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Poverty and Violent Extremism
Addressing violent extremism requires going beyond a strictly military approach to address the root causes of radicalization. While many have argued that poverty is a leading factor behind radicalization, the relationship between poverty and violent extremism is complex. Poverty by itself does not necessarily lead to a rise in violent extremism. However, societal exclusion and marginalization, which poverty links to, have a significant capacity to propel people to violence.

Government Failure

A more accurate way of determining the relationship between poverty and violent extremism is to examine not just individual cases of poverty, but entire structures that lead to deprivation and exclusion. A variety of societal factors can drive people to extremism. Firstly, a failure of state governments to provide social services not only results in poverty but allows extremist groups to fill the service gap. Secondly, distinct economic inequality between social groups can lead to grievances and disillusionment which makes extremist viewpoints more attractive. Connected to this form of inequality is social exclusion, in which society relegates one group to its outskirts. Without an ability to fully participate in the community and take part in the political process, people may become desperate for a sense of belonging and empowerment, two things which extremist groups promise.

Feelings of abandonment and resentment are prone to occur in weak states which are unable to provide their citizens with security and basic services. This not only heightens inequality, but it also means that impoverished people may come to rely on terrorist groups to provide services. By filling this role of a social service provider, extremist groups can ingratiate themselves with the community and gradually recruit. Multiple terrorist groups have succeeded in proliferating through this welfare terrorism strategy.

Hezbollah, for instance, has established schools, medical centers and agricultural programs among Shiite populations in Lebanon, while Hamas has made similar investments in education, health and cultural establishments in the West Bank. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have both established religious schools which are sometimes the only educational option available in poor regions, leaving parents with little choice but to send their children to schools that can teach violent ideologies. The failure of governments to provide education, health and social services aids this phenomenon. When terrorist groups provide these services, it not only encourages the population to accept extremists into their community, it also delegitimizes the state and political system.

Inequality and Discrimination

Additionally, it is necessary to evaluate poverty in context within a country in order to determine its relationship to violent extremism. Relative poverty tends to be more of a factor than absolute poverty in radicalizing someone towards violence. In other words, while poverty on an individual level is unlikely to prompt someone to become an extremist, the existence of societal poverty or marked inequality between social groups, can have that effect. People know inequality between groups, in which one group has privilege over the other, as horizontal inequality and it is particularly likely to lead to grievances and the perception of injustice.

One can find an example of horizontal inequality in Syria, where significant disparities have existed for decades between Sunni and Shia Arabs. Under the Al-Assad regime, Sunnis, who make up the majority of the population, have faced economic hardship and discrimination in favor of Alawite elites. Syria is one of the most economically unequal countries in the region with a GINI coefficient of 38.8, and regions of the country have experienced development in a very uneven way. Terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda have been able to exploit Sunni anger at the state to recruit in Syria.

Social Exclusion

Social exclusion is also a crucial factor in driving people towards violent extremism. The U.N. defines social exclusion as a “lack of participation in decision-making processes in civil, socio-economic and cultural life” and the institutionalized withholding of rights which make it impossible to fully integrate with the broader community. When whole social groups receive systematic alienation, group members can become desperate for a sense of belonging and autonomy. This makes them ripe targets for recruitment into terrorist groups, which offer a sense of inclusion and identity.

As one young man in Kenya describes it, “poverty feeds terrorism by eroding a basic human need: the need to belong… Poor people have no stake in nations and economies that ignore them.”As he points out, a lack of economic resources means people are denied the chance to fully participate in and contribute to society. Instead, they spend all their time merely trying to survive. When young people are unable to find productive work and feelings of alienation and deprivation overwhelm them, it can tempt them to join gangs and terrorist networks. These provide not only money but a sense of belonging and utility. Additionally, an inability to enact change through undemocratic political systems may prompt people to turn to violence as an attempt to restore justice.

Activists in marginalized communities have worked to combat this problem through programs which provide not just economic assistance, but a sense of community. For instance, Shining Hope for New Communities (SHOFCO), works in Kibera and Mathare. The organization runs a school for girls that provides tuition-free learning as well as free nutrition and health services for students and their families. The organization also issues microloans which allow people to start small businesses and gain financial stability. Crucially, SHOFCO also works to provide a sense of community for residents through theater, soccer programs and employment advice sessions.

