The refugee crisis in Syria has displaced over 6 million people. Efforts from both the international community and nation states have been negligable, and highlights a dangerous lack of coordination.
(Image Credits: The Cartoon Movement)
In 2015, persecution and war had internally and externally displaced more people than ever recorded in history. A detailed study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tracked worldwide government databases to find that last year, on average 24 people were forced to flee their homes every 60 seconds. Additionally, a large number of these migrants and refugees have been losing their lives in attempt to flee their country, and migrate to safer places.
I do believe that this is the most pressing issue the world faces today. The number of people whose lives are currently at risk are in the millions. Whilst it’s terrible enough that they are losing their lives today, the consequences of this war is not just effecting Syria today- but will continue to haunt Syrians for decades to come. The discourse is beginning to question whether Syria will have a ‘lost generation’, since a large majority of children are out of school and are not currently receiving any formal education to prepare them for their formative years. Regardless of whether Syria finds peace in the future, the damage done to it’s children today will effect how resilient the country will be.
In January 2016, the United Nations held a high-level summit focusing on the large movements of refugees and migrants around the world, with the aim of coming together with a more humane and coordinated response. The Summit put together the New York Declaration- which consisted of a list of bold commitments to be carried out by nation states in order to protect rights, save lives and share responsibility on a global scale. Although I do think this seems promising, since the beginning of the crisis, the UN has had little to no success in attempting to control the political situation and the movement of refugees. Following World War II, the formation of the United Nations was based on the precedence that humankind has to prevent the recurrence of such catastrophic events. However, I find the lack of a coordinated response from international agencies appalling. Today, more than 1 in 10 Syrians have been wounded or killed since the beginning of the war.
Nation states must shoulder some responsibility for the crisis that’s occurred. Perhaps the most disappointing factor about this entire crisis is the villainous role that politics has played; with many countries unwilling to take in refugees, and even going as far as closing borders. Whilst there is a case to be made by nations in defense of not being able to freely accept refugees, such as for national security reasons- it’s a difficult argument to make when the alternative for those fleeing is often, death. Furthermore, the sheer amount of bureaucracy that goes into assimilating into a country even after one is offered a refugee status is painful. In a majority of cases, living in camps can get people stuck in a limbo, especially when there are restrictions on working and growing economically. Alarmingly, the average time a refugee takes to integrate completely into society after being uprooted is 17 years (USA for UNHCR, 2016). Despite a significant amount of the media and civil society’s prejudice towards refugees, these victims of war aren’t illiterate and unskilled. Those who flee are inclusive of doctors, engineers and teachers. Even if they were illiterate or unskilled, I think it’s revolting if we only gave value to the lives of those who are formally educated.
(Image Credits: The Columbus Dispatch )
Last year, Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York carried out a photo series that told the stories of different refugees that reduced me to tears. In one story, told by a man named Muhammad- the refugee walks the readers through the struggles he faced as he attempted to flee Syria, including having his father beaten by police, his brother murdered and his sister finding the body, and using the last of his savings to help his family escape the country. For me, stories that outline the personal struggles that these refugees have to go through makes the issue all the more agonizing. It brings to light that every one of them is an individual person and has their own story- often, this thought can get lost in all the statistics. We have to keep reminding ourselves that each one of the 65.3million displaced people have struggled similarly.
The international community has failed us with their inaction. We had turned to the United Nations and other international actors, only to find that they had been pushed aside by the power players of Assad’s regime and Russia. I believe the world must burden the responsibility as their own. I used to think back to the Holocaust and all the damage Adolf Hitler had caused during his peak and had wondered why the world seemed to sit back and watch. Now, it’s become more difficult to criticize when it feels like we are in a very similar position today. In a documentary that covered the horrors of the Holocaust, the Mauthausen concentration camp jail cells were visited. The following quote was allegedly carved into the walls by a WWII Jewish prisoner and thinking about the applicability of it today is chilling. It read- “If there is a God, he will have to beg for my forgiveness”.
USA for UNHCR. (2016). Aid To Refugees & Displaced People Worldwide. [online] Available at: http://www.unrefugees.org/what-we-do/
Un.org. (2016). General Assembly Meetings Coverage | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases. [online] Available at: http://www.un.org/press/en/content/general-assembly/meetings-coverage
Humans of New York. (2016). Humans of New York – refugee stories. [online] Available at: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories#0
IRIN. (2016). The “buffer zone” plan for 70,000 stranded Syrian refugees. [online]
Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. (2016). New York Declaration. [online] Available at: http://refugeesmigrants.un.org/declaration
Refugees, U. (2016). Figures at a Glance. [online] UNHCR. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
FRONTLINE. (2016). A Staggering New Death Toll for Syria’s War — 470,000. [online]
ReliefWeb. (2016). Losing Syria’s Youngest Generation: The Education Crisis Facing Syrian Refugees in Jordan. [online]