Information and news about syria

syria winter refugees
On Tuesday night, December 10, a storm system which has come to be known as Alexa struck Lebanon. The Bekaa Valley, a region in eastern Lebanon, was most affected by the storm. Lebanon is currently the largest Syrian refugee-hosting nation in the region, with an astonishing 840,000 Syrians either refugees or in the process. Refugees in Lebanaon do not live in camps (like other nations), but rather are dispersed throughout the community. Large populations of the refugees live in makeshift tents, which is the growing concern for the UNHCR and several other humanitarian organizations.

Director of UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa Bureau said, “For the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, as well as those in neighboring countries and displaced in Syria, a storm like this creates immense additional hardship and suffering…with Lebanon’s help, we’re doing everything we can to get rapid additional help to people who most need it. This is on top of the winter preparations already done over the past months.” The tents, in which thousands of refugees live, are substandard and not equipped for the winter. However, Lebanon is working with international organizations to take as many preventative as well as reactionary measures as possible to assist the refugees.

In regard to the conditions, one man who arrived from Syria a year ago described how water had leaked into his tent, that it was impossible for his family to sleep, and that he feared it would get worse. “I don’t know where to go,” said the man. “I don’t know where to take my children. It’s much worse than last year, and it’s only the beginning.”

In response to Alexa, the UN Refugee agency is stepping in to protect the Syrian Refugees, including 120,000 living in inadequate makeshift tents, as they prepare for the encroaching storm. Fortunately, UNHCR and NGO partners worked with the Lebanese government and military to release first aid materials, which include wood, plastic sheets and tools to improve their shelters.

There are 125,000 refugees living in the worst hit Bekaa Valley. Officials have administered over 225,000 blankets, 6,000 stoves and 45,000 ATM cards (for families to purchase stoves and gas). Additionally, the World Food Programme and other cooperative agencies are providing food rations to the refugees in affected areas in Lebanon that will feed up to 150,000 people. The UN food agency is providing assistance to 600,000 refugees using food vouchers.

Other organizations working to aid the refugees, as they prepare for the harsh winter include: the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Organization for Migration, Oxfam, Medair, Save the Children, World Vision, Humedica, Mercy Corps, Caritas, Handicap International, Concern, Acted, Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and UNICEF.

Laura Reinacher

Sources: The Washington Post, UNHCR, Al Jazeera

School_Supplies
In a time of belligerent political discourse amongst nations, despots and corrupt officials in power, it becomes all too easy to lose sight of the importance of education as part of the solution to saving an innocent people. The ongoing civil war in Syria has destroyed 4,000 schools and has left two million children displaced from their homes and families.

UNICEF, along with Syria’s Ministry of Education, is embarking on a project that would reach out to one million school-aged children in all major areas and stretches of Syria.

The initiative has so far amassed 5,000 teaching and learning kits, 3,000 recreation kits, and 800 Early Childhood kits to be sent out to children around the country. UNICEF cites Kuwait as being a major supporter of their initiative with their contribution of more than US$3 million.

UNICEF’s Back to Learning for Syria campaign provides each child with a UNICEF school bag, complete with essential learning supplies such as notebooks, ballpoint pens, pencils, erasers, coloring pencils, and rulers.

In addition to providing children with the tools they need, the disparity and need for teaching facilities are being ameliorated by tents that serve around 400 students.

In a time when the children of Syria and their families are suffering from starvation, lack of electricity, and clean water, there is the hope that education and school will provide a place of refuge for the youngsters from the ravages of war.

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: Children of Syria
Photo: UNICEF

polio_in_Syria
On October 24th, World Polio Day, it was ironically, and unfortunately, announced that a resurgence of polio was reported in Syria after a 14-year absence. At least 22 people are suspected to have polio in Syria. Two initial lab reports are positive for polio, and final results are expected next week. According to WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer, these reports are “very, very likely” to be positive for polio.

Polio was once a feared disease that preyed mainly on children. It crept up suddenly and resulted in permanent paralysis and potentially death. Thankfully, polio has been reduced by 99 percent, and endemic polio has decreased from 125 to 3 countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This work has saved over 10 million people from polio. As there is no cure for polio, this work has been accomplished through successfully immunizing communities with access to healthcare.

The goal of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which WHO is a member, is to reach every last child with polio vaccine and ensure a polio-free world for future generations. Currently, the most poor and marginalized are victims to polio, most notably children in these communities. In Syria, victims of acute flaccid paralysis are children under the age of five. In the eastern province of n Deir al-Zor, more than 100,000 children under the age of five are currently at risk of contracting polio.