The Role of Foreign Aid to Reduce Violent Extremism

Beyond programs like these, foreign aid has significant potential to reduce the circumstances which can drive people to violent extremism. It is important that aid goes beyond economic assistance to address the sources of grievances which can lead to radicalization. Multiple studies have found that high levels of civil liberties and a strong rule of law correlate with a low number of domestic terrorist attacks. Repression and weak rule of law not only delegitimize the state, but they also deny citizens appropriate channels for addressing grievances through the political system, leading some to take up violent means. With this in mind, foreign aid which focuses on good governance and promoting civil society has the potential to reduce extremism.

One study which examined the number of terrorist attacks in countries from 1997 to 2020 found that governance and civil society assistance results in fewer terrorist attacks in countries that were not experiencing a civil war. As this study shows, investment in foreign aid has the ability to reduce violent extremism, which is one of the key priorities of U.S. national security policy. If U.S. policymakers want to stop the spread of violent extremism, they should support programs that promote providing people with basic needs, economic equality and give people a stake in their community.

Clarissa Cooney
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

Countries being helped by the UNDPThe United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is a U.N. network that aims to eliminate poverty, increase resilience in poor communities, improve access to education and develop policies in struggling countries. One of the UNDP’s major projects is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This project focuses on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including no poverty, zero hunger, quality education, clean water and sanitation and climate action.

The UNDP works with multiple struggling countries around the globe to meet these goals. Out of the 170 countries and territories being aided, below is a list of eight countries being helped by the UNDP.

8 Developing Countries Being Helped by the UNDP

  1. Nigeria: Nigeria is home to the highest number of people in poverty in the world, making it one of the poorest countries being helped by the UNDP. Due to this, the UNDP’s main focus in Nigeria is eradicating poverty. Since a large percentage of the poor population are farmers, the UNDP is working to make agricultural progress in communities and addressing challenges faced in terms of sustainability. In addition, the UNDP is working to create more jobs and improve access to sustainable energy sources.
  2. Afghanistan: A large part of Afghanistan’s population faces issues with the quality of life. The UNDP in Afghanistan aims to fight extreme poverty and inequality for the most vulnerable. Significant progress has already been made in terms of education. In 2001, only 70,000 school-aged children in Afghanistan were attending school. Currently, eight million children are attending school. The UNDP worked with the Ministry of Economy in Afghanistan in 2015 to spread the importance of Sustainable Development Goals for the country.
  3. Nepal: Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Due in part to the UNDP’s efforts in Nepal, major progress has been made in terms of eliminating poverty. Within four years, the country has reduced the poverty rate from 25.2 percent in 2011 to 21.6 percent in 2015. Specific goals the UNDP has for Nepal include building resilience against natural disasters, improving education access and improving access to basic resources such as electricity and clean water.
  4. Côte d’Ivoire: Through the anti-poverty program that was established by the UNDP, more than a quarter of a million people’s lives have significantly improved in Côte d’Ivoire. Through this initiative, 62 community organizations received monetary donations, project funding and vocational training to help them progress and reach their goals. In terms of agricultural issues, due to this program, fishing equipment has become more easily available and affordable. In addition, crop diversity has increased, providing more income and food options.
  5. Syria: Syria is a war-torn, impoverished country. As a result, Syrian people face issues with access to basic needs. This includes housing, access to necessary services and basic needs for women and the disabled. In 2018, the UNDP introduced the UNDP-Syria Resilience Programme, that focuses on improving the livelihood of such vulnerable groups. Through this project, more than 2.8 million Syrians were able to receive aid and benefits. These interventions have also produced benefits on a larger scale, including the creation of jobs, productive assets distribution and vocational training.
  6. Thailand: A large percentage of Thailand’s population lives in rural areas. Major problems for the rural poor include human rights issues, considerable economic inequality and weak rule of law. In Thailand, the UNDP is supporting and providing aid to ongoing projects and operations dedicated to problems being faced by its citizens. A major program the UNDP is supporting is the Thailand Country Program which focuses on environmental regulation and economic development. The UNDP is also working with the Thai Royal Government.
  7. Bangladesh: One of the biggest problems faced by Bangladesh is natural disaster risk. The UNDP started a project in January 2017 which is an ongoing collaboration with the National Resilience Program, the government, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and U.N. Women. It aims to develop strategies to create lasting resilience against unpredictable natural disasters, shocks, and crisis, that strongly impact the poor community. Specific aims of the project include strengthening communities, improving recovery and response to disasters and local disaster management.
  8. The Philippines: Approximately 25 percent of the Philippines lives in poverty. The UNDP’s projects in the Philippines include development planning, policymaking and implementing sustainable practices. One of the main aims of the UNDP is to localize poverty reduction and increase community involvement. The UNDP is also going about development planning in a way that will include increasing the use of natural resources in a sustainable manner while reducing poverty.

