Information and news about syria

Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since 2011, making the Syrian refugee population the world’s largest group forcibly displaced from their country. At the end of 2018, there were 13 million refugees from Syria, accounting for more than half of the country’s total population. The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon (70 percent) and Jordan (90 percent) are living below the poverty line. Fortunately, a number of groups are stepping in to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. Keep reading to learn more about these three nonprofits helping Syrian refugees.

3 Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

  1. Sunrise USA – Founded in 2011, Sunrise USA is a nonprofit organization focused on providing humanitarian assistance for Syrians in need whether they still live in the country or not. The group is focused on sustainable development in areas including education and health care.
    • Health Care With help from donations, Sunrise USA built a full-time clinic in the Tayba camp in Syria, as well as a clinic in Istanbul and a polyclinic in Rihanli, Turkey. The organization has also established 22 trauma care facilities in Syria.
    • Education As of 2018, around 5.8 million children and youth in Syria were in need of education assistance. About 2.1 million of them were out of school completely. Sunrise USA has built four schools and provided books and supplies to students and families around refugee camps. In 2015, Sunrise USA was a lead sponsor in the creation of the Al-Salam School which had 1,200 students.
    • Care for Orphans The number of Syrian orphans, both in Syria and neighboring countries, has increased to more than 1 million since 2011. Through Sunrise USA’s orphan sponsorship, hundreds of orphans have been provided with food, clothing, education and medicine.
  2. Doctors Without Borders (DWB) – Officially founded in 1971, the organization’s core belief is that “all people have the right to medical care regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national boundaries.” Here’s a look at DWB’s efforts to help Syrian refugees:
    • Jordan – In 2017, Jordan closed off the border connecting the country to Syria and in 2018 canceled all subsidized health care for Syrian refugees. Doctors Without Borders has three clinics in Irbid, Jordan that focus on non-communicable diseases, which are the leading causes of death in the region. In 2018, the organization provided 69,000 outpatient consultations, 11,900 individual mental health consultations and 2,690 assisted births.
    • Lebanon – Shatila refugee camp in South Beirut is home to Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese people living in poor and overcrowded conditions with minimal services. Doctors Without Borders has set up both a primary health care center and a women’s center inside the camp in 2013. The organization also launched a vaccination campaign around the camp, opened a mental health support branch in a clinic in Fneideq, offer family planning and mental health care services in the Burj-al-Barajneh refugee camp, and operate a care program in Ein-al-Hilweh refugee camp for patients with mobility issues.

Concern Worldwide US – Founded in 1968, Concern Worldwide works in the world’s poorest countries to provide emergency response, education, water and sanitation, as well as help communities develop resilience to higher impacting climates. The organization works to help Syrian refugees in a few ways:

    • Lebanon – Concern Worldwide is not only focused on creating “collection centers,”–which are multi-family shelters–but also on improving water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in the highly concentrated refugee areas of the country. The organization has provided assistance for 56,000 refugees and is also helping hundreds of children get access to education.
    • Syria – Since 2014, Concern Worldwide has worked in Syria to tackle waterborne diseases by installing generators and chlorinated water sources and also providing hygiene supplies. The organization also provides basic necessities to Syrians by distributing food baskets and for families with access to markets, food vouchers.

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in the Middle East
Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan are among the bottom 10 countries when talking about access to clean water. Water is a primary necessity for human life. Without food the body can survive for up to three weeks, however, without clean water, the body will perish within three to four days, but not before going into shock and fading in and out of delirium. The water crisis in the Middle East is a serious problem now that ongoing conflicts in the region have only worsened.

Afghanistan

Of the three countries listed above, the water crisis in the Middle East affects Afghanistan the least. Despite that, Afghanistan is in the middle of the worst drought it has seen in the past 10 years. In addition, it cannot effectively distribute resources since 40 years of armed conflict following Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has ruined the country’s infrastructure. As a result, about 260,000 Afghani civilians living in extremely dry areas have had to leave their homes, making them refugees.