As of now, there have been 296 cases of polio worldwide this year. With the breakout in Syria this number is expected to rapidly increase. The only effective response to this outbreak is vaccination. Discussions to coordinate a vaccination campaign in Syria have been ongoing since November 2012. However, logistics were not in place and now at least 22 children are suspected to have polio–a preventable disease they will most likely die from.

As Syria is in the midst of a 2 ½ year civil war, 2 million Syrians have been displaced, and 100,000 have been killed as of September. Additionally, millions more have been displaced inside the country. The civil war has made it difficult for Syrians to receive basic services or to find food and water, much less maintain sanitary living conditions.

In response to these conditions, UNICEF had recently charted a plane to Syria full of food and vaccines. Unfortunately, no polio vaccine was on this cargo, which is currently en route via truck to Syria. With 99 percent of the world’s population free from the dangers of polio, the work of fully eradicating polio is almost complete; and vaccines are the answer.

Every child needs to be vaccinated in order to globally eradicate polio. There are two forms of vaccine available to ward off polio – oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because OPV is an oral vaccine, it can be administered by anyone, even volunteers. One dose of OPV can cost as little as 11 US cents.

Eradicating polio is within our reach. In the meantime, vaccines are needed in Syria.

Caressa Kruth

Sources: Reuters, WHO, BBC, CNN
Photo: Foreign Policy

syrian_refugee_children
The crisis in Syria has garnered international attention, but arguably little intervening military action; the majority of concerned nations are opting for relief aid for innocent people. Refugees have been tended to by neighboring countries and various international aid givers. In September 2013, the UN set aside $50 million in support of aid groups operating on the ground in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.

TheHuffington Post reports that the dollar amount is the most the UN has ever allocated for one crisis. Now, UK teachers are partnering with those in Syria and neighboring countries to address the many displaced children to help ensure the crisis doesn’t rob them of an education.

The official numbers of those displaced by the Syrian civil war are somewhat skewed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) places the number at 600,000, arguably a conservative estimate. Inside Syria, that number may be 5 million, according to Paris-based Syrian political observer Salam Kawakibi.

Child refugees are especially vulnerable and at risk for, “…exploitation including early marriage, domestic violence and child labor, despite efforts to keep them in school, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said…” A Voice of Americareport says that 2.1 million children have crossed borders into surrounding nations, many lacking key family connections. Living in host communities outside Syria, children are very at risk for exploitation and are even joining Syrian rebels to fight; they also have less access to education.

In Jordan alone, only 80,000 of 200,000 refugee children consistently go to school.  UNICEF is giving $45 to refugee families in Jordan to keep children in school. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the European Union (EU) have also combined forces for a 4.3 million Euro effort to help Jordanian schools and teachers deal with the Syrian influx, helping make education possible for locals and refugees.

The UK has just announced direct educational aid through school partnerships with Jordanian and Lebanese schools serving Syrian refugees with the Connecting Classrooms program. UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the goal was to prevent a lost generation of Syrian children.

Director Education and Society at the British Council Dr. Jo Beall says the partnerships will give British citizens a role in assuaging the crisis for kids and teachers by offering them a better understanding of the issues and the opportunity to connect with Syrian students. An Evening Express report claims that Skype and exchanging letters will help make those connections.

The UK announcement comes on the heels of the urging of Malala Yousafzai for world leaders to educate Syrian child refugees. Malala and UN education envoy Gordon Brown received $1 million from Avaaz in September 2013 to draw more international attention to this specific issue. Brown, a former British Prime Minister, echoes the sentiment of Secretary Greening in not wanting Syrian refugee children to become lost in the face of civil war.

David Smith

Sources: Huffington Post, Syrian Refugees, Voice of America, UNESCO, UK Government, Evening Express, Reuters, NPR

Syrian_children_refugees
Children, the people who have no voice amidst the conflict in a war-torn Syria, are often impacted harder by the war than anyone else. They are left to the mercies of adults that make decisions for them and their country.

The UN Refugee Agency reports that of 2 million registered refugees, half are children. Many of these children now reside in crowded refugee camps, deprived of the opportunity for advancement, and uncertain of when they will be able to return home.

Unless Syria’s children are helped, the country will never be able to fully recover from the war .

How the Syrian crisis is impacting children:

1.   Perhaps the worst consequence of the Syrian civil war is that it is depriving many children of education. Not only does this hurt children now, it also robs them of a future. They are not being equipped to build professional lives. Without educated children, Syria’s future is uncertain. Children will not be prepared to sustain the country when they reach adulthood. This will lead to indefinite instability in Syria.

