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human trafficking in Syria
In March 2011, protests against the Bashar al-Assad regime began in Syria. Since then, more than 500,000 people have lost their lives. About 5.6 million people are refugees in Syria and 6.2 million people have experienced displacement from the war within the country. These factors make human trafficking in Syria for the purpose of both labor and sex more prevalent due to the Syrian people’s vulnerability.

The Situation

The Syrian government has not held anyone accountable for these crimes. In fact, the government is often complicit in trafficking. Traffickers often force children displaced within Syria’s borders into combat as child soldiers. On the battlefield, regime soldiers use children as human shields or suicide bombers. The regime soldiers also trap women and young girls into marriage or force them into prostitution.

Due to the size of refugee populations, surrounding countries have reduced the number of visas they grant, leaving refugees with no choice but to cross borders illegally. Doing so means their fate is in the hands of smugglers. But, staying in Syria would mean having to survive unconscionable levels of violence and struggling to attain even the most basic resources.

How to Prevent Human Trafficking in Syria

The U.S. Department of State laid out the groundwork for breaking the cycle of abuse in its 2019 report on human trafficking in Syria. The first step is to identify the victims as quickly as possible followed by holding the government of Syria accountable for its own part in the problem. In addition, the report determined that victims should not receive prosecution for any crimes they committed. The final stretch to ensuring human trafficking becomes part of the past is for all those guilty of trafficking to experience prosection. So far, Syrian officials have not enacted any of these policies.

A large part of the issue is that there are no official laws banning human trafficking in Syria. This makes it difficult to identify victims, let alone perpetrators. When prosecuting criminals (such as prostitutes or beggars), the Syrian government does not make efforts to differentiate between trafficking victims and true criminals.  Too often, it punishes people for crimes they would not have willingly committed. The government has not spoken out against human trafficking, making it easy for victims of human trafficking in Syria to fall through the cracks, especially given the state of the civil war.

The Implementation of Sanctions

The lack of attention that Syria has paid to human trafficking has put it at risk of facing American sanctions. This means that the country could potentially face steep tariffs or limits on trading with the U.S. Currently, Syria already faces sanctions due to its association with and sponsorship of terrorist organizations.

Sanctions only worsen the state of poverty in Syria, causing the prices of necessities and goods to skyrocket. Organizations such as Caritas aim to provide food and shelter to anyone who war has affected, but it is an uphill climb. Human trafficking victims receive assistance from organizations like Caritas, but only when victims come forward themselves. Syrian officials make no effort to refer victims to organizations that may help them.

Despite the efforts of the U.S. government and charitable organizations, human trafficking in Syria remains an alarming situation. The government of Syria prevents meaningful change by not taking efforts to aid victims or prosecute traffickers. In order for the situation to improve, the government must stand up to protect its own people. Until then, the state of affairs will continue.

– Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

Canada’s Foreign Aid
In 2019, the last year Canada released a complete set on Canada’s foreign aid budget and distribution, its budget increased by 4.9% from the previous year to $4.6 billion. The top five countries that Canada distributed aid to were Ethiopia ($203 million CAD) followed by Bangladesh ($199 million CAD), Afghanistan ($197 million CAD), Syria ($150 million CAD) and Mali ($140 million CAD). Canada has consistently taken part in providing foreign aid during this time period when global health is almost an unavoidable topic and has been one of many countries to step forward to combat the pandemic. Here are five successes of Canada’s foreign aid.

5 Successes of Canada’s Foreign Aid

  1. COVID-19: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has not only helped fight the virus globally by limiting case counts in its own country, but also by providing funding to vital health organizations and countries. For example, the Canadian government has provided $2 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist with vulnerable countries’ preparation plans. Additionally, Canada has further committed $50 million to the WHO, continuing to help with global health efforts surrounding the effects of COVID-19. Canada has also provided China with 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to help squash the outbreak at the epicenter. Finally, the government is also collaborating with international health regulators like the European Medicines Agency and the United States Food and Drug Administration to find suitable countermeasures to the virus and help vaccine development.
  2. Global Poverty Reduction: Canada’s foreign aid has also gone toward global poverty reduction over the last 30 years. For example, Canada launched the Development Finance Institution as part of Export Development Canada with the aim of increasing private sector investment in developing nations. The government committed $300 million toward this program and the private sector funding will prioritize initiatives in the private sector to back women and youth-led movements. The Canadian government is also trying to create more responsive programs like challenges, micro-funding and other incentive-based funding schemes.
  3. International Disarmament Efforts: Canada also uses its foreign aid in a leadership capacity to guide international disarmament efforts. The country made these strides following the 2001 9/11 attacks that sent shockwaves around the world. For example, Canada was one of the founding members of the G8 Global Partnership Against the spread of weapons and Material of mass Destruction initiative, originally receiving a budget of $20 billion over a 10 year period. Additionally, the former G8 partnership turned G7 led collective has further provided $25 billion in concise and clear programming to aid in disarmament efforts worldwide since the group’s original founding in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Canada has also made a flagship-level contribution with the G7 led Global Partnership program by personally contributing $1.5 billion in projects to aid disarmament methods.
  4. Refugees: Canada is also implementing some of its foreign aid work back home by helping relocate refugees from Iraq and Syria to Canada. In fact, the country welcomed 25,000 refugees by February 2016, along with a further 25,000 refugees by the end of 2016. Canada has also either processed or is still in the midst of processing all the privately sponsored Syrian refugees who applied for amnesty by March 31, 2016.
  5. Sanitation: Canada’s foreign aid has also gone to international clean water measures. Some of Canada’s more notable support projects in developing nations include providing $40 million in funding to the African Water Facility, creating water infrastructure in post-war countries. Canada also gave $17.9 million to Ghana’s Enhanced Wash which allowed communities and schools better water, and the ability to practice better hygiene and further sanitation. Finally, in Peru, Bolivia and Burkina Faso, Canada supplied $17 million to the Food Security Innovation and Mobilization Initiative which allowed communities in these countries to have access to innovative technology. Some of this new technology included water pumps, but altogether the technology aided food security during the dry season.

