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Health Costs of The Syrian Civil War
The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has led to a monumental refugee crisis, hundreds of thousands of deaths, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and destabilization in the Middle East. Yet another devastating effect of the war is the health consequences for people still living in Syria. Civilian doctors and nurses in active war zones face significant challenges not encountered in peacetime. These include a massive amount of trauma victims, shortages of medical equipment and personnel, infectious disease epidemics and breaches in medical neutrality. Here are 10 health costs of the Syrian civil war for the Syrian people.

10 Health Costs of the Syrian Civil War

  1. Because of the war, Syrian life expectancy has plummeted by 20 years from 75.9 years in 2010 to 55.7 years through the end of 2014. The quality of life in Syria has also worsened. As of 2016, 80 percent of Syrians are living in poverty. Moreover, 12 million people depend on assistance from humanitarian organizations.
  2. The civil war devastated Syria’s health care infrastructure, which compared to those in other middle-income countries prior to the war. By 2015, however, Syria’s health care capabilities weakened in all sectors due to the destruction of hospitals and clinics. The country faced a shortage of health care providers and medical supplies and fear gripped the country.
  3. The Syrian Government has deliberately cut vital services, such as water, phone lines, sewage treatment and garbage collection in conflict areas; because of this government blockade, millions of Syrian citizens must rely on outside medical resources from places like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In 2012, the Assad regime declared providing medical aid in areas opposition forces controlled a criminal offense, which violates the Geneva Convention. By the following year, 70 percent of health workers had fled the country. This exodus of doctors worsens health outcomes and further strains doctors and surgeons who have remained.
  4. The unavailability of important medications presents another health cost of the civil war. Due to economic sanctions, fuel shortages and the unavailability of hard currency, conflict areas face a severe shortage of life-saving medications, such as some for noncommunicable diseases. Commonly used medicines, such as insulin, oxygen and anesthetic medications, are not available. Patients who rely on inhaled-medications or long-term supplemental oxygen often go without it.
  5. A lack of crucial medications has led to increased disease transmission of illnesses, such as tuberculosis. Furthermore, the conditions Syrians live in, for instance, the “tens of thousands of people currently imprisoned across the country… offer a perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant TB.”  Indeed, the majority of consultations at out-patient facilities for children under 5 were for infectious diseases like acute respiratory tract infections and watery diarrhea. According to data from Médecins Sans Frontières-Operational Centre Amsterdam  (MSF-OCA), the largest contributor to civilian mortality was an infection.
  6. In addition to combatant deaths, the civil war has caused over 100,000 civilian deaths. According to the Violation Documentation Center (VDC), cited in a 2018 Lancet Global Health study, 101,453 Syrian civilians in opposition-controlled areas died between March 18, 2011, and Dec 31, 2016. Thus, of the 143,630 conflict-related violent deaths during that period, civilians accounted for 70.6 percent of deaths in these areas while opposition combatants constituted 42,177 deaths or 29.4 percent of deaths.
  7. Of the total civilian fatalities, the proportion of children who died rose from 8.9 percent in 2011 to 19.0 percent in 2013 to 23.3 percent in 2016. As the civil war went on, aerial bombing and shelling were disproportionately responsible for civilian deaths and were the primary cause of direct death for women and children between 2011 and 2016. Thus, the “increased reliance on the aerial bombing by the Syrian Government and international partners” is one reason for the increasing proportion of children killed during the civil war according to The Lancet Global Health report. In Tal-Abyad’s pediatric IPD (2013-2014) and in Kobane Basement IPD (2015–2016), mortality rates were highest among children that were less than 6 months old. For children under a year old, the most common causes of death were malnutrition, diarrhea and lower respiratory tract infections.
  8. The challenges doctors and clinicians face are great, but health care providers are implementing unique strategies that emerged in previously war-torn areas to meet the needs of Syrian citizens. The United Nations (the U.N.) and World Health Organizations (WHO) are actively coordinating with and international NGOs to provide aid. The Syrian-led and Syrian diaspora–led NGOs are promoting Syrian health care and aiding medical personnel in Syria as well. For instance, aid groups developed an underground hospital network in Syria, which has served hundreds of thousands of civilians. These hospitals were “established in basements, farmhouses, deserted buildings, mosques, churches, factories, and even natural caves.”
  9. Since 2013, the Médecins Sans Frontières-Operational Centre Amsterdam (MSF-OCA) has been providing health care to Syrians in the districts of Tal-Abyad in Ar-Raqqa Governorate and Kobane in Aleppo Governorate, which are located in northern Syria close to the Turkish border. The health care MSF-OCA provided included out-patient and in-patient care, vaccinations and nutritional monitoring.
  10. New technologies have enabled health officials to assist in providing aid from far away. For instance, telemedicine allows health officials to make remote diagnosis and treatment of patients in war zones and areas under siege. One organization that has used this tool is the Syrian American Medical Society, which “provides remote online coverage to nine major ICUs in besieged or hard-to-access cities in Syria via video cameras, Skype, and satellite Internet connections.” Distance learning empowers under-trained doctors in Syria to learn about disaster medicine and the trauma of war from board-certified critical care specialists in the United States.