For most families, returning to Syria to enroll their children in school is not an option. Save the Children reports that 3,900 Syrian schools have been destroyed since the start of the war. Syria is also still a land of widespread violence and insecurity. This forces Syrian refugees to depend on foreign schooling, if they are to receive any education at all.

Lebanon and Jordan, the countries that have the most Syrian refugees, are struggling to accommodate Syrian children in their schools. Both countries are now home to thousands of Syrian children, and lack the resources necessary to provide quality education for all. It is doubtful if and when many Syrian children will be able to resume their academic work.

2.   Instances of child labor increase as enrollment in schools decreases. UNICEF estimates that there are 30,000 refugee child laborers in Jordan alone.

Although there are laws prohibiting child labor, many refugee children end up working out of necessity. Refugee parents, many unemployed or working menial jobs, struggle to support their families with their own meager income. They feel they have no choice but to make their children work in order to make ends meet. Many of these child laborers hold dangerous construction jobs or work with pesticides on farms.

UNICEF provides cash grants to refugee families who remove their children from child labor and enroll them in schools. However, the grants alone, which do not exceed $45 per month, are not enough to put an end to the child labor problem.

3.   Aside from the economic and educational impact, children are also subjected to the same physical and emotional distress of war as adults. Although millions have taken refuge in foreign countries with their families, many are stuck in Syria. The death toll of the civil war exceeds 100,000. Reuters reports that 7,000 of these deaths have been children.

Even if the Syrian crisis were to end today, the country would have a long road to recovery. Helping the children is a vital first step in any post-war recovery. The well-being of the country will one day rest in the hands of its children. It is imperative that the international community step up and provide more substantial aid to Syria’s children.

– Matt Berg

Sources: UNHCR, Voa News, Huffington Post, Reuters
Photo: The Guardian

Syrian Refugee Turkey America Pledge Aid to Syria Refugees
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced a total of $112 million in aid to Lebanon to address the growing challenges of the Syrian crisis.

In a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart, President Michel Sleiman, Obama pledged $8.7 million to support the Lebanese Army in protecting the borders against terrorism and the transfer of illicit goods. The pronouncement came after announcing $339 million in additional humanitarian aid in response to Syria’s crisis, including $74 million for Lebanon to support refugees. U.S. Ambassador David Hale revealed that an additional $30 million would also be given for direct immediate assistance to help local communities that are dealing with the impact of the refugee crisis, bringing the total aid pledged to $112 million.

“That is a tangible commitment, and I think you can count on our continued support so long as Lebanon continues to address these crises in a responsible and practical way that we’ve seen it do so today,” he said.

Both Obama and U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon hailed Lebanon’s efforts to aid Syrian refugees, despite the country’s “modest capabilities.” It is estimated that 1 million Syrian refugees have fled the conflict in Syria to Lebanon, of which 50 percent are children and more than 200,000 are school-aged. During the meeting for Lebanon’s support group which includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to aid Lebanon’s economy and assist its military due to growing threats along its border as a result of the Syrian crisis.

Other types of non-military assistance have come in the form of rent support, essential household items, food vouchers, primary health care consultations, emergency medical care, and trauma counseling services for those who have experienced violence during the conflict.

Besides these contributions, the U.S. is funding more than $62 million in development assistance programs in Lebanon to improve the public education system, water infrastructure, local governance, and increase economic opportunities.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: The Daily Star (Lebanon), The Times of Israel, Albawaba News
Photo: The Guardian

Location_of_Syria_Map_Importance
The conflict that has ravaged Syria since March 15, 2011 has had worldwide ramifications. The civil war started as a response to the Arab Spring, government corruption, and the abuse of human rights. The government responded to this uprising with lethal force, and as of June 2013 the death toll has been suspected to surpass 100,000 casualties. By late April 2013, President Bashar al-Assad began launching full-scale military operations upon city enclosures, officially opening the country for civil war. The Middle Eastern country’s conflict could potentially rock the entire world, and for one seriously misunderstood fact: the location of the country.

The location of Syria holds significance not because of the country’s resources, but of the countries located around it. The Middle East is the oil production giant of the world, and is a sensitive spot for intervention. The location of Syria brings out legitimate reasons to be wary of intervention, as the civil war must be contained at all costs. The addition of a foreign power may allow the war to spill over into neighboring countries, inciting a deadly Middle Eastern war that would be devastating.