The drought has drained natural water sources such as the Kabul River Basin, the primary source of water for the nation’s capital. The established system for distributing water is no longer applicable, so civilians must draw water from unofficial wells. In Afghanistan, a country with over 35 million people, 87 percent of accessible water is polluted. Fortunately, India is providing assistance with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari River. With further plans to build another dam on the Kabul River, Afghanistan will have water for irrigation and will not have to live with the threat of flash floods.

Syria

In 2006, a massive drought began that would displace tens of thousands of Syrian farmers. By 2011, there were over a million angry, unemployed former farmers in the country ready to fight in a violent civil war that would go on for years. If one said that the water crisis in the Middle East was the proverbial lit match in the powder keg, it would be inaccurate. One cannot, however, deny that it did fan the flames.

Now that tensions are dying down, Syrian civilians have little infrastructure to help provide them with water. Militant groups that occupy water plants and reservoirs hold monopolies on the water for entire regions. Oftentimes, these groups distribute water selectively to blackmail their enemies. Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, water allocation was already inequitable. President Bashar al-Assad allocated more water to fellow members of his particular sect of Islam. Now that Syria is rebuilding its infrastructure, there exists an opportunity to distribute water equally across the country in order to help prevent humanitarian disasters like this in the future.

Egypt

Even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt has owed its life to the Nile. The Nile is the primary source of water for a country with rice as its number one agricultural export. Rice requires a great deal of water for cultivation and harvest. One kilo of rice needs about 3,000 liters of water. The water in the Nile now contains dead fish due to heavy metals from industrial pollution. Using heavily polluted water diminishes crop yields leading to a further strain on resources.

Egypt faces more than just a drop in the quality of water. As a result of the Blue Nile dam that Ethiopia built, Egypt is also concerned about the quantity of water. By building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile upstream from Egypt, Ethiopia is developing a power grid to reach 86 million Ethiopians living without electricity. Consequently, this will divert about a quarter of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. The Nile supplies 85 percent of Egypt’s fresh water. Egypt has the most to lose in the event of armed conflict breaking out because of its water scarcity, so it is now pushing for diplomatic and scientific solutions to the problem. Negotiating with Ethiopia to share in the dam’s benefits and investments in desalination technology is helping to alleviate the water crisis.

The water crisis in the Middle East is serious and requires much work to alleviate the problem. Through the building of better infrastructure, however, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan should be able to improve.

– Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Child Labor in Syria

Since 2010, at least half of all Syrians have been displaced by the ongoing conflict. Children are the most vulnerable members of society, particularly during times of war or conflict. As a result, they often bear adolescent hardships far into adulthood. The poverty caused by extended warfare has forced many children to seek to supplement their household income by getting jobs of their own. Child labor in Syria is a serious issue that continues to worsen with time. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Syria.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Syria