– Nupur Vachharajani
Photo: Flickr

Visual Impairment in Refugees

Last year, there were an estimated 70 million forcibly displaced individuals in the world. NGOs and governments stepped up by providing funding for food, water, sanitation, education, and healthcare, but visual impairment in refugees is rarely ever prioritized.

Vision Impairment is a Major Life Obstacle

Eye care is something often overlooked when organizations are administering urgent medical treatment to refugees–in most cases, eye injuries are not considered life-threatening. While an eye injury may not be fatal, it can greatly reduce the quality of life. This was the case for 10-year-old, Hala Shaheen, who suffered retinal detachment before the outbreak of the Syrian War and was undergoing treatment to fix the issue. She required specialist care and regular check-ups.

However, when chaos and violence broke out in Syria, Hala and her family were forced to flee to the Rukban refugee camp between Syria and Jordan, where no eye care specialist could be found. Now Hala is blind in one eye and her vision in the other eye is continuing to deteriorate. When asked about her condition, she told reporters, “I don’t want to continue living with this level of pain and suffering.”

Refugees like Hala do not have the resources to prevent or tackle blindness, Hala could have retained her vision. Blindness prevents her from experiencing life fully. Since braille is not readily taught, getting an education is difficult. Hala’s condition forces her to be dependent on her family. When blindness presents itself in adult refugees, it stops them from being productive workers and the extra burden is placed on their family’s shoulders. Thankfully, some NGOs have identified this problem and are on their way to creating better conditions to fight visual impairment in refugees.

Bringing Clarity to the Visually Impaired

NGOs and charities are assembling coalitions all over the world to find solutions for visual impairment in refugees. The main mission is to provide diagnostic services and visual assistance to those who need it.

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is working in Cox Bazar, a Rohingya refugee camp of over 900,000 people, has created an eye care plan to fight visual impairment in refugees. They plan to provide over 150,000 eyeglasses each year and deploy 30 optometrists and 30 ophthalmologists to conduct Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) exams. These exams are vital in the prevention of blindness and vision loss, which can be the result of neglected chronic eye disease. In Cox Bazar, there is an estimated 30,000 at risk for diabetic eye disease and 70,000 at risk for glaucoma. If left untreated, it could result in a massive amount of vision loss.

There are numerous other coalitions like the IAPB. VisionSpring works with EYElliance in Ghana and Liberia to provide glasses to children and launch country-level initiatives to identify visual problems in refugees. SightGeist is an annual conference of companies and organizations from various sectors who come together and use their resources to provide visual assistance and preventative care to those affected by visual impairment. NGOs like Light for the World work together with Warby Parker, an eyewear company, and Aravind Eye Care System, a chain of hospitals in India, to come up with solutions to problems that are too large to tackle alone.

Gender and Visual Impairment

Another aspect of visual impairment in refugees is gender. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by visual impairment, accounting for two-thirds of those with severe vision loss. This can be due to the impact of traditional female roles, like having to collect water and wash clothes. These duties put them at risk of being bitten by blackflies which transmit parasites that destroy vision. In developing countries, women are typically not in charge of finances, so they have less control over the budget and cannot pay for healthcare. Women are also often too busy taking care of the home and may not even know where to go to access eye care.

Visual impairment in refugees, particularly females, deepens their plight; those who are visually impaired are more likely to suffer sexual violence and shamed by their families. Programs like CATCH in Uganda and Lady Health Worker in Pakistan are reaching out to these women. CATCH conducts exams to detect visual impairment early and provide preventative care to women. The Lady Health Worker program empowers female workers to provide healthcare and eye care to women and children in their own communities. Simply bringing attention to eye care and reducing the stigma of visual impairment can vastly improve lives.

Visual health underpins many of the Sustainable Development Goals put forth by the U.N. It is up to these organizations now to spread the word and see to it that visual impairment in refugees and developing countries become a greater priority for donors.

– Julian Mok
Photo: Flickr

the Media Misrepresents Lebanon
Lebanon is a sovereign state that lies on the western coast of the Mediterranean sea. With over six million inhabitants, this small country shares a long border with Syria, a country that is currently facing a multi-year civil war that has been the cause of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and intense human suffering.

