BY GRACE YI
Since 2011, over 12 million Syrian citizens have been displaced by the Syrian civil war: around 7.6 million citizens have been displaced within the country, while 4 million are seeking refuge abroad[i]. In 2015 alone, more than 500,000 people have fled to Europe, which is now struggling to manage its worst refugee crisis since World War II[ii]. Furthermore, over 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the past four years of armed conflict, and the death toll continues to rise[iii].
The conflict in Syria began with anti-government protests in March of 2011[iv]. In response to the arrest and torture of a few teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall, pro-democracy protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa[v]; security forces opened fire on protesters, killing three and sparking unrest and nationwide protests[vi]. By August 2014, more than 190,000 people had been killed in the conflict[vii]. Rebel brigades formed to battle government forces, while the involvement of jihadist groups in the conflict, including the Islamic State, further complicated matters.
The UN has accused the Islamic State of propagating a campaign of terror in the northern and eastern regions of Syria[viii]. Indeed, the Islamic State has carried out hundreds of public executions, amputations, and mass killings of rival groups, punishing any non-conformers. Furthermore, chemical warfare has entered the conflict: a chemical weapons attack in August of 2013 registered death tolls around 1400 leaving an additional 3600 patients with severe neurotoxic symptoms after exposure to a nerve agent[ix]. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported that it was “the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in 1988[x].”
As it stands today, an estimated 12.2 million Syrians are still in need of humanitarian assistance, including 5.6 million children[xi]. As of March 2015, the estimated total economic loss in Syria as a result of the conflict is $202 billion; moreover, four in every five Syrians live in poverty[xii]. The conflict has put intense strains on education, health, and social welfare systems, all of which are also in severe disarray[xiii]. A quarter of Syrian schools have been destroyed in the conflict, keeping more than 2 million Syrian children out of school, while more than half of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed[xiv].
In December 2014, a UN initiative to provide provisions and support to over 18 million Syrians went largely unfunded[xv]. In 2014, countries in the European Union offered asylum to over 184,000 refugees out of the 570,000 who applied for asylum[xvi]. Neighboring countries like Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, have struggled to accommodate the mass exodus of refugees. Meanwhile, Greece, Italy, and Hungary have faced a disproportionate burden of migrants arriving by boat and overland[xvii]. In 2015, Germany pledged to admit 800,000 asylum-seekers while Britain and France have pledged to admit 20,000 and 24,000, respectively[xviii]. Furthermore, since the beginning of the crisis, the U.S. has provided $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid, providing healthcare, food, water, and basic necessities[xix].
In September of 2015, EU nations formulated a plan to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers across the Union[xx]. The dynamics surrounding humanitarian efforts have begun to change, as recent discussion has focused on establishing a safe haven for refugees on Syrian soil. Regardless, prospects for refugees remain bleak.
[i] What You Need to Know About the Syrian Refugee Crisis and What the U.S. is Doing to Help. The White House. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/15/what-you-need-know-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-and-what-us-doing-help
[ii] Syrian refugee crisis explained. The Hindu 2015. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/syrian-refugee-crisis-explained/article7621867.ece
[iii] Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News. BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868.
[iv] Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News. BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868.
[vi] Middle East unrest: Three killed at protest in Syria – BBC News. BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-12791738
[ix] Syria chemical attack: What we know – BBC News. BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23927399
[xii] Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News. BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868.
[xiv] Everything you need to know about the refugee crisis. NY Daily News. Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/explainer-current-refugee-crisis-article-1.2404579
[xviii] Thrall A. Let Syrian Refugees In—All of Them. The Atlantic2015. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/syrian-refugees-resettlement-us/411178/
[xix] What You Need to Know About the Syrian Refugee Crisis and What the U.S. is Doing to Help. The White House. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/15/what-you-need-know-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-and-what-us-doing-help
[xx] Syrian refugee crisis explained. The Hindu 2015. Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/syrian-refugee-crisis-explained/article7621867.ece