Conditions on the ground in Syria make it more difficult for Syrian citizens to receive vital medical aid from health care workers. Many people and organizations are working diligently to help injured and sick Syrians, however. These 10 health costs of the Syrian civil war illuminate some of the consequences of war that are perhaps not as storied as the refugee crisis. While aiding refugees is an undoubtedly worthy goal for international NGOs and governments, policymaker’s and NGOs’ agendas should include recognizing and alleviating the harm to those still living in Syria.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

Children of Foreign Fighters
The children of foreign fighters, specifically those in Syria, are among the most vulnerable groups in the world. Estimates state that there are close to 29,000 foreign children in Syria, most of them under the age of 12. Around 20,000 are from Iraq and more than 9,000 are from 60 other countries. According to UNICEF, these children live in appalling conditions and have little family support; most of them live stranded with their mothers or other caregivers and many live entirely alone.

Unfortunately, many countries have refused to repatriate their citizens, including those born in the conflict zones. Repatriation includes accompanying children back to their legal countries and reintegrating them into their extended families. So far, countries have repatriated only a fraction of them. Non-receiving countries usually give reasons that involve security concerns and often pass judgment on young children who have suffered from blatant manipulation or the decisions of their caretakers.

Most children of foreign fighters started their lives in or traveled to Islamic State-controlled conflict areas, but many are also young boys who armed groups manipulated into support. UNICEF’s call to action urges that countries maintain the international standards for a fair trial, especially with children over the age of criminal responsibility. Receiving countries should work to prevent the harsh scrutinization of foreign fighters’ children who have not committed serious crimes.

Working to Protect Stateless Children

There are also a number of Syrian refugees and children of foreign fighters who are stateless, meaning that they possess no civil documentation to prove their nationality. Without documentation, it is difficult for refugees to build their lives beyond reintegration. When it comes to stateless children, most of them are born abroad after their parents have fled conflict and estimates determine that parents do not register 70 percent of them at birth. According to the U.N., a stateless child is born every 10 minutes.

Many large organizations are working to counter statelessness. UNICEF has pressed outlying nations to prevent the children of foreign fighters from becoming stateless and to provide all citizens with civil documentation. In 2014, the U.N. launched the 10-year I Belong global campaign to rid the world of statelessness. Currently, there are over 96,000 signatures on the U.N.’s petition to end statelessness.

Importance of Mental Health Care

Successful reintegration requires more than placing the children of foreign fighters into schools and providing housing and jobs. Nearly half of all Syrian children display symptoms of PTSD and a quarter face intellectual and developmental challenges. By living in conflict zones, children are at high risk for depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. This includes making them vulnerable to radicalization due to post-conflict distress and anger.

Furthermore, the unfamiliar surroundings, foreign languages and a lack of familial support during repatriation can worsen symptoms. One study on reintegrated children in Sierra Leone showed that children abducted at younger ages were less likely to return to school. The study also found immense psychological challenges when trying to reintegrate children into schools; children would often have heightened symptoms resembling traumatic stress in reaction to war and grief.

There are a number of health care NGOs working to help those the war affected. The International Psychosocial Organization is training counselors in Syria’s conflict zones. In Palestine, the Médicins San Frontières partnered with Al-Najah University to establish a graduate psychology program, with its main purpose to bolster the mental health workforce in Syria.

Right now, the world has received an opportunity to counter violent extremism by helping women and the children of foreign fighters reintegrate into their original communities. The damage done to the three million children born since the beginning of the Syrian War will be present for many years, requiring a multilayered and multinational response. In this complicated and brutal war, it is incredibly important to help protect these children and return them to their intended families and communities.