While Canada has been a major player and helped many nations through foreign aid, Canada is still failing to meet the 0.7% Gross National Income (GNI) target G8 countries committed to by some distance, with only 0.27% GNI committed as of 2019. Canada still has room to improve, not just to alleviate global poverty, but to make good on the promises it made as part of the G8.

Sean Armstrong
Photo: Flickr

Germany Foreign Aid
In 2019, Germany followed the U.S. as the second-largest donor to official development assistance (ODA). Historically, Germany’s foreign aid has focused on migration, forced displacement, food security and climate concerns. In its foreign aid policy, Germany aims to create lasting change in the nations it reaches. Here are eight facts about Germany’s foreign aid.

8 Facts About Germany’s Foreign Aid

  1. The BMZ Handles Aid: The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) primarily addresses the regulation of foreign aid. The BMZ is responsible for the development of policies, management of projects and the allocation of funds in times of crisis. Its support centers on several factors important to development, including “good governance, education, rural development, climate control, sustainable development, and a strengthening of the private sector.” Germany expects responsibility from the countries it lends aid to and thus does not grant budget support freely.
  2. The BMZ Does Not Work Alone: The BMZ works in accordance with other ministries, including the Federal Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense. The Federal Foreign Office addresses matters of humanitarian aid and, if a military presence is necessary, the Ministry of Defense offers assistance. KfW, a German-owned development bank, has also played a key role in Germany’s foreign aid contributions.
  3. Making UHC a Reality: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 marked Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as a priority. UHC embodies the idea of having “all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.” Germany has committed to this ideal in three stages. Globally, Germany aims to strengthen health systems through technical and financial support. On a multilateral level, Germany endorses the P4HNetwork, which provides health financing, and the L4UHC leadership course, which helps in the development of partnerships. Lastly, Germany is aiding its partner countries directly in the development of necessary changes.
  4. Supporting Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance: Germany has donated to Gavi through the BMZ since 2006 and its support continues to grow. Chancellor Merkel “pledged EUR 600 million for Gavi over the 2016-2020 strategic period” in 2015. Providing immunizations across the globe, Germany’s support of Gavi enables a safer, healthier world.
  5. BMZ Unveils an Effective Reform Strategy: The BMZ’s primary goal remains the same; eliminating poverty and world hunger. However, the BMZ is changing how it aims to achieve this goal through new focuses, new partnerships and new modes of cooperation. BMZ has reduced its number of partner countries from 85 to 60 but has done so to maximize its efforts strategically. German foreign aid is attempting to establish peace and structure with its nexus and peace partners. By “strengthening [German] support for people in crisis and refugee regions, addressing the root causes and supporting them in the process of stabilization,” the BMZ is aiming to build up nations like Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
  6. Germany and Syria: In recent years, Germany has shown great support for the Syrian people. In 2018, more than 500,000 Syrian refugees resided in Germany. German support is not solely based on helping the refugees, however. In June 2020, as part of a conference jointly hosted by the E.U. and U.N., Germany pledged $1.78 billion to humanitarian aid for Syria.
  7. Germany and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Adopted in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development replaced the previous Millennium Development Goals. The initiative comprises 17 goals and ties together poverty reduction and sustainability. Within the decade, the United Nations wishes to address the most pressing concerns of poverty, female empowerment and climate concerns. Germany is one of many nations playing a large role in addressing these goals.
  8. An Endorsement that Looks to the Future: Alongside Ghana and Norway, Germany requested the establishment of a global action plan in April 2018. This request took the form of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All. The plan has united 12 agencies dedicated to health, development and humanitarian efforts, allowing each to strengthen each other while addressing the central SDGs.

