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 War

Syria 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 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 Children
Award-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, 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

Syria Recovery Trust Fund
As the death toll and damage continues to rise in Syria, nations rush to take action, whether military or monetary. In this effort, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has approved $20 million of further funding towards the Syria Recovery Trust Fund (SRTF) at a recent SRTF board meeting in Washington, DC. This brings the U.S. total contribution up to $60 million, whereby the U.S. donated $15 million initially, $15 million more in 2015, and $10 million in 2016. The organization is heavily reliant on its international donors and has up to date received $215 million in funds. Germany, Japan, Kuwait and France are some of the next biggest contributors after the U.S.

The Syria Recovery Trust Fund works with the current interim government and local groups to create transparent projects in Syria. This includes recovery initiatives and working with resident service providers to restore essential services such as electricity, water and sanitation, food security and waste removal in opposition-controlled territories. Hence, the SRTF focuses in these divisions alongside health and education and under particular circumstances agriculture, transportation and housing. Already looking to the future, they hope to shift their attention to rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure once fighting ceases.

Created by the Group of Friends of the Syrian People and its Working Group on Economic Recovery and Development and signed into practice in 2013, the Syria Recovery Trust Fund has already played a valuable role in the region. The group has successfully contracted engineers and equipment to expand electrical grids and water pipelines, restored medical clinics, supplied medical tools, and provided materials to improve production and storage of wheat harvests. Subsequently, they have helped more than two million Syrians progress and recover.

The newest contribution from the USAID will go to Syria Recovery Trust Fund interventions in newly liberated areas. The aid has paved a way for Syria and its people to rise from the rubble shortly again.

Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Syrian Refugees
It has been six years since the outbreak of civil war in Syria that has resulted in a reported 470,000 Syrian deaths. The war began with anti-government demonstrations and escalated into armed opposition groups fighting the government after a violent crackdown on the protests. The ongoing threat of the civil war has caused 11 million Syrians to flee so far. Here are 10 facts about Syrian refugees:

  1. Of the 11 million people displaced by the conflict in Syria, five million Syrians are refugees. This means that the other 6.3 million are displaced within Syria.
  2. Four out of five Syrian refugees are children.
  3. In just over a year after the civil uprising began, 500,000 Syrian refugees had left their homes.
  4. Many Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East. They reside in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, although an estimated 10% have relocated to Europe.
  5. Many Syrians who fled into Northern Iraq are now trapped inside Iraq’s internal conflict. Because of the pre-existing conflict, Iraq struggles to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees.
  6. In order to flee, many Syrian refugees attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Not all of them make it across alive.
  7. In January 2016, a reported 2,647 refugees fled to the United States, amounting to roughly 0.06% of the total refugee population.
  8. Around 40,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Canada.
  9. Nearly the entire population of Syria lives in poverty, with about 70% lacking access to clean drinking water.
  10. In 2016, the U.N. declared that $4.5 billion was required in order to meet the urgent needs of Syrians, yet only $2.9 billion was actually received.

These 10 facts about Syrian refugees illustrate the always-escalating nature of the crisis, showing that aid is needed more than ever before.

Danyel Harrigan

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Uruguay
Prompted by the Syrian refugee crisis, many countries have implemented stricter immigration policies. However, some Latin American countries, specifically those with a higher proportion of Muslims or Syrians, responded to the refugee crisis with more sympathy. Uruguay is one such country. Nestled in between Brazil and Argentina, the territory of Uruguay is roughly the size of Washington state and is home to only 3.4 million individuals. Here are some essential facts about refugees in Uruguay:

  1. Uruguay was the first country in Latin America that showed a willingness to receive refugees.
  2. According to one political analyst, Uruguay’s economy will largely be unable to assimilate refugees into their workforce.
  3. Refugees publicly lamented the country’s limited economic opportunity.
  4. According to the most recent statistics, Uruguay accepted 117 immigrants up to September 2015.
  5. Refugees now appeal to other countries and even to the United Nations to help them leave the country.
  6. Some refugees tried leaving the country, but such efforts failed because most countries do not accept their Uruguay-issued documentation and the immigrants also lack their Syrian-issued passports.
  7. Amidst such social discord, public opinion toward Syrian refugees began to sour. Many citizens felt that the refugees in Uruguay are ungrateful.
  8. Due to such public backlash, President Vasquez temporarily suspended any further allocation of Syrian refugees.
  9. The country’s first group of Syrian refugees was to take Spanish classes to help them assimilate.
  10. Uruguay hoped that, with their initial open-door policy, they would have a type of contagion effect on surrounding countries.

The following information about refugees in Uruguay reveals that countries with already suffering economies are, in many cases, unfit to offer refuge to large numbers of displaced persons. Therefore, more prosperous nations ought to show Uruguay’s initial willingness to accept refugees.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Flickr

Education for Syrian Refugees in TurkeyIn March 2017, the European Union (EU) and United International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) announced a new partnership with the Turkish government to address the issue of education for Syrian refugees in Turkey by initiating a program to provide 230,000 additional Syrian refugee children in Turkey with educational opportunities.

There are currently 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. 1.3 million of them are children. About half of the Syrian refugee children are enrolled in schools or temporary education centers. Nonetheless, 40 percent, or 370,000, of the Syrian refugee children living in Turkey are not receiving an education.