– Isadora Savage
Photo: Flickr

Jobs for Refugee WomenLara Shaheen, a Syrian woman in Jordan, has managed to create jobs for refugee women while taking advantage of pre-existing skills. The Syrian Jasmine House in Amman, Jordan allows displaced women to monetize their crafting abilities by giving them the resources to create and sell handmade items, most commonly artisan soaps. According to the Jordanian Ministry of Planning, Jordan hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees who migrated after a civil war broke out in 2012. The conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces destroyed significant infrastructure and caused the displacement of 13.5 million Syrians.

The Origins of Syrian Jasmine House

Shaheen fled Damascus in 2012, settling in Jordan with the common mindset that the displacement was temporary. But as the war continued, she decided to create a business that would help her break free of the aid dependence many refugees find themselves reliant upon. The initial team comprised of Shaheen and five other Syrian women who left Zaatari camp in 2014 to work on expanding their marketing of hand-sewn goods.

Since that time, the Jasmine House has created jobs for over 40 refugee women and trained thousands of women of all ages in tailoring, embroidery, stained glass, wool knitting, crochet and natural soap making. Females head over 30 percent of Syrian displaced households. As many women have lost husbands or sons due to the war, the need for female financial independence is critical. 

Although Shaheen named the company in honor of her home Damascus, often called “the capital of Jasmine,” her objective is to give Syrian women a way to integrate into Jordanian society so that they can be both productive and dependent on themselves. According to The Jordan Times, she has also trained numerous Palestinian and Jordanian women to create handmade Syrian goods, promoting independence for all vulnerable women in Jordan. 

How Syrian Jasmine House Benefits Others

 Once Shaheen realized the situation in Jordan might not be temporary, she created a for-profit initiative to help women become less dependent on aid agencies. The women first sell their products to Shaheen, making an average of $280-560 a month, according to National Geographic. Shaheen then uses her contacts and social media platforms, such as her Facebook page, to sell the goods to the general public. The income women can make through the Syrian Jasmine House is higher than the average $218 a month UNHCR gives refugee families in Jordan.

The Syrian Jasmine House helps bring in an income which can be difficult since work permits are challenging to obtain in Jordan due to already scarce jobs for Jordanians. In February 2019, Shaheen received her first large international order from the United Kingdom. The Jasmine House also offers workshops through the Airbnb Experiences network for tourists to learn new Syrian skills. A writer for The Medium, Ashlea Halpern, learned the craft of making Aleppo-soap while listening to the story of Maya Albabili who is part of the Syrian Jasmine House.

As conflict dies down in Syria and the country stabilizes, organizations have begun to look at repatriation as an option. UNHCR has labeled repatriation as the only durable solution for Syrians in Jordan, however, they are still not able to safely recommend return. Until it is absolutely safe for Syrians to return to Syria, larger organizations, such as UNICEF, are focusing on providing education and employable skills to people. Smaller organizations emphasize small business building through workshops and microloan services. 

In June 2019, Shaheen opened her second location in Istanbul, Turkey. According to UNHCR, Turkey hosts 3.2 million Syrians and Shaheen is hopeful that she can provide jobs to more refugee women and enable them to become self-dependent. The Syrian Jasmine House denotes the motto “we are producers, not refugees,” and continues to work at breaking the aid-dependent cycle countries post-conflict often find themselves in.

 
– Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

Educational Access for Syrian RefugeesWith 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the Middle East in need of education, only half have access to it. Considering that 91 percent of children around the world attend primary school, the disparity between refugees explains the effects of the Syrian refugee crisis. The great benefits of inclusion, transformation and opportunity that education provides are being held off from refugee communities. They struggle with poverty, homelessness and many other issues. Without access to quality education, many fear the children of the Syrian refugee group will become a lost generation. Overall, it is vital to improve educational access for Syrian Refugees.

Education for Syrian Refugees: The Big Picture

The issue of educational access for Syrian refugees is far more than a humanitarian issue. It affects economic, social and security sectors on a global scale. The Syrian crisis has produced the largest current refugee group in terms of population. Likewise, the global system will communicate benefits of a positive future for such a large population.

However, without proper education, refugee children are at a greater risk of several hardships. These include child labor, extremism, and desperate poverty.

Important world figures have expressed that these risks are why the Syrian refugee crisis is of global interest. For example, UN Chief Guterres stated: “that if the world fails to support refugees, the world is only helping those [extremist groups] that use the arguments in order to be able to recruit more people to put at risk our global security. Solidarity with Syrian refugees is…not only an act of generosity, it’s an act of enlightened self-interest.”