The nation has proudly taken up the mantle of leadership and will serve as the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from June 2020 until December 2020. Germany promised additional ODA-funds in June 2020, dedicating $3.5 billion for “global health measures, humanitarian assistance, and overall development cooperation.”

Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Syria
Syria has been in a state of civil war for nine years, since March 2011. Dire consequences meet civilians from all sides; from danger and violence if they stay and closed borders due to an overflow of refugees if they try to leave. Due to this humanitarian crisis, poverty has affected more than 83% of the population. In this same vein, 8 million Syrian children are in need —both inside and outside the country. As of April 2020, the WFP reported that the cost of a staple basket of food has risen by 111% in comparison to the previous month, due to Syria’s COVID-19 crisis. With these factors at play, initiatives to alleviate poverty in Syria are a welcome respite.

While it may seem that good news is hard to come by, there are a few initiatives in Syria working against the effects of high poverty rates. They tackle these issues from several angles, such as rewriting stereotypes, entrepreneurial education, resource allocation and community development. Here are four initiatives that are working to alleviate poverty in Syria, today.

4 Initiatives to Alleviate Poverty in Syria

  1. MeWe International and the #MeWeSyria Movement: Rewriting Stereotypes – MeWe International Inc. aims to rewrite the narrative about poverty in Syria and Syrian refugees. By using communication skills and narrative interventions as tools, it encourages and promotes healthy psychological skills, leadership efforts and community engagement. The training networks are hosted within Syrian communities and gear toward refugee youth and caregivers, especially within the facets of mental health. Storytelling is a tool MeWe International uses to help people to heal, grow and dream of a better future within communities in poverty in Syria.
  2. The Remmaz and Mujeeb Programs: Entrepreneurial Education – Programs from 2016 and 2017 are continuing to focus on equipping the younger generations in Syria with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their country and support their communities. Leen Darwish founded Remmaz, which teaches students how to code. “This programme is providing young people in Syria with critical business, leadership and entrepreneurship skills and directly linking them to opportunities to generate income,” says Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Global Coordinator for the Data for Development Platform. Aghyad Al-Kabbani, Eyad Al-Shami and Zeina Khalili co-founded Mujeeb, an AI program that creates customer support chatbots in Arabic. Al-Shami quoted, “On the human side, it’s hard. It’s not about building the next Google. But I want to exist. I want to do something.” Their hard work has led not only to easier online communication for people in Syria but also to a great success story for other young, Syrian entrepreneurs. This is a great example of how to alleviate poverty in Syria from the inside.
  3. United World Food Program Initiatives: Resource Reallocation – The World Food Program USA (WFP) has brought a few innovative solutions to Syria that have improved quality of life and the procurement of resources. Technology has been a valued instrument through NGOs like WFP. Moreover, the extension of aid is very much necessary to alleviate poverty in Syria. To counter the needs of 11.1 million people, iris scans prevent robbery while truck convoys carry supplies to hard-to-reach communities. Furthermore, both bakeries and greenhouses (under construction) increase the flow and availability of food. The WFP feeds more than 4.5 million people inside Syria and more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees every month. By addressing hunger on this scale, the most essential needs of the poor are met. Further, they can slowly grow and rebuild their homes and businesses.
  4. UNDP Leaving No One Behind Resilience Program: Community Development – The 2018 Resilience Program based in Syria focuses on four large-scale areas to alleviate poverty in Syria. The initiative works to promote self-reliance through socioeconomic recovery, improving the quality of basic services. Also, it aims to reinforce social cohesion in the community and strengthen local partnerships. The interventions were able to reach around 2.8 million people and contributed directly to around 111,000. The area-based approach rated certain geographical areas by need and ensured that the most crucial needs were met first. The communities with the highest beneficiaries include Aleppo, Al-Hakaseh, Rural Damascus and Lattakia. One of the projects included the improvement of basic services to crisis-hit areas, and these services included:
    • Solid waste and debris management;
    • Repair of water, sewage and electricity networks;
    • Rehabilitation of local businesses;
    • Supporting clean and renewable energy sources; and
    • Emergency repair of electricity and infrastructure.

Washing Away the Stain of War

Two million Syrians alone have benefited from the improvement of basic services. The remnants of war and violence are being cleaned up and removed. Moreover, the stones in the debris that were removed from Bab Al-Hadid were collected on-site. Notably, these stones will be reused in future rehabilitation projects in the same area.