Due to Lebanon’s close proximity to Syria, it naturally has faced some conflict in recent years with the overflow of refugees and military conflict on Lebanese soil. The Syrian war has already rendered and continues to produce much devastation for Syrian people, mainly through a lack of human rights.  

Because of this, the media has associated countries in the surrounding area with this chaotic state. There has been a very distinct picture painted of Lebanon, characterized as unsafe and disorganized. However, everything the public is being told is not exactly true, and the way the media misrepresents Lebanon has a major impact on how we categorize and make assumptions about this beautiful, culturally-rich state.

The main implication behind the way the media misrepresents Lebanon is the fact that the media industry survives off public opinion, meaning that headlines and article content are often edited and revised to fit a style that will capture a reader’s attention. Due to this, it is not uncommon for the media to misrepresent situations and give inflated facts to attract more coverage. This is one of the biggest factors of how the media misrepresents Lebanon and, more specifically, the country’s stability.

While certain parts of Lebanon have faced overflow from the Syrian war–for instance, there have been minor security incidents that have occurred in smaller cities like Baalbek and Sidon–these incidents have been both sporadic and uncommon. The way in which the media covers these topics often paints Lebanon as an unsafe environment for travelers, which is not entirely true.

While there are places to avoid, such as the smaller cities that lie on the Lebanon-Syrian border, larger cities like Beirut have remained nearly untouched and are still safe for tourism. In fact, sources like the New York Times and ABC News have published pro-Beirut pieces that highlight the beauty of Beirut culture. Specifically, the New York Times article touched on the Beirut art scene and the various cultures weaved throughout the city’s architecture and cuisine.

In addition to Beirut, other Lebanese cities like Byblos and Zahlé have also been marked safe for tourism in recent years, with standard travel-safety procedures. The truth is that these Lebanese cities are very similar to any other major city; it is simply a large metropolitan area with general security issues like pickpocketing, scamming and robbery. These problems exist in all major cities throughout the globe.

However, when visiting Lebanon, it is important not to ignore the struggle the country faces with border safety and its ongoing rubbish crisis, in which large amounts of trash continue to cover the state’s shoreline. While tourism helps the Lebanese economy, it is vital that tourists do not contribute to the country’s main issues such as littering.

Although it faces a few security concerns, Lebanon is a beautiful country. Cities like Beirut, Byblos and Zahle have enriching cultures and histories alike, and it is important not to let the way the media misrepresents Lebanon take away from the nation’s true colors.

– Alexandra Dennis

Photo: Flickr

The Success of Humanitarian Aid to SyriaGoing into its seventh year, the Syrian civil war has created one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. With more than 480,000 people killed and 11 million people displaced from their homes, the international community has grappled with the question of how to bring relief to Syrians amid active hostilities and uncertain circumstances.

The scope and complexity of the conflict, along with the government’s restriction on aid to various regions (especially rebel-held territories), have severely limited international organizations’ relief workers and supplies from reaching much of the country.

Once in a while, though, a humanitarian push manages to rise above the proverbial brick wall that is armed conflict to give hope that there can be successes for humanitarian aid to Syria. Such is the case with the education program bringing new opportunities to some of the hardest-to-reach students in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

With increased access to parts of Aleppo, the Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD) has begun offering free classes and tutoring to students in the city. This comes at a time when 1.75 million school-aged children are out of the classroom and 1.35 million more are at risk of dropping out.

The SSSD provides a variety of programs, including remedial classes for students who have missed school as well as tutoring, education supplies and registration help. Through some of their informal education programs, they facilitate the transition of dropout students back into the critical thinking mindset of learning to eventually return to formal education.

Zooming out of Aleppo to the rest of Syria, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan stated that over 1.1 million children were reached through various forms of formal and informal education. These children, along with the 179,118 people who have been reached through women and girls’ empowerment activities, are reason for the hope of continued success of humanitarian aid to Syria.

To get back on its feet economically and promote political stability for the future, Syria cannot afford to lose a generation of educated youths. While the push to get all Syrian children back into school remains an uphill battle in the ongoing conflict, the success of humanitarian aid to Syria gives hope that even the hardest-to-reach students can find their way into the classroom.

