

The Syrian Civil War started in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. However, similar to other countries involved, the conflict escalated quickly from peaceful protest to full-blown violence. The government, run by Bashar al-Assad, came down harshly on the people, who were organized into several different opposition groups, and were fighting amongst themselves. The rise of ISIS made matters worse, and the militant group took advantage of the situation, claiming territory and gaining party members. Now, the conflict is very complicated, and a ‘proxy war’ with ISIS has started in addition to the Civil War. The Assad regime, civilian rebel groups, Hezbollah militant group, Islamic State, and Kurdish groups all have control over different parts of the country, and the remaining territory is contested between them. To even further complicate the situation, Russian forces occupy several cities, supporting the Assad regime. This leads to an exceptional amount of violence, and since the start of the conflict, an estimated 250,000 people have died.

This violence also affects the entire population of the country. Of the 23 million people living in Syria before the war, 12 million have been displaced, according to BBC. About 7.6 million people are currently displaced internally, and over 4 million have already fled the country. Syrians have fled their country for several reasons. The education, health, and welfare systems of the country are all but nonexistent. Civilians not willing to live under the rules of the group that controls their hometown face probable exile, persecution, or death. Many previously inhabited areas have been reduced to rubble, and the parties in conflict continue to fight, causing more to flee.

The question that follows is—where do they go? Syria’s neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have absorbed many of the refugees. However, these countries only tenuously, if at all, are able to support the massive influx of people. Turkey currently hosts the most Syrian refugees, at about 2 million. Lebanon is only the size of Maryland, yet more than one million refugees came into the country, says the New York Times. About 700,000 migrated to Jordan, and many others fled to Iraq and Egypt, where they may or may not be welcome, depending on the area.

Most prominently displayed in the media is the refugee’s flight to Europe. As resources and space dwindles in Syria and its neighboring countries, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled or attempted to flee to Europe, hoping to find asylum. Refugees are making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean in the hopes of arriving in Greece or another coastal country, often in overcrowded boats and dangerous conditions. It has been estimated that over 2,000 Syrian refugees have drowned while attempting to cross the Sea, and that number continues to grow every day.

Once they reach Europe, they are often met with another whole host of challenges. Refugee camps are crowded and under-resourced, and it has been documented than European authorities have been openly hostile towards refugees in some areas. Most refugees have no money, no possessions, and no one to contact in the place they arrived. They have no shelters either—families have been photographed huddling together on the ground to sleep, without adequate access to food, water, or shelter.

At the height of the migration crisis, 10,000 refugees arrived in Serbia every day, and received little to no assistance upon arrival. It is easy to ask, why haven’t European countries done more to help these people? It is true that in several cases countries of the EU have acted less than admirably—for example, Austria is currently erecting a wall to keep out migrants, and Hungarian politicians and bishops have openly rejected Muslim migrants due to their religion. That being said, there is no simple solution to this problem. It is difficult for the European Union to come to an agreement of how migrants should be distributed among countries, and how to move them in an organized way.

These solutions take time—time that none of the refugees have. They have close to nothing and no one left, and are suffering through unimaginable circumstances. Pope Francis, in response to this crisis, has called on European Catholics to take in refugees.

He says, “Facing the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death by war and famine, and journeying towards the hope of life— the Gospel calls, asking of us to be close to the smallest and forsaken. To give them a concrete hope. And not just to tell them: ‘Have courage, be patient!’ ”

Although not in a direct response to the Pope, the United States took up his call, and has announced that it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. Many critics says this is not a sufficient number, and that our country could easily support more. Even so, our government deserves recognition for providing significant financial aid. To date, the United States has provided $4 billion to international relief efforts, making it the largest donor country to the crisis.

Clearly, the conflict deserves our utmost compassion and aid effort, yet it can be difficult to know how to do so. There are a variety of ways to help without actually going overseas. Petitioning your congressman not to cut crucial aid going to the refugees is the first way. Right now, the House is moving to cut refugee aid by 30%, and internally-displaced aid by 40%, and these funds are crucial to resourcing international relief efforts.

A way to give more direct aid is by organizations such as MercyCorps and World Vision. These organizations are providing crucial relief both in Sryia and its surrounding countries and in Europe, and take donations online. The UN Refugee Agency is also leading the relief effort, and receives donations from several foundations across the United States, such as the IKEA Foundation and UPS Foundation, to which anyone can make a donation.

Don’t forget that spreading the word is also important. Raise awareness—the more people that know about the situation, the more that will want to help.

The Syrian refugee crisis appears an unsurmountable problem that is worsening day by day. There is no simple solution, and it doesn’t seem as if world leaders are helping solve the conflict that led to this massive migration crisis. Yet, there are ways to help. Those who are displaced and suffering at this time need compassion and support, and that can be accomplished from thousands of miles away through the click of a button. Although it may not address the needs of the 12 million people affected, it can make the difference in one person’s life, and is a necessary step to finally resolving the Syrian refugee crisis in its entirety.