After nine years of civil war and the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, the contributions of these organizations provide relief to Syrians.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Pxfuel

Bread Shortage in SyriaMore than half of Syria’s population is labeled as food insecure: about 8 million people do not have access to a reliable food source. Syria is facing a major bread shortage, the first since the country’s civil war. During that time, citizens had to cut back their meals drastically due to the minimal harvest. Now, without reliable access to food, projections show that more than 500,000 children could become chronically malnourished. The shortage adds to the many other issues the country currently faces, including the civil war and the COVID-19 pandemic. This problem has a variety of implications. However, one stands out as essentially alarming: the bread shortage in Syria is deepening poverty.

The Importance of Wheat

In Syria, people consider wheat the staple ‘staff of life.’ As a sustainable agricultural product, farmers sow more than a quarter of land in Syria with wheat. The people depend on this crop as a steady food source, as it can serve poor communities in a harsh economic environment. Bread derives from wheat and is popular in the Syrian diet. If there is a disruption in government assistance to bread productivity, the entire Syrian population could be at risk of food shortages.

Bread Shortage Politics

The United States enforced the Caesar Act on Syria. This restricts humanitarian aid t0 hold President Bashar al-Assad’s government accountable for war crimes. Many Syrians dislike the Western sanctions, believing they have created overall hardships for the country: for example, the value of Syrian currency has dropped immensely due to the sanction and other contributing factors. President Assad was not able to financially compensate for the shortcomings in imports.

The Syrian President wanted to implement a rationing system in response. During the bread shortage, Syrians would be able to purchase government-rationed goods through authorized retailers. A smart card system facilitated the distribution, but only in the capital of Damascus and in Rif-Dimashq. As a result, the smart card system—and, thus, bread rations—was not accessible to all.

Western sanctions did not restrict food but implemented banking restrictions that froze assets. This action led to a trade difficulty for Syrian businesses. Grain traders were unable to conduct business as normal, and the government had to rely on businessmen to conduct bread transactions.

Living During a Bread Shortage

Overall price increases have made it difficult for Syrians to survive amidst these turbulent times: one Syrian’s monthly salary of 50,000 pounds ($21), for instance, is not enough to live on. Living on less than $1 per day makes it difficult for Syrians to eat, afford living expenses and obtain other necessities. Many citizens live in debt, and some even sell their furniture to pay their cost of living.

Food prices have also drastically increased, making it even more challenging for Syrians to eat a simple meal. Through the ration card, one family can get two kilograms of sugar, one kilogram of rice and 200 grams of tea. This amount of food should supposedly feed an entire family. However, the low quality of these products motivated many Syrians to wait in long lines for bread.

Improving the Bread Shortage

To alleviate poverty resulting from the bread shortage in Syria, the World Food Programme (WFP) provides assistance to more than 4.5 million food-insecure Syrians each month. WFP improves nutrition for malnourished families by providing emergency food during times of national hardship. Syrian mothers and children are at the greatest risk of malnutrition. WFP accordingly provides those in need with food vouchers to promote a healthy diet. Although the wheat shortage caused Syrians to cut their three meals a day to two, WFP continues to help alleviate this disparity by donating meals to families and lunches to children during school.

Wheat is a major component of the Syrian diet. The bread shortage in Syria has disrupted many lives by leaving individuals and families without sustainable amounts of food. The government introduced bread rations, yet families still go hungry with minute portions. Although Syria requires more progress, assistance from programs like WFP provides hope to those in need.

– Ann Ciancia
Photo: Flickr

soccer players practicing philanthropy
Soccer, or football players to most of the world, are most often recognized for their impressive work on the field. However, professional soccer players have a lot of potential for impactful good off the field. This, due to their status, influence and financial capabilities. Listed here are five soccer players (part of FIFA) who have a powerful impact on the lives of impoverished peoples. Importantly, their reach extends throughout the world. These are great examples of professional soccer players practicing philanthropy.