Initiatives That Are Helping

Though a lot of refugee children are unable to access quality education, there are several initiatives in place that are providing education for children who are in need. Human rights efforts in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt are all working to provide education accessibility for Syrian refugees. These efforts are resulting in benefits of empowerment and opportunity for a population that is in great need of assistance.

A report provided by the Brussels Conference shows a strong increase in the percentage of enrolled refugee children in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq since 2015. For instance, Turkey presents one of the largest increase. This is very important considering the country is home to the largest refugee population in the world.

Temporary Protection Regulation

One of the initiatives begun by the Turkish government is the Temporary Protection Regulation. It grants free access to education for Syrian refugee children. The Turkish Ministry of National Education has also greatly increased educational access for Syrian refugees by creating and accrediting temporary education centers that are led by Syrian teachers with a curriculum specialized for the Syrian Arabic dialect. Both these initiatives can be seen as to why Turkey has the highest percentage of enrolled refugee children when compared to other countries in the Middle East region.

The Double-Shift System

Another initiative that has had strong effects in increasing education accessibility for Syrian refugees is the double-shift system created by the Jordanian Ministry of Education. This system increases the availability of Jordanian schools by adding classes outside the normal hours of the school. As of 2018, there have been a creation of 206 double-shift schools to educate Syrian refugee children. Because of this, the country was able to decrease the percentage of un-enrolled students to 41 percent. This decrease from the 50 percent average shows the system’s effectiveness in providing education accessibility for Syrian refugees. Furthermore, the Ministry is hopeful the downward trend in the number of un-enrolled students will continue.

Importance of Continuing Efforts

The Syrian refugee crisis has displaced 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Only half of these refugees have access to a proper education. Many fear this lack of education access for Syrian refugees will create a generation of men and women who will never able to become contributors to the global system. Though initiatives in countries such as Turkey and Jordan have shown hope for the crisis, continued work and support are necessary to ensure this crisis will not continue.

– Jordan AbuAljazer
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees in GermanyWhat began as a peaceful political uprising in 2011 has become one of the most devastating on-going civil wars of the 21st century. The war has contributed to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, leaving Syrian refugees in Germany hopeful for improved living conditions. The Syrian Civil War has not only devastated the country and its people but also neighboring nations, creating a regional disruption.

Syria’s fall is a global failure, and the consequences the war has brought with it have been difficult for other countries to manage. The Syrian Civil War forced countries to establish new policies to address the influx of Syrian refugees. Syrians have been escaping the bombings and repression since the outbreak of the war in 2011. However, in 2015, Europe was under more pressure when over one million refugees arrived through dangerous sea travel. Some Member States have closed their borders, and others have implemented new welcoming policies.

Current Living Conditions

Angela Merkel’s Germany welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees with its open door policy. German crowds awaited the arrival of Syrian refugees in Munich from Austria in 2015. However, today this enthusiasm contends with the rise of populism and right wing parties, affecting the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany. Amidst refugee settlement, anti-immigration views have become more and more popular among Germans. This forces the government to desperately establish effective integration policies to reduce tensions.

The living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany are very difficult. They are hospitalized as needed after arriving from extremely life-threatening conditions. Later, the refugees receive camp assignments. Due to the large number of refugee arrivals, Germany had to build emergency camps. These camps lack quality infrastructure and necessary equipment. Some refugees are assigned to shelters such as Tempelhof, where they sleep in a small bed among hundreds of others in one hall.

Due to integration laws that assign family members to different cities, some refugees must endure family separation. Moreover, Germany suspended the family reunification policy between 2016 and 2018 for refugees awaiting their status approval. According to the German government, Germany embassies received 44,736 family reunification applications in 2018, but only granted 1,500 applications.

Paperwork Holds Up the Process

Unfortunately, the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany become even more difficult once paper work begins. It could take up to eighteen months to be recognized as an asylum seeker. In most cities, refugees cannot join integration programs if they are not asylum seekers. According to the German law, asylum is a given right to anyone fleeing political persecution. However, the process of being granted refugee status based on the Asylum Act and the Residence Act can be lengthy.

These acts entitle refugees to integration programs, language classes and employment. This is not the reality for refugees who wait years of the approval of their status. Systematic hurdles can stop refugees from learning German, continuing their education or pursuing a job. Therefore, many refugees lose hope and enter black market jobs or seek distressing pathways.