– Belén Loza

Photo: Flickr

Facts About the Syrian Civil WarWhile constantly in the news, the atrocities of the Syrian civil war, one of the greatest humanitarian crises in recent history, have become somewhat normalized to readers. However, it is imperative to remain at least aware, if not critical of the causes of such ongoing brutality. Here are 15 facts about the Syrian civil war to stay informed:

  1. In 2011, the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad responded to civilians peacefully protesting wrongful imprisonment and torture by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more.
  2.  In July 2011, defectors from the military as well as Syrian civilians formed the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and his authoritarian regime.
  3. President Assad encouraged extremists to join the rebellion against his government, and even released jihadist prisoners in order to tinge the rebellion with extremism and make it more difficult for foreign backers to support them.
  4. Neighboring countries with Sunni majorities generally support the rebels while Shia majorities tend to support President Assad. In 2012, Iran intervened on President Assad’s behalf and supplies officers and cargo to government forces. In response, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan sent aid to the rebels to counter Iran’s influence.
  5. The Syrian civil war has become a proxy war between international powers. The United States, under the Obama administration, supported Syrian rebels through CIA training, making it a participant in the war. Russia, on the other hand, backs President Assad.
  6. Syrian Kurds carved out a semi-autonomous region in the north and northeast of Syria. The Kurds support neither the government nor the opposition. The United States has supported the Kurds as one of the most effective anti-Islamic State forces on the ground.
  7. Almost all the forces in Syria fighting against each other are also fighting the Islamic State. In 2011, al-Qaeda forces joined the rebellion against President Assad before beginning to seize control of territory in Syria, by which time they had renamed themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), and labeling their territories its caliphate. Kurdish forces and Syrian rebels have been combating the rising power of ISIS. The United States has also directly intervened with air strikes.
  8. The United States launched a program to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, but not President Assad. The program was criticized for showing that the United States opposes ISIS more than Assad.
  9. President Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons against civilians. While the Syrian military as well as Assad himself deny such claims, organizations such as Human Rights Watch has documented the use of chlorine and sarin gas by the Syrian government against its own people.
  10. The United Nations commission of inquiry has evidence implicating all parties in the conflict of war crimes. Rebel forces, as well as the Syrian government and ISIS, have committed war crimes including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused of leveraging access to food, water and health services as a method of combat.
  11. Entering its seventh year, the Syrian conflict has killed almost half a million Syrians, injured more than a million and displaced over 12 million, just about half of the country’s population before the war.
  12. 6.5 million of these displaced individuals are still in Syria. Internally displaced persons tend to be especially vulnerable, especially if they are still in areas of conflict. International aid agencies cannot easily access these areas.
  13. Most Syrian refugees are currently in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. While these areas are relatively safe for displaced Syrians, they remain unstable themselves.
  14. The mass exodus of Syrian refugees to Europe has created its own political crisis. European voters have largely rejected refugees in the wake of the rise of right-wing populism.
  15. Charity organizations across the globe are working to help the millions of Syrians affected by the war. The main charity groups include UNHCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Border, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and Save the Children.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Additional U.S. Aid for the Syrians Caught in the WarSyria has now been in conflict for six years, and it is becoming the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. Syria is in ruins, and people stuck in the war zone need humanitarian assistance. UNHCR is working 24/7 to help newly displaced people arriving daily to the Ein Issa camp, but almost 50,000 people are still trapped inside Raqqa. This is why additional U.S. aid for Syrians caught in the middle of the war is needed in the field and will help mitigate the impact of the war on the communities in the region.

The U.S. State Department announced that additional humanitarian aid will be provided to civilians stuck in the war zone. Almost $700 million will be provided, which raises the total amount of U.S. aid for Syrians to more than $7 billion since 2012.

This announcement shows the commitment of the American people and the U.S. government to support critical humanitarian needs. U.S. aid for Syrians caught in the war will provide food, clean water, shelter and medical care to the almost 14 million people in the country who need it.

According to the U.N., since 2011 almost 400,000 Syrians have lost their lives and 5 million have fled the country, while 6.3 million people are displaced inside the country. The crisis has no end for now, even with the news that ISIS is on its heels but will not surrender, preferring to fight to the death. Even with his allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is very limited in his rule, the Islamic State is losing ground and the country is exhausted from fighting. But still, the Syrian war drags on.

Aid for the Syrian people will be divided among the organizations and agencies assisting Syrian refugees in the country and elsewhere. Part of the funding will also go to Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, who are taking in some of the refugees.

The day before the announcement, there was a gathering of the world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. Additional aid for the Syrians and the six-year-long conflict was a central part of the discussion, where the urgent need for safe passage for the humanitarian convoys was highlighted.