5 FIFA Soccer Players Practicing Philanthropy

  1. Lionel Messi is an Argentine footballer who plays forward and captains La Liga club, Barcelona and the Argentinian national team. In response to COVID-19, Messi has made a wide variety of contributions through his organization, The Leo Messi Foundation. He began his foundation in 2007. Its mission focuses on helping kids and teenagers using health, education and sports initiatives. Messi has donated €1 million, split between Hospital Clinic in Catalunya and a health center in Argentina. Additionally, he gave €200,000 to UNICEF projects in Kenya. As a result, more than 2,000 citizens gained access to clean water.
  2. Mohammed Salah is a winger for the English Premier League club, Liverpool and the Egyptian national team. Salah has donated thousands of tons of food and fresh meat to his hometown in Egypt, to help families who have been impacted by COVID-19. Also, Salah donated to the Bassioun General Hospital. Moreover, he (along with his father) gave land to establish a sewage treatment plant in his hometown. With this effort, he hopes to provide a stable source of clean water to the region. Furthermore, Salah has been selected as the first ambassador for the U.N. Instant Network Schools, which connects refugees and host countries’ students with online education opportunities.
  3. Sadio Mane is a forward for the English Premier League club, Liverpool. Mane is funding the construction of a hospital for the village of Bambali, Senegal, where he was born. He took inspiration to do so after losing his father to a stomach illness, with no hospital in the village available to help him. Considering Senegal’s inhabitants, 33% are below the poverty line and Mane’s contributions to schools, hospitals and mosques in his home village are helping improve the quality of life for individuals living there.
  4. Mesut Ozil is a German footballer who plays as a midfielder for the English Premier League club, Arsenal. It is reported that he has paid for more than 1,000 operations for children across the world, food for 100,000 refugees in Turkey and Syria and is an ambassador for the children’s charity — Rays of Sunshine, in England.
  5. Jermain Defoe is currently a striker for the Scottish Premiership club, Rangers. He created the Jermain Defoe Foundation in 2013 to support at-risk youth in his family’s hometown, Caribbean, St. Lucia. His foundation’s mission is to help kids who are vulnerable and in need in the U.K., the Caribbean Islands and Northern Island. His grandparents grew up in St. Lucia and his foundation has worked on several projects in St. Lucia. The foundation’s work includes the refurbishment of the Soufriere Primary School after a hurricane,  donation of shoes to the Daigen School and the financial backing of The Rainbow Children’s Home.

Good Work: On and Off the Pitch

In addition to their work on the football pitch, these soccer players practicing philanthropy are doing excellent work for humanitarian missions and initiatives.  The contributions of these soccer players in healthcare, education and nutrition are improving the lives of the individuals affected by their initiatives worldwide.

Hannah Bratton
Photo: Flickr

ngos in lebanonBordered by Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is a Middle Eastern nation of almost 7 million citizens. Its history has only grown in complexity since it gained independence from France in 1944. Lebanese people have faced civil war, political and economic instability, border disputes and human rights violations into the present day. Thankfully, many NGOs in Lebanon work to address these issues. NGOs have supported the Lebanese people in suppressing terror, promoting gender equality, ending militarization, advocating for human rights and recovering from the Beirut explosion. Paramount to Lebanon’s security and future are not just improved government and policies, but also these NGOs on the ground.

Terrorism

In 2019 alone, four major terrorist groups posed an ongoing threat to Lebanon’s national security. Three acts of terrorism that year sparked an unprecedented governmental and legislative response. Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and recently launched a national Preventing Violent Extremism Coordination Unit. However, the Lebanese people’s long-standing lack of trust in government remains. This is where NGOs in Lebanon come in.

Since 1985, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American NGO, has promoted peace in Lebanon. The NGO identifies Lebanese entities actively promoting terror from within the government, such as Green Without Borders. The institute proposes counteracting these entities from abroad by publishing research and pushing policies for financial transparency. Its work is therefore vital to an effective government free from ties to terrorism.

Gender Inequality

Even though Lebanese women got the right to vote in 1952, gender inequities and violence remain among Lebanon’s most critical issues. In 2020, Lebanon ranked 145th among 153 countries in closing the gender gap. This ranking represents variables such as economic participation, educational attainment, health, survival and political empowerment. With women holding just 4.7% of parliamentary seats, NGOs in Lebanon are working to pave the way for female representation in government to empower marginalized citizens.

While global humanitarian groups have funded many gender equity campaigns in Lebanon, NGOs in Lebanon, like the feminist collective Nasawiya, spearhead much of the cultural change. Nasawiya advocates not just for the humane treatment and representation of women, but also for all genders and identities within Lebanon. With 11 projects underway, Nasawiya lobbies the Lebanese government and provides resources for women affected victimized by gender violence.

Militarized Justice Systems

Although Lebanon is officially a unitary multiparty republic with a parliamentary system of government, its justice systems are increasingly militarizing. Lebanon’s controversial pattern of suppressing peaceful civilian protests has garnered international attention as its use of military courts grows. In Lebanon, trials in military courts lack qualified judges, permit torture-induced confessions as evidence, issue inconsistent and lengthy sentences and fail to deliver due process. This affects more than just adults. Indeed, the Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon identified 355 children tried before the military courts in 2016 alone.

As the line between the Lebanese justice system and the military blurs, prosecutors have even brought charges against human rights lawyers and activists who oppose them. NGOs like Helem, which advocates for LGBT rights, are working to hold courts accountable to their victims. The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law and other NGOs in Lebanon have launched further investigations into Lebanon’s militarized courts. By publicizing records and providing credible research, they promote justice in Lebanon.

Migrant and Refugee Rights

An estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees and over 250,000 migrant workers from neighboring countries reside in Lebanon. Unfortunately, exclusionary immigration and refugee policies have created a human rights crisis. Migrant workers and refugees in Lebanon work in unregulated conditions, lack permanent residency and are victims of mass evictions. In 2017, 76% of refugee and migrant households lived below the poverty line. Additionally, 77% experienced food insecurity and 36% lacked an employed family member.