A Brighter Future

Nonetheless, German policies, under the guidance of Merkel, continue to strive for effective integration. Overall refugee unemployment dropped sharply from 50.5 percent to 40.5 percent in mid-2018, based on the Institute for Employment Research. The study also concludes half of the refugee population will be employed by 2020. This is an optimistic advance considering the language barrier in addition to the fact that 80 percent of refugees who arrived in 2015 did not acquire a university degree. This is achievable because the settlement of refugees is improving along with the overall living conditions of Syrian refugees in Germany.

Eventually, refugees will be able to leave crowded shelters and move into apartments with their families. By improving  integration efforts and paperwork processes, Syrian refugees in Germany can gain asylum status and attain their legal rights.

Njoud Mashouka
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Aid to SyriaSyria faces a great deal of poverty, in part because of the violent conflict taking place there. The U.S. is deeply involved in Syria, both militarily and through foreign aid. The U.S. uses aid to address Syrian poverty in a variety of ways. Although this aid has helped the U.S. successfully achieve some of its goals, the aid has recently been reduced. These 10 facts explore the impact of U.S. aid to Syria, methods used to provide that aid and the potential consequences of cuts in aid.

10 Facts about U.S. Aid to Syria

  1. Currently, 13.1 million Syrians require assistance. 6.6 million Syrians require housing, and 2.98 million Syrians live in areas affected by violence or that cannot be easily accessed by relief agencies. Millions of Syrians are forced to live in exile. They escape the violence of their home country only to find more poverty in Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian refugee camps.
  2. Since 2011, U.S. aid has reached the amount of $7.7 billion. This aid funds the provision of food, water, healthcare and other necessities. It also funds “stabilization assistance,” allowing Syrian communities themselves to rebuild infrastructure and continue agricultural practices.
  3. In 2014, more than 40% of food-related emergency relief in Syria came from the U.S. This aid was sent throughout the 14 regional districts of Syria. At the time, 300 medical facilities in Syria were backed by the U.S., with more than 280,000 surgeries taking place at these locations.
  4. In 2016, U.S. aid to Syria amounted to $601 million. The aid was used to send food to impoverished areas. It also funded polio vaccinations for Syrian children.
  5. In 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill requiring the U.S. to prevent violence against the Syrian people perpetrated by the Assad regime. Known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2017, the bill sanctioned supporters of the Assad regime. The bill also sanctioned groups and individuals known to prevent Syrian access to humanitarian aid.
  6. In the spring of 2019, the U.S. restored power to 500,000 citizens of Raqqa. The Syrian Recovery Trust Fund, funded by USAID, provided food security to 256,051 Syrians. The same program also funded waste removal for 53,645 families.
  7. USAID is currently implementing a program to improve damaged infrastructure in Raqqa. The program gives authority to the community leaders of Raqqa. USAID plans to cooperate with local leaders and NGOs to restore power lines and increase regional access to electricity.
  8. In 2018, U.S. aid to Syria was cut by $230 million. The U.S. called for $300 million in aid from other Arab nations. The new reduced amount of U.S. aid was redirected primarily toward the reconstruction of the city of Raqqa, the former center of ISIS operations in Syria.
  9. After making significant cuts to the amount of proposed aid to Syria, the U.S. planned to allow that money to be used for other purposes. The administration emphasized the $300 million being sent to Syria by other nations. $100 million was sent by Saudi Arabia alone.
  10. The expanded role of other nations in Syria is used as a justification for the U.S. taking a less prominent role. As U.S. aid to Syria decreases, U.S. military involvement in the country is decreasing as well. Many Syrians are still in need of U.S. aid, even if U.S. policy
    seems to be moving away from providing that aid.

Thanks to U.S. aid, thousands of Syrians have access to better infrastructure, electricity, food and healthcare. U.S. aid facilitates stability in Syria. Further cuts to U.S. aid would be detrimental to Syrian stability. To help protect U.S. aid to Syria, U.S. voters can contact Congress in favor of protecting the International Affairs budget using this link.

— Emelie Fippin
Photo: Flickr

Airstrikes on Syria's Health IndustryIn recent months, Syria has been subject to a series of airstrikes often brought on by its own government, which have had devastating effects on the country. In particular, Syria’s health industry has taken a hit from these bombings with the complete destruction of many medical centers, and the displacement of many doctors and other qualified medical officials. The harsh effects of airstrikes on Syria’s health industry have been devastating.