  1. Child labor in Syria was a problem prior to the start of the war, but the conflict has greatly exacerbated the situation. Children are working in more than 75 percent of households with almost half of them being reported as providing a “joint” or “sole” source of income.
  2. The situation in Syria is characterized by hidden forms of exploitation and child labor. It is not uncommon to see children maintaining produce stands and working out in the open. However, child labor in Syria has increasingly turned towards working in factories or laboring as cleaners, garbage collectors, construction workers, mechanics or carpenters.
  3.  The hours that the children work prevent them from being able to seek adequate help in the form of counselors or therapists for dealing with traumatic stress. Save the Children and SAWA for Development and Aid are organizations that offer psychosocial support services and schools for refugee children. Additionally, UNICEF works with a number of other local organizations and NGOs to protect children’s rights. Enmaa is an NGO that does this specifically for children in Raqqa, one of the most devastated cities in Syria.
  4. Syrian law bars anyone who has not completed their basic education or is under the age of 15 from working. However, since the escalation of the war, this is rarely enforced. In Damascus, children as young as seven-years-old can be found working. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees as young as five-years-old work. Many children see nothing strange about their circumstances since they are surrounded by other children of similar ages.
  5. A joint report between Save the Children and UNICEF estimated that around 2.7 million youth in Syria are not in school. Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, nearly half of the refugee children outside of Syria do not have access to formal education. One in three schools cannot be used because they have been damaged, destroyed or now serve as centers for resettlement or military activity.
  6. Of the 1.1 million registered Syrians in Lebanon, the United Nations estimates there are at least another 400,000 unregistered. Seventy-one percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, which is part of the reason many children are forced into being wage earners for their families. In Syria, more than 85 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line. Many of these children are forced into work as their parents are either unable to work or are unable to afford living expenses on their own.
  7. A report from the American University in Beirut found that around 70 percent of Syrian refugee children between the ages of four and 18 were working. According to UNICEF, upwards of 180,000 Syrian refugee children are child laborers in Lebanon.
  8. Agriculture, construction and cleaning are the only Lebanese industries in which Syrian refugees can work without a permit. Workers in these industries are among the lowest paid, and often times the work itself is temporary, meaning that constant uncertainty follows these laborers around.
  9. Some 30 percent of Syrian refugee children have been injured while working in Lebanon. Of these injuries, a mere 14 percent were reported to have been covered by the employer. The remaining 86 percent had to be paid for out of the pockets of the child or a relative.
  10. Children are sent away from their families either within Syria or to a neighboring country in order to earn money. Since Syria and the surrounding countries have nominal laws to prevent child labor, children are bereft of any bargaining power and sometimes work 10 hours a day for one to two dollars per shift.

Although these 10 facts about child labor in Syria are serious, there have been improvements in the lives of Syrian children made by organizations like UNICEF. In 2018, UNICEF trained 57,000 teachers, helping to ensure that there is not a shortage of teachers for the student in school. In 2019, UNICEF provided 289 consultations for women and children to receive healthcare  Significant resources are being mobilized to end child labor in Syria.

– Evan Williams
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in Turkey
Child labor in Turkey continues as both an international and domestic issue for the country. Despite Turkish and international community efforts to establish policies and initiatives to prevent child labor and protect the interests of children, child labor persists. The below facts highlight the details of the type of labor children typically perform as well as the efforts the government of Turkey has made to end child labor.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Turkey