NGOs in Lebanon like International Alert advocate both for reforming the justice system and improving refugee and migrant rights. International Alert promotes policies targeted at improving legal conditions for these marginalized populations in Lebanon. Care, another NGO, also works on the ground to provide interim resources and housing for refugees and migrants in Lebanon.

The Beirut Explosion

When 3,030 tons of ammonium nitrate stored near a port in Beirut caught on fire and exploded in early August 2020, at least 200 people died, over 6,000 were injured and several hundred remain missing. The severe damage inflicted on some 70,000 homes left an estimated 300,000 Lebanese homeless. The Lebanese Red Cross met a large part of the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people affected by the explosion. This NGO has provided free medical care to over 23,700 people  through 36 health centers and nine mobile medical units.

The Lebanese Red Cross is also providing shelter for 1,000 displaced families and is expanding to help a projected 10,000 families. Additionally, the organization provides families with food, water, masks, gloves and other supplies. Another facet of this NGO, the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, reconnects separated families. It also provides mental health and counseling resources for victims.

NGOs in Lebanon Continue the Fight

While the Lebanese people continue to suffer from a legacy of conflict, instability, inequality and oppression, NGOs are working hard to help mitigate these critical issues. NGOs in Lebanon strive to improve human rights to help bring peace and prosperity to this Middle Eastern nation.

– Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women's Rights in Syria
For nearly a decade, the Syrian Civil War has left the Middle Eastern nation desolate, impugned with violence, and, more importantly, divided. However, when it comes to mainstream coverage on the Civil War’s effects, women are not usually in the spotlight, at least until recently. With the Syrian Civil War coming to a close, rebuilding and drafting a new constitution has commenced. This transition period is giving nonprofits and international organizations a unique opportunity to elevate women’s rights in Syria.

Overview

One can define women’s rights as women having the same legal protections and economic opportunities as men, along with an equal footing in the rebuilding process. Essentially women in Syria should have fair access to nonprofit and IGO resources as well as food, water and medicine.

Currently, Syrian women suffer from food insecurity, loss of education, lack access to clean water and medical supplies and gender-based violence at a disproportionately higher rate than men. In fact, in 69% of communities, early and unwanted marriage is a prevalent concern.

Moreover, before and during the war, societal roles of marriage and domestic abuse escalated dramatically. One report noted that “even though the state endowed women with rights to education, employment, etc., society ignored those rights. They saw society as a mechanism that reproduces the privileged position of men through customs and traditions.”

Since marriage is a cultural safeguard against rape and kidnappings, more women entered marriages only to become victims of abuse. Thus it is vital that nonprofits, International organizations and the global community as a whole, emphasize women’s rights in the initial rebuilding phases.

Women Now for Development

While the past decade presented several obstacles for obtaining women’s rights in Syria, local actors, nonprofits and international organizations are paving a solid foundation for the future.

In December 2018, when the U.S. announced its departure from the Syrian Civil War, the international organization Women Now for Development (otherwise known as Women Now) kicked-started a series of humanitarian centers in non-state controlled regions in Syria.

These centers served to provide educational skills and medical assistance to Syrian women, particularly those fleeing violence. Additionally, Women Now’s help centers assisted with:

  • Fighting illiteracy, especially among women and young people.
  • Empowering women economically through training and providing them with support to create income-generating activities.
  • Providing education through classes in technology, communications and foreign languages.
  • Supporting women’s access to society and building civic engagement.
  • Providing children’s education and protection.

What makes Women Now different from other international organizations is that rather than excluding Syrian Women from the development conversation, it is emphasizing their voices and perspectives. As a result, it is allowing for a more effective and streamlined localization effort.

UN Women

Another instance of international organizations assisting women’s rights is U.N. Women. For the past two years, the group helped women participate in a cash-for-work program that taught the women skills while giving them a stable revenue stream. Additionally, the U.N. Women’s project in Syria created safe-spaces and skill training seminars, allowing women to escape abuse both due to the war and normalized oppression in Syrian society.

Regional analysts predict that with a new wave of protests and emphasis on failed human rights campaigns, Syria will either fail as a state or work within a globalized system to strive for a better future.

The Middle East Women’s Initiative has lead the battel for female representation in the new Syrian government so far, both in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ability to win influence over the people and in Syrian Women’s international representation. The Initiative noted in a recent index how “Women in the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces hold senior leadership roles across policy functions and institutions. Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, acts as the region’s de facto head of state, speaking before the U.S. Congress and meeting U.S. President Donald Trump last year. Further, the SDF operation to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control was led by a woman commander, Rojda Felat.”

Reforms for the Future

In order for Syria to build a foundation that genuinely upholds women’s rights, it needs to introduce and expand on new policies. A highly recommended reform would be to restore compliance to CEDAW laws regarding discrimination against women.