Additional U.S. aid for Syrians reflects the commitment of the government to help and ease the suffering of Syrians caught in the war, ultimately saving lives. This additional aid is also supporting the operations of the United Nations and other international and non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. government is making huge efforts to increase humanitarian assistance, but to meet emergency needs, other donors are crucial. Non-governmental organizations are often working in areas where U.N. agencies cannot, offering food assistance and meeting basic needs.

UNHCR Syria is the organization’s largest refugee assistance operation in the world. This organization provides assistance to the internally displaced, supporting refugees across the region. UNICEF implements child and youth protection and health programs and neighbors are also involved.

U.S. aid for Syrians trapped in the war zone is crucial, being the largest single donor to the humanitarian response. The U.S. provides critical relief supplies and protection for children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Due to a shortage of the funds, non-government organizations are facing many challenges. The additional aid for Syrians in the war zone will bring them critical help, hope for a safe future and the message from the world that they are not alone and forgotten.

– Edita Jakupovic Delcaro

Photo: Flickr

Educating Syrian Refugees

College students from around the world have been educating Syrian refugees via Skype. According to Vocativ, 35 percent of Syrian refugees are of school age. Unfortunately, the conflict in Syria has interrupted their ability to learn. However, the Paper Airplanes program has provided a solution.

University students from around the world have volunteered in educating Syrian refugees via Skype, especially in English. Syrian students receive tutoring for many reasons, some of which include preparing for tests like the SAT and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Learning English is imperative for Syrian refugees. According to The Williams Record, English is often necessary because it “aids in the resettlement process, creates employment opportunities and is increasingly important for gaining an education in Middle Eastern countries that teach predominantly in French and English.”

Tutoring does not only benefit the refugees but their tutors as well. Educating Syrian refugees via Skype gave tutors the opportunity actually to do something about the Syrian crisis. Before, a lot of international students were frustrated with their helplessness over the situation, so they jumped at the chance to help in any way that they could.

The Williams Record also illustrated how, in educating Syrian refugees via Skype, the tutors found commonality with their Syrian tutees. One of the tutors in the article, for example, bonded with her tutee over soccer, surprised that she made the connection.  There are, however, risks in educating Syrian refugees via Skype. A poor internet connection, as discussed in Vocativ, can stop tutoring in its tracks.

Regardless, Skype has had an impact on Syrian refugees, such that many refugees are educating others through this platform as well. A new program, NaTakallam, founded by Aline Sara, connects Syrian refugees with people who want to learn Arabic. This program gives refugees the opportunity to both pay it forward and create an income for themselves.

Cortney Rowe

Shay Mitchell Empowers Women and ChildrenAward-winning Pretty Little Liars Actress Shay Mitchell has been very active outside of her role as Emily Fields, continuing to do much more with her travel experiences than simply finding new foods or relaxing by the beach.

Mitchell empowers women and children who live in oppressive and poverty-ridden countries by interacting with them and learning what it is that these people face every day in order to survive.

One company that Mitchell supports is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand called Raven + Lily. In her channel’s official YouTube video about her 2015 trip to India, Mitchell explains how Raven + Lily helps fight poverty by giving women a sustainable income.

Mitchell endorses the company by showing her viewers each product that Raven + Lily produces, how the employed women make them and how purchasing from these women will help give them a life that they deserve.

“Women in this Muslim community are not allowed to work outside their home,” Mitchell explains. She continues to state that Raven + Lily allows these women to work from inside their homes, respecting their culture yet giving them a stable and secure income.

Mitchell ended her trip by attending a festival of love and color, which is a local tradition where the citizens covered her in organic colors as they all danced together. This is one of the many ways that Shay Mitchell empowers women and children by participating in events that allow her to relate to everyday citizens on a fundamental level.

Mitchell told In Style magazine that the most difficult part of the trip for her was seeing the extreme poverty in India. She goes on to say that while it is overwhelming, the most important thing to do is to focus on helping these people one person at a time because every struggling citizen matters.

In July of this year, Mitchell posted a photo with children she met while in Syria in the Azraq Syrian Refugee Camp. “Kids should be kids,” she said in a recent Facebook post, talking about how resilient the children are and talking about how much that she missed them already.

During this time, Care.org posted a photo of Mitchell visiting with Syrian children whose dreams are to attend film school. This is in support of CARE’s refugee film school at the Azraq camp.

With Snapchat stories filled with smiling kids, a personal YouTube video showing support for Raven + Lily and verbal support for women and children living in oppression and poverty, Shay Mitchell empowers women and children by being an active advocate for better treatment of struggling citizens around the world.

Noel McDavid
Photo: Flickr