  1. Work in Hazelnut Fields: Hazelnut production in Turkey is the largest sector of agricultural production, making up approximately 20 percent of Turkey’s agricultural exports. For this reason, many migrant agricultural workers travel along the eastern and western regions of Turkey looking for work during the hazelnut harvesting season. The children of these workers travel with their families and also contribute to the harvest of hazelnuts in Turkey. In 2017, nearly 800,000 children worked in the hazelnut fields. Most children work 11 hour days, seven days a week in the fields.
  2. The Second National Action Plan on Combating Human Trafficking: The Second National Action Plan on Combating Human Trafficking is an existing program in Turkey. This program identifies and protects both the victims of child trafficking as well as those children who are at high-risk for trafficking, such as the children of migrant agricultural workers. The high-risk children this program identified are the recipients of additional security precautions that the shelters took in. Victims of human trafficking frequently become migrant agricultural workers.
  3. Children of Syrian Refugees are High-Risk: As the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey continues to grow, so does the number of Syrian families working as migrant agricultural workers. Due to their status within the country of Turkey, many of these laborers work longer hours than those of the Turkish migrant workers and receive lower wages, with children oftentimes earning half of an adult’s wage. The children of the Syrian refugees are at an even higher risk of becoming permanently part of the sector of migrant labor due to lower access to education, discrimination and financial barriers.
  4. Efforts of the Turkish Government to Eradicate Child Labor: The Turkish government has made efforts to combat the high levels of child labor with a variety of government-funded programs. The Conditional Education and Health Care Assistance Program “aims to reduce poverty through cash transfers,” which takes the form of free milk and books given to primary school children. In 2017, approximately 190,000 children benefited from this program. By providing food and educational support, the Turkish government aims to create a learning environment for children where their families feel that they can afford the time for their children to be in school instead of working to earn extra money.
  5. Child labor in Turkey Increased in 2018: Despite the sweeping measures that the Turkish government has taken to prevent and eventually put an end to child labor in Turkey, the number of child laborers saw a marked increase in 2018. The Turkish government made a commitment to the International Labor Organization (ILO) that it would put an end to child labor by 2015, but that has not been the case thus far.
  6. Education Rates of Child Laborers: Due to the long hours that child laborers in Turkey work, they are unable to consistently attend schools in the areas where they work on hazelnut farms. The children also move around too frequently with their families to establish a lasting record at any one school, contributing to these children’s decreased likelihood of school attendance. In addition, the vocational schools that exist in areas that have heavy industry provide an education to children that promotes their continued work in the industrial sphere.
  7. Minimum Age for Child Labor: Turkey has existing laws in place that are to protect children from child labor. There is a minimum age requirement of 15 for agricultural work and a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work. A prohibition of forced labor and child trafficking also currently exists in Turkey. Despite the efforts of the government of Turkey, holes continue to exist in the legal framework that aims to protect children from hazardous child labor.
  8. Effective Enforcement of Existing Child Labor Laws: Though the Turkish government has age limits in place for child labor, as well as a list of light work that the Regulation on the Principles and Procedures Governing the Employment of Children and Young Workers permits, high levels of child labor in Turkey persist. Part of this gap in the legislation and actual protection of child laborers is due in part to the low numbers of inspectors and the classification of agricultural work as light labor. The Regulation on Principles has indicated that the country must legally consider picking fruit and vegetables as light work, therefore placing very few restrictions on migratory agriculture. Despite this, the gaps that exist in the legal framework “may hinder adequate enforcement of [Turkey’s] child labor laws.”
  9. National Program to Combat Child Labor in Turkey: The government of Turkey has made an effort to maintain compliance with international child labor laws. The National Program to Combat Child Labor began in 2017 and is to run until 2023. This program focuses on maintaining surveillance of the labor sectors of migratory agriculture, street work and work performed in small to medium industries to ensure that none of Turkey’s existing child labor laws are in violation.
  10. The Global March Against Child Labour: There are multiple NGOs in the international sphere that are fighting to end child labor worldwide. The Global March Against Child Labour is one such organization with a mission is to “mobilise worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of all children, especially the right to receive a free and meaningful education and the right to be free from economic exploitation.” Global March operates through the advocacy of issues to policymakers, raising awareness of child labor around the world and building partnerships with existing organizations such as the International Labour Organization. The Global March has seen success in many of its areas of focus. In 2018, Global March organized the Meet of Parliamentarians Without Borders for Children’s Rights in Brussels, Belgium. At the conclusion of the parliament, in which MPs from Sri Lanka, Benin, Togo, Paraguay, Uganda, Ghana, the Netherlands and Costa Rica attended, all MPs committed to working within their respective parliaments to end child labor in their countries.

Turkey still requires progress to put an end to dangerous and damaging child labor, but the steps that it has made in its own programs, as well as international programs, shows hope for a future for child labor in Turkey. That future includes stronger protection of a child’s right to receive an education and lead a stable life out of the fields.

– Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr

QANDIL's Humanitarian Efforts
Sweden’s renown as a humanitarian superpower stems from its involvement in global aid initiatives. In 2018, the country devoted 1.04 percent of its gross national income (GNI) to overseas development, making Sweden the sixth-largest humanitarian aid contributor among the world’s countries and the largest one proportional to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From 1975 onward, Sweden’s humanitarian aid efforts have continually surpassed the U.N.’s minimum target of developed nations spending 0.7 percent of GNI on overseas development initiatives.

