I had never really thought about the word research until I was working on this post. If you take the prefix literally, you are searching again. I don’t know if that’s fitting for most research, but my research on Syria and the ongoing civil war is definitely searching again. I didn’t have much of an idea of what led up to the current situation in Syria before this trip though I had done some research. Now, after talking with some Syrian refugees, this re-search makes a bit more sense. There is so much about the Syrian Civil War that is difficult to comprehend. Here’s my attempt to convey my basic understanding of the situation in Syria.
How did we get here?
Bashar al-Assad, his regime, and some graffiti artists. Assad has been Syria’s president since July 2000, though his role would not accurately be described as president. The only way was Assad’s way: his political party became the only political party, and individual rights and freedoms were limited. In March 2011, a group of students was arrested for political graffiti. The regime responds to protests, resulting in dozens of deaths. Those events set things in motion: Syrians continued to protest unjust treatment, and unfortunately the regime continued to behave in the same ways.
How long has this been going on?
Most agree the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, when the first notable amount of refugees started to arrive in bordering countries, as represented in this visual. More specifically, this is marked in April of 2011 with over 5,000 refugees arriving in Lebanon. The timeline below includes a few areas of interest I found, which are compiled from two far more comprehensive timelines. The first timeline breaks up the information in a very user-friendly way, and is focused on refugee statistics. CNN’s timeline is more up to date and provides a more thorough overall picture of what has been happening in Syria contributing to the large refugee population.
What’s some more specific information about refugees?
First, it’s important to note that not everyone we might think of as a refugee is considered that by the UN or the country they are in. As any policy has to draw the line somewhere, here are the differences between a refugee and other designations, even if they are fleeing the same situation.
What that means is that data compiled by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) about refugees includes those with that technical classification, not asylum seekers and displaced persons.
How has the world responded?
There hasn’t been one response to Syria’s refugees; country by country can vary incredibly. Even within the EU, where some expected united action, responses have been quite different. Germany has taken in over a million refugees since 2015, Denmark received less than 3,000 from 2010-2014, Hungary built a border fence, etc.
I was curious to see of the countries that were being praised for their acceptance rates and those admitting few, how did their refugee population compare percentage-wise to their country’s population? I looked at only a handful of countries based on what I had heard about their refugee population and whether they were close to Syria. The results shocked me.
|Country||2016 Population||2016 Refugee Population Accepted (source: AIED)||% of Refugees in Total Population|
|USA||324.1 million||84,995 (World Atlas) (number of applications unknown||.026%|
|Germany||82.8 million (Federal Statistical Office)||433,920 (58.2% acceptance rate)||.52%|
|France||64.67 million||29,140 (34.18% acceptance rate)||.045%|
|UK||65.1 million||7,325 (23.94% acceptance rate)||.011%|
|Canada||36.3 million||46,700 (66.1% acceptance rate)||.1287%|
|Greece||10.89 million||2,711 (5.3% acceptance rate)||.025%|
I found the percentage of refugees in the nation’s population to be particularly insightful, but I believe they speak for themselves. Greece’s acceptance rate may seem unacceptable, but can be attributed to the fact that Greece is the country receiving most of the people crossing the Mediterranean. They may not be providing a place to stay for refugees, but they operate many refugee camps and other places Syrians can wait until another country (typically in the EU) accepts their asylum application.
Is there anything I can do?
I was surprised to learn during and after this trip that the answer was yes. If your country is not taking in many refugees, it can feel like there’s nothing really meaningful you can do. Though it’s unfortunate and honestly frustrating that we aren’t helping out as a country by taking in more refugees, there is a lot we can do as individuals.
One of my biggest concerns, returning from this trip, is the lack of awareness we have toward what’s happening in Syria and with those refugees who are trying to resettle in countries around the world. An active way to feel ourselves make a difference, is to have the difficult conversations with people who might not agree with us, or might just not seem to care. I’ll be up front with you, it sucks doing that. It feels pointless; there’s no way anything you say can change their mind. However, I’m starting to think it’s not all about changing their mind, but opening their mind to change. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you noticed that I’m worried about the subtle side of Islamophobia in America. The Islamophobia that is our automatic anxiety regarding someone who seems like they might be Muslim. If we approach these anxieties one conversation at a time, maybe they can be chipped away. Maybe then, if we have an administration ready to accept more refugees, the population will be ready to. Or if the administration isn’t ready, maybe the population’s readiness will help push them forward, similar to what we saw with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Yes, having these conversations is difficult, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. We’d never further ourselves as a society if that’s the attitude we had. And hey, one way to make the conversation a little easier is to have a middleman (my shameless plug for you to share this blog).
Of course there are other ways to make change outside of dialogue, one of which is through the organizations trying to help in Syria and the surrounding countries. An organization I like is the International Rescue Committee. They have really unique ways that your involvement can make a difference. You can be very specific, such as helping to create a classroom for displaced children who have no access to education, a kit for newborns, an emergency toilet where otherwise there would be none available, and so much more. This UNHCR page has a comprehensive list of everyone who partners with them in different areas of need. Click on the area you might be interested in helping with and see every organization that works with the UNHCR in that aspect. Even though many of these seek monetary donations, your money isn’t going to some abstract cause hoping to stop the refugee crisis. It’s going to things that can help right now, some of which (depending on the organization) you can donate in place of money. Something to consider, if you’re interested.