Located between Lebanon and Turkey and bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Syria is a tiny Middle Eastern nation with a massive global presence. Almost 20 million people make up the population of this country which is roughly one and a half times the size of the state of Pennsylvania. Particularly since 2011, Syria has been involved in a civil war with multiple failed resolution efforts. As a result, as of December 2018, more than 11 million Syrians remain displaced both internally and externally. Roughly 5.7 million Syrians have registered as refugees across Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and other parts of North Africa.

Effects of Airstrikes on Syria’s Health Industry

Since late April 2019, Idlib, a northwest province in Syria, has been under constant attack by government forces as well as its militia and Russian allies. Reports state that the violence has hit or completely destroyed 19 hospitals and medical centers in this time, leaving doctors without a location to practice. However, since the civil war began in 2011, others have attacked roughly 350 health care centers throughout Syria on more than 500 individual occasions, leaving almost 900 medical workers dead.

As a result of both the immediate violence that citizens face on a daily basis and the decreasing access to health care, life expectancy in Syria has dropped from almost 76 years in 2010 to 55.7 years in 2015. Additionally, many children under the age of one can no longer access vaccinations for preventable diseases such as measles. At the start of the civil war, 20 percent of these children were without access to vaccinations; by 2014, that percentage went up to 46. By 2017, that number had decreased to 33 percent, as medical professionals made efforts to reach and vaccinate children in areas often more challenging to access.

Due to the decrease in the availability of health care facilities and personnel, Syrian citizens are the ones who face the effects of airstrikes on Syria’s health industry the most. Much of the remaining medical care is focused on treating emergencies such as people injured from explosions or car accidents. Thus, specialized care like gynecologists or orthopedic care is limited. While people can still find emergency care, physical therapy and additional follow-up care are extremely challenging to locate. The violence has to have externally displaced many citizens for them to get this follow-up care to their injuries.

Efforts to Help

An organization called Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HIHFAD) has been active in providing aid to those still living in Syria. It has mobilized on the ground in teams and worked diligently to provide care to patients. These teams specialize in diagnosing patients, providing equipment and treatment of said patients. Additional NGOs working to provide medical and health-related aid to Syria include Handicap International, International Medical Corps, CARE U.S.A, Save the Children and UNICEF U.S.A.

There is no way of knowing for sure when the civil war in Syria will end and the effects of airstrikes on the health industry continue to devastate Syrians that remain in the country. However, many NGOs are attempting to provide medical care, as are countries harboring an influx of Syrian refugees. The futures of the medical centers and personnel that remain in Syria are undetermined. But for as long as they can, they will continue to provide the best care they can to those in need.

– Emily Cormier
Photo: Flickr

Letters of HopeThe civil war in Syria has now entered its ninth year. Through the fog of a seemingly endless war, even the United Nations lost track of the number of lives lost in the conflict. The last estimate in 2016 placed casualty numbers well over 400,000. The remaining Syrians are not only battling for their country, but also for their hope. The CARE Letters of Hope initiative wants to help with that.

Today in Syria

In January of 2018, Turkey launched an assault on Syria’s northern regions to push out Kurdish rebels in control of the area around Afrin. In April, the United States, Britain and France carried out multiple punitive strikes on Syrian targets in response to various claims of a chemical attack in Douma. Now in 2019, the future of the conflict and the ramifications of U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the nation remain unknown. In the face of such great uncertainty, Syria not only needs extensive aid in reconstructing the country but hope that there are still people who recognize Syrians’ humanity and distress.

The Letters of Hope Initiative

With over 12 million of their countrymen displaced and scattered, Syrian refugees need hope, acceptance and a kind word now more than ever. It is because of this need for connection among refugees and the outside world that the CARE Letters of Hope initiative was born. In 1945, 22 American organizations came together to assemble life-saving care packages to World War II survivors in danger of starvation; CARE was born. By May of 1946, 15,000 packages of U.S. Army surplus food parcels reached the harbor of Le Havre, France. These parcels were designed to provide one meal for 10 soldiers. $10 was enough to buy a CARE Package, which was received by its addressee overseas within four months.

More recently, in response to the Syrian crisis, CARE started sending a new kind of package: encouraging letters addressed to refugees. This project, named the Letters of Hope initiative, began in 2016 when the original WWII CARE Package recipients living in the U.S. started writing letters of support to Syrian children. By doing so, they started “bridging the great distance and circumstances that separated them.” That simple act inspired thousands across the globe to send their own letters that kept the movement alive and well to the modern day.

