Civil war in Syria has caused many people to flee their homes.
By Maeve O’Brien, ’16
In March of 2011, pro-democracy protests erupted in Syria after the arrest and torture of a group of teenagers that had graffitied revolutionary slogans on a school wall. The government, under president al-Assad, responded forcefully, opening fire on the demonstrators. This escalated the violence, and soon more people took up arms in opposition of the government, demanding Assad’s resignation. Divisions between ethnic and religious groups added to the political conflict, and the country descended into full-blown civil war.
The Danger of the Chaos
The civil unrest and struggle for power allowed for the extremist military group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to invade and occupy large areas of territory in northern and eastern Syria. The terrorist group has conducted mass human rights violations, inflicting severe punishments on those who don’t accept its authority, including mass public executions, amputations, and beheadings. The UN has also found that both the Syrian government and the rebel forces have committed war crimes, which include murder, torture, forced disappearances, and rape.
As of the spring of 2015, four years after the conflict began, over 220,000 lives had been lost, according to the UN. In addition, the UN estimates that more than 11 million people are displaced from their homes in Syria, and about half of them are children. To put this in perspective, Syria’s pre-civil war population was about 23 million, meaning half of the people have either been killed or have been forced to leave their homes. About 4 million have left the country entirely, fleeing to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, where resources and infrastructure are dwaning. Others have gone to Iraq or Turkey, or make the dangerous trek across the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of a better life in Europe.
Due to the widespread need in Syria, other countries are stepping up to shoulder some of the burden. Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees, whereas the U.S. has taken in 1,500. Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. will accept 100,000 refugees by 2017, The New York Times reported. Austria and Germany have recently claimed they can’t keep up with the influx of refugees. Meanwhile, Hungary has even provided substantial obstacles for migrants to enter their country as refugees. Police have been reported to be blocking roads to sites where migrants can register as refugees, because the nation can’t accomodate any more people.
In UA, there has been efforts to provide some assistance. UAHS teachers David Griffin and Nate Plamer founded the club SOS to raise awareness about the Syrian crisis and alleviate some suffering by donating all fundraising revenue to Doctors Without Borders. The teachers had the idea for the club after seeing the viral picture of the young Syrian child, Alyan Kurdi, who died making the dangerous trek from Turkey to Greece. Both teachers have young sons, and the photo helped to humanize the crisis. About 20 to 30 students came to the meeting, where they are broken down into smaller groups such as fundraising or awareness. Participation is expected to grow even more once the club gains some publicity and t-shirts are made.