By Nicholas Ramsubick
“Unfortunately only when the poor enter the halls of the rich, do the rich notice that the poor exist.” (UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres)
Since the beginning of the four-year Syrian civil war, more than 220 000 Syrians have lost their lives. Syrian civilians have been subjected to murder, rape, and chemical warfare to list a few of the war crimes from all sides of the war. Let’s look how the crisis started, why it’s become so bad, and what the world and our country are now doing about it.
What started out as a few anti-government protests in the Arab world in 2011 quickly escalated into a civil war in Syria. While the people of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were able to topple their authoritarian governments during the wave of pro-democracy protests known as the Arab Spring, Syria’s dictator rulers, the Al-Assad Family, were not so compliant. The Al-Assad Family refused to reign from office and instead launched full on attacks against protesters.
To put things into perspective, the pro-democracy protests came into fruition in Syria when some teenagers were captured and tortured after they painted revolutionary slogans on their school walls. Soon after a ripple effect occurred and violence spread across the country as rebel groups were created to fight off the government security forces in cities. Jihadist groups, such as ISIS, took advantage of the widespread chaos and added another level of terror for Syrian civilians. ISIS entered the war with the goal to start a totalitarian Islamic government and it quickly became the most violent extremist organization.
All sides of the war committed horrific war crimes such as mass executions, torture, chemical warfare, and civilian suffering such as blocking of basic necessities. Syrian civilians who stayed in their cities were now trapped between government regimes, rebel groups, and jihadist groups. The only way for Syrian families to survive was to abandon their homes and get out of Syria.
Life as a refugee
Since the start of the civil war, more than 11 million Syrian families have been forced to flee their homes. Neighbouring countries of Syria, including Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt have taken on the brunt of the crisis as they are taking care of 95% of the refugees who have escaped danger. The large influx of refugees into these neighbouring countries has made refugee camp life harsher as the UN is already running out of money to keep the camps tenable. Not only do refugees need to worry about hunger and disease while in refugee camps, they must think about what comes next after life in refugee camps.
The areas in which these refugee camps are situated are no place for a family to settle in long term, as Syrians have no right to work in these places. Refugees are living worse and worse as they cannot earn a decent wage, making their outlook on the future very grim.
Many refugees have decided to seek asylum in the European Union as many fear their situation in the neighbouring countries will not get better. In the E.U. refugees must stay in the state they first arrived in, which put enormous pressure on the border states, who received the majority of the refugees, to care for all refugees while other states were able to refuse refugees asylum.
The trip to these E.U. states is a battle itself for they must pay expensive amounts to be smuggled in, and the journeys are never safe. Just over a month ago, 50 refugees were found dead in a freezer truck near the Hungarian border. These refugees were abandoned by the person they paid and had faith in to take them to safety. A large amount of refugees have also attempted to cross the dangerous Mediterranean Sea, a trip that has already taken so many refugee lives. Not long ago a young Syrian toddler was found face down on a beach shore of Turkey, a photo that circulated around the world finally prohibiting the E.U. states and the world from avoiding the crisis.
A crisis acknowledged
Until there was wide spread movement into European states, the E.U. had hardly recognized the seriousness of the crisis. Germany now has said that they will accept all Syrian refugees and in 2015, Germany plans on taking in 800,000 refugees. The power of social media has finally put the crisis into perspective for people in the western world and citizens have started to take action. Here in Canada the Canadian government has announced a $100 million provision for humanitarian assistance for Syrians in deteriorating refugee camps as well as accelerated processing for refugees. The world’s nations are now starting to act together to help tackle the crisis, but we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, it took an unmanageable movement of refugees into the E.U. and a dead Syrian toddler for many of the world’s leaders to take notice.