The Letters of Hope initiative has also started branching out into schools. Its website now provides downloadable junior-high classroom lessons with the aims to “build understanding, empathy and connections between American students and young refugees around the world.”

The Fledgling Fund

The Letters of Hope initiative is made possible in part by support from The Fledgling Fund. The Fledgling Fund is an organization that explores the impact that documentary films and other forms of visual storytelling have on social change and advocacy. By creating awareness of humanitarian crises through engaging content, the Fund is able to emotionally move an audience to action. In tandem, Letters of Hope and the Fledgling Fund are vying to tell a story of hope and compassion for Syria and other nations in need without excluding Syrians and other oppressed people from the narrative.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

girls education in SyriaThe ongoing civil war in Syria has had a serious impact on many aspects of Syrian life. Syria once contained a highly educated middle class, but since the start of the civil war, this has significantly declined. Women have experienced a large reduction in their access to education. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Syria.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Syria

  1. During the 1990s, primary and preparatory schools were built to combat low literacy rates in Syria. Parents were legally required to send their daughters to school. This created equal enrollment ratios in primary schools for male and female students that reached around 92.61 percent enrollment in 1996. The war in Syria has drastically decreased opportunities for children to attend school, dropping the overall enrollment rate in secondary schools down to 44 percent by 2013 from 72 percent just four years before in 2009.
  2. Conflict in Syria has caused countless families to flee from rural areas to neighborhoods of 1070, Tishreen and Al-Riyadeh. These are areas where urban planning has worked to create apartments. A need for more classrooms arose due to a population increase and people taking refuge within these neighborhoods. UNICEF built a new 1070 school in 2013, the only girls’ intermediary school in the neighborhood, providing safety for students from the conflict in their neighborhood. However, in 2016, residents of the neighborhood fled due to an increase in mortars and bombardment. The school was abandoned and destroyed. This is common in Syria, where one in every three schools are damaged or destroyed, severely limiting student’s access to educational facilities.
  3. With 2 million children out of school due to the war, the amount of young displaced Syrian girls who get married before 18 has reached 41 percent. Education limits girls’ vulnerability to early marriage. However, with limited opportunities for girls to attend school, they have no way to learn the skills and obtain knowledge to advocate for themselves against child marriage.
  4. Regions controlled by Islamic extremists follow a curriculum outlined in “Women of the Islamic State”, a manifesto defining the role of women in society. This curriculum discourages women from attending institutions of higher education. It also supports a domestic-based education and marriage by the age of 16.
  5. Under the guise of an educational opportunity, young girls are often recruited for armed conflict. In 2017, 89 girls were recruited and used for armed conflict. Recruitment removes children form educational opportunities and puts them at severe risk.
  6. The Syrian Government has also worked to diminish the role of female teachers in the education system by denying the salaries for women teachers located in conflict zones. This often eliminates the primary income of a family and disproportionately affects young girls working towards achieving an education. Without female role models as teachers, young girls are often displaced from the education system, putting them at a higher risk for sexual and economic exploitation.
  7. Efforts made by the Malala Fund are working to provide technology that does not require internet access for Syrian girls to continue their education after seeking refuge in surrounding countries. Specifically, the Malala Fund paired up with Fadi Hallisso, the CEO of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, a Lebanese organization that works with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. The organization works to expand educational opportunities for Syrian refugee girls in those regions. The Malala Fund and Basmeh and Zeitooneh have worked to create accelerated learning programs and cultural centers to assist girls in getting up to speed on the educational standards of the local schools.
  8. U.N. Women started working to increase skills building and educational opportunities for girls displaced by the conflict in Syria. Sixteen-thousand female Syrian refugees benefit annually from the Oasis centers created by U.N. Women. These centers offer 400 cash-for-work opportunities as well as skill-building training to improve their opportunity for increased incomes. Syrian girls are also benefiting from the “SADA Women-only Centre,” which teaches technological skills, provides language courses, offers counseling services and connects women with jobs. U.N. Women is also working to build advocacy and leadership by Syrian women. A meeting was convened in June 2018 where 200 Syrian women convened to discuss the advancement of women’s rights in Syria.
  9. UNICEF started working to increase educational access for children in Syria, providing more than two million children with textbooks, stationery and school bags. UNICEF has also provided almost 80 thousand children with informal education opportunities. UNICEF’s focus on educational access for young Syrian children reaches across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with the goal of providing equitable educational access to 1.2 million children.
  10. Countries with high numbers of Syrian refugees are actively working to lift restrictions for school enrollment that disproportionately affect young Syrian girls and implement systems that are accessible for Syrian refugees. In 2014, Jordan recently lifted the requirement for Syrian refugee children to hold a residency card to attend their schools. Syria also introduced a temporary education system that offers Syrian students an education taught in Arabic.