One of the most well-regarded Sweden-based NGOs is QANDIL. Established in Stockholm in 1991, QANDIL’s initiatives aim to foster lasting peace and development in Iraq. Beneficiaries of its aid range from refugees and returnees to internally displaced persons and local host communities. Since 2016, QANDIL has concentrated its efforts on development in the Kurdistan region, serving as the most prominent partner of UNHCR in this region. Below are seven facts about QANDIL’s humanitarian efforts.

7 Facts About QANDIL’s Humanitarian Efforts

  1. Economic Assistance — Two Cash-Based Intervention projects implemented in 2017 raised $2,695,280 for 3,829 families in need in the Kurdistan region’s Duhok governorate. In Erbil, QANDIL distributed $3,155,800 to 3,054 families in the Erbil governorate, while $648,290 went to 1,900 families in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. Ultimately, QANDIL distributed $6,499,370 to 8,783 refugees and IDP families within three of the Kurdistan region’s governorates. This provides a foundation by which these uprooted people may become economically stable and productive.
  2. Shelter — Through the Shelter Activities Project, QANDIL supported uprooted people in search of shelter, which included 7,246 families. Among QANDIL’s successes in providing shelter-based aid is the implementation of 25 major shelter rehabilitation initiatives, encompassing five camps in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. This helped resolve the long-term problem of incomplete and hazardous structures allotted to displaced persons.
  3. Legal Services — The Outreach Project, operating in the Erbil and Duhok governorates, offers legal services to IDPs and refugees. With the participation of volunteers from both the displaced and host communities, QANDIL’s efforts have granted legal assistance to 319,773 IDPs and refugees and outreach services to 19,894 persons in the Erbil governorate alone. In the Duhok governorate, beneficiaries included 69,093 refugees and IDPs. Furthermore, in 2017, QANDIL participated in an initiative to provide mobile magistrates to administer court-related matters for displaced persons.
  4. Assistance for Gender-Based Violence Victims — With the participation of UNFPA, QANDIL commits resources to finance and submitting reports to seven local NGOs that operate 21 women’s social centers. These centers function in both responsive and preventative capacities for women both within and outside camps. Services that these centers offer include listening, counseling, referrals to other institutions, distribution of hygiene kits and even recreational activities. In total, this program has assisted 67,108 women and girls in the Duhok governorate, 11,021 in the Erbil governorate and 43,797 in the Sulaymaniyah governorate.
  5. Youth Education — Starting in 2017, QANDIL devised an educational initiative targeting Syrian refugee students, funded at approximately $271,197. The soft component of this initiative provided funding and resources for recreational activities and catch-up classes, as well as teacher capacity building training and the maintenance of parent-teacher associations, in schools enrolling refugee students in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. The initiative’s hard component comprises aid for special needs students at seven refugee schools in the Sulaymaniyah governorate.
  6. Skills Training — In collaboration with the German development aid organization GIZ, QANDIL embarked on a vocational and educational initiative aiming to benefit displaced persons residing at Debanga camp. These individuals received access to skills training and qualifications certification, ranging from plumbing and electricity to language and art, in three-week courses offering free tuition. As a whole in 2017, the vocational and educational training centers that QANDIL supported with funding from GIZ have improved the employment prospects for 1,756 individuals, out of which 546 were women.
  7. Immediate Response in Crisis Situations — With an upsurge in regional conflict on Oct. 16, 2017, came an increase in IDPs in Tuz Khurmatu, a city 88 kilometers south of Kirkuk. This event tested the efficacy and efficiency of QANDIL’s humanitarian aid efforts. By Oct. 24, QANDIL’s Emergency Response Committee began dispensing out emergency kits to persons that the conflict escalation affected. Included in these packages were necessities, food and non-food items alike. By Oct. 25, QANDIL parceled out 1,237 emergency kits to aid-seekers distributed over 25 locations in the Sulaymaniyah and Garmian regions. That same day, 600 aid-seekers received aid packages in the Erbil and Koya regions, while the rest of the aid made its way to other camps in the Sulaymaniyah area.

