Syrian Refugees Are the Biggest Humanitarian Tragedy Since Rwanda
Picture it: a typical morning. Parents wake up and make breakfast, and the kids get ready for school. The parents go to work, the kids go to school. That night, after the kids get home from school activities, you eat dinner, watch some TV, and take stock in the awesome family you have. Then suddenly your country is sent into turmoil. Dad loses his job. The school is bombed, it becomes a wicked long snow day for the kids. A year goes by, it’s too dangerous to stay. You flee, but where? Nobody wants you, and even if they do, they only want you for what you can offer, cheap labor and maybe a daughter for sex purposes.
Sound shocking? That’s what it’s been like for many millions of Syrians that have been forced to flee their home country and officially become refugees. What the hell is going on?!
How It Started
It all started in 2011 with peaceful protests inspired by the “Arab Spring” protests in Egypt and Tunisia. The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad flew off the handle, killing and bombing their own citizens and refusing journalists or peace-workers entry into war zones. Nothing has been settled since, and Syrian citizens have responded the only way they can: by fleeing.
Where To Go?
Great question. Of all the Middle Eastern countries, Syria has long been considered advanced. So what are you supposed to do when you leave your home country, where you’re an educated middle-class worker, for a place like Jordan, where they won’t even let you get a job? Some 2.5 million Syrians have fled to Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey since 2011, and another 4.1 million are expected to flee by the end of 2014. It’s a big difference from just a couple years ago, when Syria was ranked the number one country for refugees to flee to.
Are The Kids Alright?
One in 10 of all the refugees are children (1.2 million). Some of these kids have been out of school for more than three years. Many are orphans, surviving alone in refugee camps. Many remember a time when they had a home, homework, a decent dinner, even TV. Now they have to fear a return of the polio virus, once considered eradicated from the world—25 cases have been reported in the camps. Polio spreads fast, especially amongst people that haven’t been vaccinated (children). Some of the refugee children are lucky, though. They’ve been enrolled in public schools in the countries they sought refuge, and those governments are providing immersion courses for them and their families. But more are stuck in camps and not in schools. You know it’s serious when kids want to go to school.
What About Girls Specifically?
When you lose everything, you do anything you can to survive. In many cases that involves selling off your 15-year-old daughter to a 55-year-old Saudi Arabian man. If you don’t marry her off, you sell her off as a domestic worker. Not enough money? She begins working as a prostitute. Culturally, girls marry early in Syria, thought they are often forced, and used to protect or provide for their families. Combine a cultural abuse of girls with an economic need and you’ve got a really upsetting sex-trafficking situation on your hands.
“This is the biggest humanitarian tragedy since the Rwandan genocide,” said Antonio Guternes, United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. It’s a big effing deal, and the world needs to respond. The U.S. government and the countries surrounding Syria and providing refuge are providing financial assistance, and shelter, but it’s not enough. Yes they need food, but the children also need education and vaccinations. These countries need to lift their ban on foreign workers and let the skilled laborers of Syria work. Until this happens, refugees are stuck in a humanitarian limbo. What about Syria? With President al-Assad still in power, it’s pretty certain that nothing is going to change anytime soon.
Have you been following the civil war in Syria?