While Syria signed onto CEDAW, an international framework against female discrimination, it conveniently left out several key provisions. In the transition, Syrian government officials must consider re-instating said provisions to grant women a stronger foundation of civil liberties and elevated socio-economic status.

Another critical step is to increase funding for feminist nonprofits. Under the current status quo, feminist nonprofits are quintessential to providing women with protection and critical resources.

“This[assisting women in Syria] was difficult without proper funding. Women Now was only able to compensate staff for their work with a minimum wage due to feminist organizations’ funding, who understood the importance of care to staff working in difficult circumstances. When centers had to shut down, and programs could not be delivered, the remote management team also lost funding for their salaries.”

Finally, both regional and global actors must pursue international diplomatic coordination. As stated previously, military conflict disproportionately impacts women. However, international and regionally based specialized committees are already making progress on de-escalating violence and creating safety mandates. Thus, increased diplomatic coordination should be a primary priority.

While many would call Syria a failed state and lost cause for any form of human rights, past and current reforms are starting to paint a different narrative. Now it is up to the rest of the world to decide whether they are willing to support said vision.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Refugee CrisesWars, persecution and horrific conditions caused by extreme poverty created 36 million refugees around the world. 24 million of these refugees come from just 5 countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Here’s a look into the five largest refugee crises of our time.

Syria

Syria has 5.6 million refugees and is among the largest and most well-known refugee crises today. When the government cracked down on peaceful student protests, the Syrian Civil War started March 15, 2011 and has now killed 500,000 people.  Bombing infrastructure destroys living conditions resulting in 6 million people being displaced. With 70% of Syrians living in extreme poverty, nearly 11 million Syrians need humanitarian aid. Due to conflict, aid groups are struggling to access the areas that need assistance.

One-fourth of the world’s refugees are from Syria. Turkey and Germany host many Syrian refugees. The neighboring country of  Turkey hosts the most refugees in the world, totaling 3.6 million Syrian refugees. To handle the large influx of refugees in its country Turkey is working to improve refugee conditions. Germany hosts 1.1 million Syrian refugees. Germany recently obtained the EU presidency and plans on reforming the asylum rules so there will be a more equal number of refugees among EU states. The Syrian refugee crisis has lasted a decade and affects over 17 million people globally. If Turkey and Germany continue to work to adjust laws regarding asylum, more Syrian refugees will be able to find a safe haven in those countries.

Venezuela

Venezuelan refugees number 3.7 million. In 2014, oil prices fell and created an economic collapse. The current inflation rate of 15,000%  has pushed 14 million Venezuelans to live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day. Shortages of food, water, and medicine constantly threaten the health of Venezuelans. Hyperinflation and lack of resources drive refugees from this crisis into bordering countries such as Columbia.

Columbia hosts the second most refugees in the world with 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees. The Columbian government is working to include Venezuelan refugees economically by providing Special Stay Permits that allow more than 100,000 refugees to earn a living working in the country.

Afghanistan

Forty years of conflict following the Soviet invasion in 1979 created 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan. Political uncertainty and conflict have led to 2 million people being displaced in Afghanistan. Natural disasters and attacks on aid workers prevent those displaced from receiving much-needed support. Pakistan and Iran host most of these refugees.

With one out of every ten refugees being from Afghanistan, this crisis needs immediate attention. Pakistan hosts 1.4 million Afghan refugees and is working with the UN to provide more schooling opportunities. However, if conditions improve in Afghanistan, it is possible that 60,000 refugees could return to Afghanistan.

South Sudan

Around 2.2 million refugees are from South Sudan. South Sudan is the youngest nation in the world after becoming independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, a civil war broke out causing 383,000 deaths due to violence and hunger. Meanwhile, 4 million people became displaced from their homes. Food insecurity caused by famines and war has left 5.5 million people hungry.  Malnourishment greatly affects the development of children, who make up 63% of this refugee population. This is the largest refugee crisis in Africa, with most refugees fleeing to Ethiopia and Uganda.

Uganda hosts 1.7 million refugees and works to integrate them into society by providing them with land.
Currently, there is a mental health crisis among refugees. Suicides are on the rise, and COVID-19 puts an even bigger strain on the health of South Sudanese refugees. If Uganda gains more funding, it can improve the mental health of refugees by providing more support. Uganda’s progressive approach to refugees can help South Sudanese refugees start a new life.

Myanmar

The Rohingya Crisis has created 1.1 million refugees from Myanmar. Myanmar is a Buddhist country, but the Rohingya Muslims are a minority group. The Myanmar government refuses to recognize the Rohingya people as citizens, therefore they are a stateless people. In 2017 the Myanmar army burned up to 288 Rohingya villages and carried out mass killings.  To escape persecution, over 700,000 people have fled to Bangladesh and now stay in the largest refugee camp in the world: Cox’s Bazar. In 2020 the United Nations International Court of Justice has called for an end to the violence against the Rohingya and for the government to recognize the Rohingya as citizens.