From education to vocational training to sanitation and hygiene and shelter and legal services, QANDIL’s humanitarian efforts in the Kurdistan region of Iraq continue to make a difference for the lives of thousands of displaced and settled people alike. Thus, QANDIL serves as an ambassador for Sweden’s humanitarian aid mission. Whether in the course of sustained initiatives or responses to imminent crises, QANDIL persists in its constructive humanitarian aid role in an unstable region. It is through the tireless efforts of such NGOs as QANDIL that Sweden continues to serve as a model in humanitarian aid initiatives to the rest of the world.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

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

Scavenger Hunt for a Cause
The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt, or GISH, is a scavenger hunt for a cause and one that can boast that it actually is the greatest international scavenger hunt — it has received a Guinness World Record for the largest media scavenger hunt in the world. “Supernatural” actor Misha Collins founded GISH in 2011, and it is a scavenger hunt for a cause that has seen over 55,000 participants from over 69 countries since its inaugural year. GISH effectively mobilizes its thousands of participants toward charitable causes, often by making charitable donations a task in the annual hunt. On such a large scale, GISH has made an impact on causes including refugee settlement and farmland donations in Africa.

What is GISH?

Formally known as GISHWHES, GISH is a scavenger hunt for a cause and a viral online media event that takes place over one week every year. Participants must pay a $25 sign-up fee and teams must consist of 15 people, either personally chosen or randomly assigned. The organization sends out the scavenger hunt list via email as well as the GISH app, and the goal is to complete as many tasks as possible by the end of the week.

Some previous tasks from 2019 included hosting Stormtrooper X Games and providing photos, finding an actual spacesuit and putting a GISH patch next to the national flag. Additionally, some tasks were to create a brochure for a Mars tourist company, plant and maintain trees and help residents of a local nursing home “escape” by throwing a summer party and asking about their favorite memories.

How Does GISH Help?

Through various GISH tasks over the last few years, participants have cleaned thousands of beaches, more than 2,000 participants have donated blood, more than 800 have registered as bone marrow donors, more than 3,000 have volunteered for food pantries and volunteers have donated more than $700,000 to charity. In 2011, GISH raised money to build an orphanage and care center for the orphans of the Haiti earthquake of 2010. In 2016, participants raised enough funds for four refugee families from Syria to move out of a refugee camp and into a stable housing environment. In 2018, GISH participants helped to provide over 250 acres of farmland and resources to women in Rwanda to rebuild their lives and provide them with the opportunity of financial freedom. In 2019, scavenger hunt teams raised funds to help refugees at the U.S./Mexico border and raised more than $240,000 to help families in Laos. These are just a few of the impacts that GISH has had in the last eight years.

Random Acts: A Partner Charity

Random Acts, a charity also founded by Misha Collins, is an organization dedicated to finding new ways to bring random acts of kindness into the world. Similar to GISH, it has an annual event called AMOK (annual melee of kindness), where participants perform various acts of kindness to make their community a better place, including fundraising and mobilizing.

It also hosts Endurance 4 Kindness, which is a global event that allows participants to push themselves and raise money for a good cause. Random Acts has helped fund campaigns like Hope to Haiti and Dreams 2 Acts: Nicaragua as well. GISH has partnered with Random Acts in the past to save a South African dance school in 2017 and to help build an orphanage in Haiti in 2011.

How to Participate

To participate in GISH, find a team (or opt for random placement), sign up through their website, pay the $25 participation fee and wait to receive the list! Prepare to be uncomfortable and awkward, but be ready for a good time. Overall, keep in mind that although seemingly lighthearted and just for fun, many of the tasks aim to make a real difference, both in local communities and globally.