These 10 facts about girls’ education in Syria present the lack of access and safety for Syrian girls attempting to obtain an education in Syria and in refugee areas. Many organizations are working to improve the educational inequality for Syrian girls. These efforts are improving educational conditions; however, as the conflict in Syria persists, there is still a necessity for progress towards equitable education in Syria.

Claire Bryan
Photo: Flickr

War in SyriaSyria’s civil war has been raging on for eight years now. The conflict has created a huge population of 5.7 million refugees in critical need of humanitarian assistance. The resulting humanitarian crisis is one of the worst the world has seen in recent years. Several organizations are on the ground trying to provide humanitarian solutions for the victims of war in Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces

Recently, the Islamic State (IS) made its last stand to desperately hold on to the last tiny piece of territory it has, a small town in Eastern Syria called Baghouz. In September 2018, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) initiated what they hope to be their final military push to reclaim IS turf. The operation has been excruciatingly slow and deadly.

Civilians are struggling to slip out of the militants’ grasp and into the global humanitarian community. The SDF is working to help extract the civilian families out of the last holdout of IS fighters. It is believed that several thousand people are still huddled together in the final IS enclave. The people pouring out of Baghouz to seek shelter from the war in Syria pose a huge humanitarian challenge.

Almost 40,000 civilians have already left the diminishing IS territory, but the flow was severely interrupted when IS fighters closed off all exit roads. IS extremists were obstructing civilians from escaping, using them as human shields from airstrikes. Now, small groups of refugees sneak out into humanitarian corridors with the help of smugglers. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian organization working to help refugees escape the war in Syria and to monitor refugee movements.

Save the Children

Children escaping from the war in Syria are especially in need of humanitarian assistance. Beyond food, health services, education and other basic needs, child refugees require mental health services. Syrian refugee children consistently show signs of psychological trauma. Save the Children is striving to provide necessary services for Syrian child refugees. Among other things, they are working to establish recreational spaces and centers for unaccompanied children in the refugee camps. They provide mental health and socializing services in a safe environment for war-weary children.

According to Save the Children, the war in Syria has made it the most dangerous country in the world for children. In Syria, 5.3 million children need humanitarian assistance. Children are not only the victims of violence but also the targets of abduction and recruitment into armed groups. In three refugee camps in North-East Syria, there are more than 2,500 children from at least 30 different countries.

There is much work to be done, and Save the Children emphasizes that the organization is in dire need of more support. Extra funding is necessary to provide case management and protective services for more children. Foreign children need their countries of origin to facilitate repatriation. Save the Children urges the international community to help preserve family unity and aid those returning to their countries of origin from the war in Syria.

Other Humanitarian Organizations

Humanitarian organizations help 700,000 people each month in North Eastern Syria. In March, Brussels will host a pledging conference to raise more funds for humanitarian aid to Syria. In 2018, various nations collectively raised $5 billion for Syrian relief. In Syria, the United Nations aid feeds around 3 million people each month, and U.N. medical assistance has treated nearly 3 million patients.

The U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been cooperating to transport and deliver large amounts of aid to refugee camps in Syria. On February 6, the largest of such shipments arrived in Rukban, a refugee settlement in the demilitarized zone established by the major warring parties. The majority of Rukban’s inhabitants are women and children. The convoy included 133 trucks loaded with food, health and nutritional supplies, hygiene materials, education items, children’s recreational kits and vaccines. The aid came at a critical time to help save the lives of at least 40,000 people who live in the settlement.

The Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD) is another humanitarian organization working to enhance the lives of marginalized Syrians. They improve and provide schools, community centers, safe spaces, elder care facilities and other communal programs. Since the beginning of the conflict, they have been able to increase the scope of their assistance in both geographical range and by the number of people helped. Their programs have benefitted more than 1 million people.

There are organizations doing everything they can to help Syrian refugees survive and return to a peaceful life. Thanks to the efforts of thses humanitarian organizations, refugees, who have been surrounded by airstrikes and extremist violence, have shelter against the harsh Syrian winter.

Peter Mayer

Photo: Flickr