The Syrian war that began six years ago is still wreaking havoc on millions of lives. What started as civil unrest instigated by the arrest of schoolboys in 2011, has turned into a multifaceted crisis characterized by anarchic violence. About 470,000 Syrians have died while 14.9 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance with the largest internally displaced population of 6.5 million, 2.8 million of which are children. Additionally, millions have fled Syria to find safe refuge from the depredations of multiple wars. For many, the fight to survive still continues. Here are ten facts about Syrian refugees.
- Long, strenuous hikes through deserts, facing dangers such as being targeted by snipers or arrested at the borders, is what refugees endure to enter neighboring countries. About 4.9 million refugees have migrated to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and some North African countries.
- Turkey has the largest population of Syrian refugees in one country at 2.81 million. About 80% of the refugees living in Southeast Turkey are deprived of all humanitarian aid due to the ongoing conflict. Lack of job opportunities further exacerbates their crisis, compelling many to move to Europe. The year 2015 saw a mass exodus of 800,000 refugees from Turkey to Greece.
- Child labor is another horror of this crisis affecting children in both camps and cities. Kids are less likely to be impugned if caught engaging in illegal work and therefore resort to menial jobs to sustain their families’ basic needs. The average age of working children is 14, but even 5-year-olds have been found engaged in jobs such as collecting trash, working in restaurants, cleaning, loading goods, metalwork and carpentry.
- In spite of enhanced access to food, shelter and education, only 10% of the refugees live in camps. While some are unable to enter due to overcrowding, the majority leave at great risks in search of independence and normalcy. They are tired of living on handouts and want to provide for their kids. Preservation of their dignity is the foremost reason many Syrian refugees forego the relative security of camps.
- Expended savings and lack of work have resulted in a significant number living below the poverty line with 93% in Jordan, 70% in Lebanon and 65% in Egypt. The high costs of work permits ranging from $170 to $1,270 and the lack of experience force refugees to work in low paying seasonal jobs. Lack of registration also prevents refugees from being able to work legally.
- The main priorities for refugees in urban communities include rent, food and health. Most live in inadequate dwellings, some without electricity or plumbing, and they often share accommodations with other families. Rents account for about two-thirds of their expenses leaving them shorthanded for basic needs like food and healthcare. Government policy allows food distribution for only camp residents. Refugees in urban communities tend to go unnoticed and suffer from the perception that they are less vulnerable.
- The strain on the economy, infrastructure and social services in host countries have led to resentment against the refugees. A large influx into cities has resulted in inflation of rents, overcrowding of schools and lower wages. Jordan imposed stricter restrictions on entry in 2014 while Turkey is building a border wall. About 176 refugees, including 31 children, were killed by the Turkish border guards in 2016. About 80,000 refugees are forsaken at the borders in crude settlements without toilets, electricity or clean water and 1,000 refugees return to Syria from Jordan weekly. In addition to frequent raids, Lebanese law since 2015 requires refugees to pay $200 annually for a residence permit along with proof of sponsorship.
- Displacement has also drastically hindered education, the only means to safeguarding these children’s futures against the traumatic experiences of this crisis. About 700,000 Syrian children in neighboring countries are out of school. In spite of efforts by host countries, a large percentage are deprived of education. In Lebanon, approximately 250,000 are out of school. Only three percent of the 82,744 registered refugees aged 15-18 attended school in 2015. In Jordan, over 80,000 refugee children did not have access to education in 2015.
- While a majority of refugees are in neighboring countries, about one million have requested asylum in Europe including 300,000 in Germany and 100,000 in Sweden. Canada is leading in North America with 40,081 Syrian refugees as of January 2017. President Obama welcomed more than 10,000 Syrian refugees during his tenure.
- Refugees desperate for the European shores embark on what they refer to as the“journey of death.” Many make multiple attempts, overcoming unimaginable hazards at the middle eastern shores before facing the dangers of the sea. Although the number dropped significantly after the EU-Turkey deal, about 80,000 refugees arrived in Greece between January and October 2016 and the riskier route from Libya to Italy was crossed by more than 115,000. About 4,176 lives were lost resulting in an average of 11 men, women and children dying daily for a year.
Refugees are willing to risk their lives to live freely without fear. When asked why they would subject themselves to such life-threatening risks, their responses resonate with hope in the face of death. Syrian refugees are on the precipice of desperation, trying to stay optimistic. They make these perilous journeys across the globe in search of a future for themselves and their children. There are no alternative motives.
– Preeti Yadav