GISH is a scavenger hunt for a cause and has been going strong for the past eight years, constantly breaking Guinness Records and gaining more participants as it grows. It emerged as a call to action in response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2011 and has since helped people all over the world. From refugees in Syria and Lebanon in 2016 to women in Rwanda in 2017 to families in Laos this year, GISH has made impacts all over the world. GISH is the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt for a great international cause and each year continues to see more participants helping to change the world. Over the next few years, participants will help thousands of people and donate thousands of dollars for various charities, expanding an already record-setting scavenger hunt for a cause.

Jessica Winarski
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

Helping Syrian Refugees After Arriving
The Syrian refugee crisis has been ongoing for more than eight years since the civil war that started in 2011. More than 5 million people have fled Syria, while many more were displaced within Syria itself. Externally, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have the highest proportion of Syrian refugees in the world. Since refugees often try to live in urban areas for better employment opportunities, they frequently struggle with financial resources and end up living below the poverty line. In response, domestic and international organizations are helping Syrian refugees after arriving in each of these three countries.

Lebanon

As of June 30, 2016, Lebanon had the most Syrian refugees relative to its population, which was about 173 refugees per 1,000 people, or a total of 1,035,700. Lebanon also hosts a high number of refugees compared to its GDP, equating to 20 refugees per $1 million in GDP. While Lebanon hosts a large number of refugees, it is struggling to provide for them. There are around a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 70 percent of whom live below the poverty line. These refugees often have little to no financial resources, which leads them to live in crowded homes with other families in more than 2,100 communities.

One organization helping Syrian refugees in the country is the Lebanese Association for Development and Communication (LADC), which emerged to help both Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Its projects range from community-based projects to aid projects with both local and more than 500 international volunteers helping to establish more than 6,500 beneficiaries. One of its projects was the Paradise Wall, a community art project to smooth the integration process between 120 Syrian and Lebanese children by asking them to work together creatively to produce a wall full of designs.

Turkey

Turkey hosts the largest number of registered Syrian refugees – currently at 3.3 million. Authorities claim that there are more than 3 million Syrian refugees, but that they have not registered. This is because they see Turkey as a transit country or fear deportation. The fear of deportation comes from the fact that Turkey offers temporary protection status to Syrians instead of internationally-recognized refugee status. This increases the likelihood of Turkey deporting the refugees while avoiding the risk of receiving international renouncement for doing so. Most refugees attempt to settle in urban areas in these countries, as opposed to refugee camps where only 8 percent of registered Syrian refugees live.

In Turkey, the UNCHR, EU and WHO have come together to fund the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM), which is a multi-regional organization that does a wide variety of work to help Syrian refugees after arriving in Turkey. It has many projects ranging from legal counseling to psycho-social support for children through playful activities. One of its projects titled Women and Girls’ Safe Space emerged to offer training sessions on women’s reproductive health.

Jordan

Jordan is proportionally the second-largest host of the Syrian refugees, sheltering about 89 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants as of 2016. Fifty-one percent of these refugees are children and 4 percent are elderly, meaning that 55 percent are dependents who rely on the remaining 45 percent of adult, working-age Syrian refugees. Consequently, more than 80 percent of them live under the poverty line.

To deal with this, the Jordanian government has initialized formal processes to help them escape poverty. In 2017 alone, the country issued 46,000 work permits so that Syrian refugees work. Recently, in collaboration with UNHCR, the International Labor Organization (ILO) established an employment center, The Zaatari Office of Employment, in the biggest camp for Syrian refugees. By August 2017, around 800 refugees benefited from this center by registering official work permits in place of one-month leave permits.

While the Syrian refugee crisis is still ongoing, it is important to note that many are helping Syrian refugees to settle and integrate into their host societies. Many countries from all over the world are starting to resettle the refugees within their borders to lift off the burden of poverty and overcrowding in certain areas. People often recognize Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey for their willingness to take in large numbers of Syrian refugees, but this must not erase the work a variety of organizations are doing to help refugees after arriving in their new homes.

Nergis Sefer
Photo: Flickr

Jobs for Refugee Women

Lara 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