In recent weeks and months, the news has been filled with images and stories of human suffering in the form of what’s being called the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Among these are the heartbreaking photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi and stories about refugees walking hundreds of miles to find safety.
These images and stories have left many people wondering how this humanitarian crisis started and what can be done to help.
How Did This Happen?
More than 11 million Syrians have been displaced by Syria’s civil war. The civil war started in March 2011 after the Syrian government began to violently suppress peaceful, anti-government protests. These actions inspired rebels to fight against the government.
By July 2011, army defectors and civilians organized the Free Syrian Army. However, internal conflicts began to cause problems within the group.
Today, more than four years later, the civil war is in full force. More than 220,000 people have died and half of these casualties are civilians. Once-crowded cities have been destroyed by bombs and human rights violations are occurring regularly, while food and other necessities are hard to come by. Under these conditions, thousands of Syrians are fleeing their country every day.
Where Are The Refugees?
As a result of the civil war, the UN estimates that 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced. Another 4 million Syrians have been externally displaced and have registered or are waiting to register as refugees with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. More than half of these 4 million people are under the age of 18.
The first Syrian refugees fled to Jordan and Lebanon in 2012 and some still live there today. Some live in overwhelmed refugee camps, but most live in rundown buildings in cities. Many Syrian refugees struggle to provide for themselves, because they have no legal way to work in either country.
Due to the poor living conditions in Jordan and Lebanon, an increasing number of refugees have started entering Turkey. However, like Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey has no route to legal status for the Syrians. As a result, the refugees can’t build a future in Turkey, so hundreds of thousands of them are traveling to Europe.
To get to Europe, many Syrians are trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece. However, the trip is dangerous and not all of them survive. Aylan Kurdi died making this trip with his family.
Though Greece is where many refugees are arriving, most are just passing through. Their ultimate goal is to make it further into Europe.
Germany has been one of the most popular destinations. However, the country recently closed its borders after becoming overwhelmed by an influx of refugees. To make matters worse, the number of countries taking in refugees seems to shrink every day. This has left thousands of people stranded in countries like Croatia.
How Are Countries Responding?
This situation is being called a crisis for good reason. People recognize that millions of human beings are vulnerable and suffering, but the international response hasn’t been enough so far.
Things are changing every day, but here’s what the situation looked like when this article was written. Germany made an effort to help, but quickly became overwhelmed and closed its borders. Hungary and Slovenia also panicked and closed their borders.
Refugees are still coming to countries like Croatia and Greece, but these countries are overwhelmed. This dire and chaotic scene has caused the European Council President to call an EU summit for September 23 to discuss how to best handle the situation in Europe.
Non-European countries have been reluctant to help. For example, the United States has offered to take 10,000 Syrian refugees over the coming year, but this will barely make a dent in the problem. Similarly, Australia has offered to take 12,000 and Canada has offered to resettle 10,000. With the number of Syrian refugees in the millions, these countries are being urged to take in more.
How Can I Help?
The need for assistance is great. In December 2014, the UN said that $8.4 billion is necessary to help Syrian refugees and internally displaced Syrians. This seems like an overwhelming amount, but there are things you can do to make a difference.
Donating money is an obvious way. Here’s a list of charities that help Syrian refugees and Syrians who are internally displaced. Any amount of money can help provide basic necessities to Syrians in desperate need of help.
Spreading the word about the Syrian Refugee Crisis is another excellent way to help. While there’s been a lot of news coverage, many people still don’t realize the extent of the crisis, so spreading awareness is important.
Finally, you can take a moment to sign this petition and let Congress know that you want the United States to support refugees.
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