The initiative announced by the EU, UNICEF, and the Turkish government is a Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE). The CCTE, inaugurated in May 2017, provides refugee families with bi-monthly cash transfers. The cash transfers are targeted with the goal of encouraging 230,000 more children to regularly attend school. The overarching goal is to ensure that there is “no lost generation” of Syrians.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake noted that education is especially needed in emergency situations so that the refugees can one day rebuild their lives and their countries.

As of June 8, 2017, 56,000 refugee children have enrolled in the program.

Education for Syrian refugees in Turkey is difficult to implement for multiple reasons. The language used to teach in schools in Turkey is Turkish, while most Syrians grew up learning and speaking Arabic. Also, many Syrian refugee families do not have the financial resources to send their children to school.

Besides the CCTE, many organizations are working to better provide access to education for Syrian refugees in Turkey. In 2016, UNICEF, supported by the EU, aided 12,600 Syrian children by safeguarding their crossing of conflict lines so that they could sit their national examinations.

The Turkish Ministry of National Education and UNICEF have held teacher training for 20,500 Syrian refugees. The aim is to instruct Syrian volunteer teachers with pedagogic skills under the guidelines of Turkish teacher training standards. This aids the teachers who often teach in overcrowded classrooms and have many students with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One Syrian volunteer teacher, Osama Ayat, relates to his students by telling them stories about his hours spent learning the Turkish language. He says he makes them laugh and emphasizes that teachers can empower their students.

Ayat and his students are one example of individuals benefiting from the strides that multiple organizations make to guarantee education for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr

The U.S has spent a total of $6 billion in Syria as of 2016. The need for this assistance is extensive. USAID estimated that there are 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria. However, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria diverts foreign aid from those who need it. He uses it for political goals.

Every day, Russian aircraft drop tons of food in the government-controlled neighborhood of Deir Ezzor. This has saved the lives of countless Syrians in the city. However, in towns controlled by the opposition, countless Syrians starve. Through the use of systematic regulations, President Assad diverts foreign aid from those in need. He then uses foreign aid as a political tool to increase his authority. Syrian expert Joshua Landis said that the Syrian government needs to manipulate foreign aid because “food is loyalty.”

The U.N. admits that it can only work with a small number of partners approved by Assad. Assad’s wife and close friend run two of these partnerships. Other humanitarian relief contracts are awarded to individuals under sanction and members of the Syrian regime known for their brutality and oppression. This is because the Syrian relief effort is the most challenging and complex operation the U.N. has ever seen. This gives Assad more bargaining power. He diverts foreign aid only to areas he controls. He only allows the U.N. into the country without interference if they play by his rules.

Moreover, a Russian airliner company, Abakan Air, carries out the aid transportation. Two Russian nationals, Nikolai Ustimenko and his son Patel, own the company. Both have previously been barred from doing business with the U.N. on account of bribery. It is unclear to what extent they play in Assad’s distribution of foreign aid.

It wasn’t always this way. Initially, the U.N. and Syrian Red Cross delivered aid impartially to the Syrian people. However, as the world turned its attention elsewhere, the Syrian government began blocking aid deliveries to rebel-controlled towns.

Advocates of the foreign aid program point to the amount of good aid have done in the region. Even through the aid only affects certain areas, civilians in need are still being fed. They say it would be unfair to punish those civilians in desperate need by withdrawing aid.

The USAID and UNICEF have done well to give aid. However, it is not good enough. The fact that Assad diverts foreign aid must be addressed. People are starving in Syria and aid needs to be distributed equally.

Bruce Truax

Photo: Google

The Most Common Diseases in Syria
Many factors influence health, and one of the most overlooked is the environment. After living through a civil war for six years, Syrians have experienced a tremendous amount of violence. With this violence comes an increase in poverty and disease. For these reasons, common diseases in Syria are on the rise.

Not only do Syrians suffer from the stress that comes with living in a war-stricken country, but they also experience the scarcity of potable water, food and health care. The combination of this lack of resources and the grief the war’s victims deal with on a daily basis further complicates their health.

Non-communicable diseases are particularly prominent in Syrians. Non-communicable diseases are long-lasting and caused by genetics, the environment and lifestyle. In a survey based on different Syrian refugee households in Jordan, at least one resident in half the households suffered from a non-communicable disease.

Common diseases in Syria that are non-communicable include anemia, diabetes and hypertension. One study found that 48.4% of children under the age of five living in the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp suffered from anemia, as did 44.8% of women aged 15 to 49.

The key to treating these common diseases in Syria is maintaining a healthy diet and taking preventative medications. However, both of these strategies are difficult to come by for Syrians. Doctors and hospitals are often targets and victims of violence. With the destruction of hospitals, Syrians have far fewer places they can go to take care of their health.

Although some medical clinics remain functional, problems remain. Many lack supplies to accommodate the millions of people that need their help. About 60% of Syrians needing insulin to treat their diabetes are in danger due to a shortfall of the hormone.

It is difficult for Syrians to overcome their health issues due to everything that is happening in their country. That being said, others are taking the initiative to help. The World Health Organization has submitted requests to the Syrian government to provide desperately needed medical supplies.

Syrians are in a critical situation now, especially with their health at risk. However, with the proper resources and aid, life will improve for Syrians.

– Raven Rentas

Photo: Flickr