Not only is Syria close to the Middle Eastern oil titans, but the continent of Africa lays not far away. Africa is one of the most vulnerable places on earth, one rocked by poverty, hunger, and disease. The feeble economies of the poverty-stricken Africa could not take the outcome of a war spilling into its borders. Containing the war to the country of Syria is a precaution that must be taken carefully. If the conflict somehow spreads to Africa, the continent and its emerging countries will face the fallout of a war they had no stake in.

The majority of citizens in the United States do not support military intervention in Syria. Citizens do not want another drawn-out affair like the wars of the previous Bush administration. Whether military intervention is agreed upon or not, the effects of the decision upon Syria could be monumental. The civil war has reached a deadly number, as evidenced by the 100,000 casualties already listed. This number could exponentially increase, regardless of intervention. If the United States does intervene, it could potentially lose control of the situation, or allow the other Middle Eastern to beef up their weaponry with Western troops in such cl0se proximity. But by leaving the conflict to fester on its own, the United States takes any convincing power out of its hands. Not having a say in which way the conflict heads could be as potentially dangerous as being directly involved. By not intervening, the neighboring countries and poverty-racked Africa could be left in the fray.

The Syrian situation has become one of great interest. Understanding the location of the country, and what ramifications the location could have, is crucial to fully comprehending the condition. Not only will the war have complications upon the Syrian government, the neighboring countries and Africa could become involved. Stay tuned, because the land is hot with anger and strife, and only time will tell where these emotions will take the warring country.

– Zachary Wright

Sources: dailyprincetonian, Maps of World
Photo: Al Hdhod

Syrian Refugees Children Syria Civil War UN Security Council Turkey
Every day, thousands of men, women and children cross Syria’s border in hopes of escaping their violence-stricken country, and building a brighter future. However, camps and neighboring countries are running out of places to relocate all the refugees, creating a new problem known as the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Because there are not enough accommodations or supplies for all the refugees from Syria, the places that these people are fleeing to have become similar to the devastation and poverty that they left behind.

 

  • There are 2 million refugees.

 

    Since the Civil War began in 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the country. Approximately 97 percent of these refugees are hosted by neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, putting pressure on these nations’ economies, infrastructures and societies.

  1. Many refugees are not counted. The real number of refugees is significantly higher than currently known. The above number refers to the refugees who registered with the United Nations (U.N.) before leaving Syria. Many refugees have fled to countries illegally, and are therefore not counted in the “official total.”
  2. Half of these refugees are children. As refugee camps continue to overflow, there are now over 1 million child refugees. Children make up more than half the refugees, according to the U.N. This number is more than the combined under-18 population of Los Angeles and Boston. Many of these children have no access to clean water, vaccinations or education, and constantly are constrained by the crisis in their country.
  3. Rape and sexual abuse are prevalent. In sprawling camps and overloaded host communities, there have been many cases of domestic violence, violence against women, and rape. Because of the conservative nature of the Syrian culture, many of these women do not report or even speak about these crimes.
  4. Most refugees don’t live in camps. Jordan’s Zaatari camp is now home to more than 100,000 refugees from Syria, far more than the camp is meant to hold. 70 percent of the refugees in Jordan are living in urban communities. In countries like Lebanon, there are no camps in place, so families are scattered among 1,200 different locations, such as abandoned shopping centers and stores.
  5. Many refugees have to pay rent. Most refugees living in urban areas are forced to pay rent to landlords. Since many of them lack a source of income, they are faced between a choice of homelessness or overwhelming debt. Because there are so many refugees in some countries like Lebanon, there are no available jobs and families are getting evicted.
  6. Refugee camps are like prisons. When families enter refugee camps, they are registered and confined to a gated space that they are not permitted to exit or re-enter whenever they please. Armed police officers, who are in control of the daily routine, guard the camp. There are no work possibilities or any productive pastimes. Many refugees cannot bear the conditions and instead have decided to return to Syria and face the dangers that occur there.

– Sonia Aviv

Sources: UNICEF, CTV News, The Guardian, Oxfam International, National Geographic
Photo: The Guardian

Chemical_Weapons_in_Syria
Earlier this week, an attack utilizing chemical weapons in Syria may have left 130 people dead. According to opposition groups, Assad’s government launched rockets with chemical warheads into Damascus suburbs on Wednesday. The government sent further warheads into the suburb on Thursday. Photographic evidence from Wednesday’s attack shows the telltale symptoms of the use of some toxic chemical: difficulty breathing, vomiting, constricted pupils, skin rashes and loose bowels. Western experts believe that sarin gas, an organophosphate agent, was used in the attack.