Future of Refugees

Conflict and poverty are creating refugees in 2020. Most refugees originate from Syria, but Venezuela’s numbers are beginning to rise to the same level. Host countries need to continue to reform government laws to include refugees in their communities. Millions of people, both refugees and host countries, are globally affected by the current refugee crises.

— Hannah Nelson

Photo: Flickr

Education Crisis in Syria
The Syrian Civil War began almost a decade ago and has effectively destroyed many aspects of governance and civilization throughout the historic Levant nation—including education. 5.8 million children from preschool to secondary school age were in need of education assistance in 2018, and about 3 million Syrian childrenboth in Syria and in surrounding countries as refugeeslack access to education altogether. Direct attacks on schools have been common since the conflict began, resulting in the damage or destruction of one-third of Syrian schools and the unemployment of almost 200,000 education workers. This situation has persisted for years, threatening an entire generation of Syrian children with a dire education crisis in Syria.

Dwindling Education Access within Syria

The general lack of access to education means that Syrians will have an increased difficulty enrolling in schools in later years. This domino effect will inhibit development and economic opportunities for millions of Syrians. A lack of development will perpetuate the country’s track record of conflict and humanitarian need. Poverty in Syria is a direct result of violent conflict. Poverty will only worsen as an increased number of uneducated Syrians enter the workforce. Although education is a fundamental right, it is becoming a rarity in Syria. Even those with access to schooling experience crowded classrooms, psychological trauma, curricula and language issues, poor teaching quality and lack of learning materials. These struggles associated with the education crisis in Syria have led nearly one-third of students to drop out before finishing primary school.

Over 6 million Syrians are internally displaced persons (IDPs), with about 50% of those IDPs being children. Fortunately, government bodies including the government of Syria, the opposition Syrian Interim Government and smaller local government bodies provide a semblance of education to IDPs. Non-Syrian government organizations are also involved, including Islamist groups, the U.N. and the Turkish government. There is very little coordination between these groups, though, endangering Syrian IDPs’ abilities to access reliable, standardized education.

Government structures and the Syrian economy incurred severe damage over the past decade. Many Syrian families deem it impractical to invest in education for their children, especially when that investment requires sacrificing food or shelter. Although this education crisis in Syria is certainly multifaceted, a lack of cohesion in the sector will worsen conditions. Families will increasingly turn to child labor and early marriage for financial stability.

Struggles for Syrian Refugees

The situation is just as dire for Syrian refugees in surrounding countries. About 1.5 million school-aged Syrians live in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, yet half do not have access to formal education. In these countries, the threat of child labor and language barriers are nearly insurmountable. However, the governments of those countries have made considerable efforts to provide education to Syrian refugees within their borders.

In spite of these government initiatives, Syrian refugees still face obstacles in obtaining a quality education. Only 25% of secondary school-aged children in Jordan are enrolled in school. Reasons for low enrollment are similar to those in Syria: poverty, lack of safe and affordable transportation and poor quality of education. For Jordanians, there is also little practical value in continuing education without reliable professional opportunities. Various administrative barriers exist to enrolling and there is a lack of accommodations for students with special needs.

The Jordanian government, with funds from foreign donors and NGOs, has a fairly successful primary education program, but international support has prioritized this program at the expense of valuable secondary school experience. As a result, this critical age group is neglected and left vulnerable to the implications of dropping out. Failing to enroll in secondary school undermines efforts to provide primary education, as students drop out after those first years.

Taking Action

Despite stark barriers for Syrian refugees throughout the region, international efforts provide some hope. UNICEF leads the response with a systematic approach, improving the capacity of the Syrian education system. They train teachers, rehabilitate schools, provide accelerated and self-learning programs and supply schools with essential learning resources.

On an international scale, UNICEF also works with Save the Children to target Syrian children in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt by providing overall technical support. The NGO World Refugees School (WRS), backed by the internationally recognized City & Guilds, provides formal education to refugee and displaced children throughout the world. WRS has helped 6,000 students in northern Syria graduate in six pilot schools as of late 2019. It is also working toward its goal of expanding to 40 schools nationwide. WRS uses technology to compensate for poor access to materials. It focuses on the use of digitized textbooks, e-learning platforms and mobile classrooms to alleviate pressure on students and teachers.

The education crisis in Syria is severe and has gone unaddressed for years. The Syrian civil war has stolen an entire generation’s right to education. Even the multitude of government bodies and NGOs have struggled to form a cohesive system for Syrian children. However, the international community and humanitarian organizations provide hope for saving this generation from an endemic lack of formal education.

– Connor Bradbury
Photo: Wikimedia Commons