Secretary Ban Ki-Moon has urged an investigation into the attack, saying that there would be ‘serious consequences’ for those responsible. Ban urged the government to cooperate with the international body, saying,“The time has clearly come for the parties to stop shooting, and start talking. I am determined to do everything I can to assist the victims and move towards a political solution. That is the only way this crisis will be resolved.” Currently, a UN team is in Syria spending up to two weeks investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government. The mandate granted the UN team access to only 3 of 13 sites identified as suspicious before the attack on Wednesday. Angela Kane, the top UN official on disarmament, is expected to arrive in Damascus on Sunday. Kane will push to give UN inspectors access to the affected region.

The Syrian government has not responded to UN requests. Thus far, Syria has not granted UN inspectors access to sites supposedly affected by chemical weapon. Russia, Syria’s arms supplier, said that it was the rebels, not the government, who were preventing UN inspectors from investigating the region. In response, Syrian rebels pledged to guarantee the safety of UN inspectors. Thus far, the rebels have been compliant with these investigations, even sending tissue and blood samples for further inspection.

The international community is conflicted over how to respond to these claims, if they are indeed true. France said that, if the allegations against the government prove to be true, the international community needs to respond with force. Similarly, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that a ‘red line’ had been crossed in Syria. Although Washington previously said that chemical weapon use was its ‘red line’ in Syria, the Obama administration stated that it was appalled by the allegation and no further plans of retaliation have been put forth. European officials say that there are options, but that they become limited without US support. Furthermore, there is little the international community can do without the support of the Security Council. Russia, Syria’s greatest ally to the Security Council at the moment, went so far as to suggest that the opposition had staged the attack.

According to Ki-Moon, “Our challenge remains: achieving a complete cessation of hostilities, delivering humanitarian assistance and getting the Government and the opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva as soon as possible.” The Joint Special Representative of the UN and League of Arab States for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said that planning for the second Geneva conference is underway, but that it should take place in September. The last conference in Geneva was held in June with the United States and Russia present. The conference in September would hope to bring a political solution to the conflict. According to Brahimi, a solution is necessary because Syria is “without a doubt, the biggest threat to peace and security in the world today.”

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: UN, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Washington Post
Photo: Urban Times

syrian_children
With children in the United States heading back to school over the next few weeks, it can be difficult to imagine that one million children are being denied the chance to not only return to school, but to even remain in their homes.

Syria has made headlines in recent days with the current UN investigation of whether chemical warfare has been used against citizens. And with millions of people, almost 50% of which are children, fleeing their homes and livelihoods for the safety of surrounding countries just to stay alive, the education of their children has been placed to the side for the time being.

While 1 million Syrian children are being forced to flee with or without their families, another 2 million are estimated to be displaced within the country itself. Like the rest, they are unable to get an education. The longer they have to stay away from school and the older they get, the less likely it is that they will make it back to finish their education.

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor Antonia Guterres, UN High Commissioner, states, “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures.” The children are part of what is being called the “lost generation”.

Even if the conflicts end in Syria, without an education the current generation will be hard-pressed to make any real changes or return stability to the country. These children are also suffering from the trauma of witnessing war up close and experiencing things no person should have to experience.

Jana Mason, a UNHCR senior adviser told Huffington Post, “It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that … when Syria is peaceful enough in the future and people start returning home, we’ll have a generation [of people] who are undereducated and traumatized. The future for Syria is very distressing.” The poverty and conflict will therefore continue in a vicious cycle, affecting more and more people as time goes one.

Those living in the refugee camps are going without food, water, or medical attention. Children born in the camps are often lacking a birth certificate and are considered “stateless” as a result. There have been reports of child labor, child marriage, and sex trafficking throughout the refugee areas. Parents have to be more concerned with these immediate issues that affect whether a child will live, die, or have a home, than with less obviously substantial things like schooling.

For many the problem comes more from the inability to provide transportation to school, supplies, or lunches even though there is free schooling offered in the area they have fled to.

Initially the citizens of the countries they are fleeing to, like Jordan, were opening their doors and doing whatever they could to assist those escaping the war. But, as with many things, over time the welcome has cooled off and people are finding help less frequently. Schools are packed and running double shifts, hospitals are denying people entry, and medicine, food, and water are becoming scarce.

UNICEF is begging that the developed countries of the world come to the aid of these children. The UN states that only 38% of the necessary $3 billion to help the refugees has been funded so far. This is being described as the largest humanitarian effort of all time, and still there is not enough being done. The children of Syria deserve the chance to continue their education and live peacefully.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, CBS
Photo: The Guardian