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Six years of civil war has resulted in more than five million displaced Syrian refugees, who are now distributed among neighboring countries. Aid agencies continue to urge the global community to provide further assistance as the humanitarian crisis escalates.

Syrian civil unrest emerged in March of 2011 in the city of Deraa, after a group of teenagers “who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall” (BBC) were arrested and tortured. Pro-democracy protesters marched in the streets and were subject to open gunfire from security forces. Several people were killed, which only fueled the fight against government oppression.

Thousands of protesters were demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation and marching in the streets throughout Syria. Eventually, opposition supporters began to arm themselves. Initially, those in opposition of the government carried weapons in self-defense. As the struggle wore on, rebels began to rid security forces and fight for control of major cities, towns, and rural areas. The country descended into a civil war.

The U.N.-Arab League Envoy for Syria estimates that 400,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, which has lasted longer than World War II.

Founded in 1950, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) works to guarantee safe refuge for asylum seekers fleeing persecution, brutality or war in their native countries. The UNHCR’s Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal shows that five million Syrian refugees have been registered in neighboring countries.

The sharing portal reports Turkey as the top host country, providing aid and refuge for 2.9 million displaced individuals. Turkey, which shares a border with both Iraq and Syria, registered nearly half of the five million Syrian refugees. Additional host countries include Lebanon, Jordan, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Due to IS terrorist attacks, refugees resettled in Europe face growing scrutiny. This prompted the UNHCR to strongly urge Europeans in France and Germany not to “put humanity on a ballot” during this year’s political election. Far-right candidates oppose the influx of refugees seeking asylum in their countries and have vocally objected to being a host country.

Since 2011, Turkey has spent approximately $8.7 billion on providing for the increasing refugee population, which includes education costs. Presently, the top host country has integrated 300,000 Syrian refugees into the education system. “They are our guests,” Turkish deputy education secretary Yusuf Buyuk states, “They have rights to education under both nations and international law.”

The UNHCR urges the international community to provide financial aid, safe asylum and medical assistance for the millions of displaced individuals who have endured six years of persecution and violence.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr


At the apex of Islamic State (IS) control, 10 million people were living in territory under IS authority. However, that number has been steadily decreasing.

By December 2015, the Salafi jihadist group controlled an extensive territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria that formed an unrecognized proto-state. Outside of Iraq and Syria, IS controls territory in Libya, Sinai and Afghanistan.

The jihadist group gained international attention when it invaded and overtook Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Iraq’s fight to remove the Islamic State group from Mosul has ravaged for six months, with the violence causing more than 215,000 citizens to become displaced.

Twenty miles west of Mosul, U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, met with Iraqi citizens inside a camp designated for displaced individuals. He later stated that “these people have suffered enormously,” and without aid, “they go on suffering.”

The Secretary-General urges for increased funding for U.N. programs in Iraq. He calls for “international solidarity” and aid for the people of Mosul.

The U.N. estimates that $985 million is required for emergency funds to assist displaced individuals throughout Iraq. Providing shelter for thousands of people fleeing Mosul will cost at least $7 million as the fighting continues. Presently, U.N. programs in Iraq have only reached eight percent of their funding budget.

The current focus area in the larger battle against IS centers around the control of Mosul. The city is the jihadist group’s last critical bastion in Iraq. Financial assistance for Iraqi and Kurdish security forces is a key component for regaining Mosul, which has been under IS authority since 2014.

Nearly 750,000 people continue to live in western Mosul. There, the conflict between Islamic State militants and Iraqi and Kurdish forces has led to thousands of casualties. Most of the residents do not have access to clean drinking water or sufficient food. Excluding the Iraqi military, agencies have not been able to provide aid for the people of Mosul due to the extreme levels of violence in the area.

The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting shortly after the U.S. released 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base in early April. U.N. chief Guterres advised the council to unify and reach a peaceful agreement on moving forward in Syria. “For too long,” he states, “international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity.” Guterres believes this is a “prerequisite” to ending the continued suffering of the people of Mosul and Syria.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr


The news of the ugly, modern warfare occurring in Syria is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the problem of Syria’s civil war. Despite obstacles, many agencies are doing their best to get humanitarian aid to civilians. In particular, USAID helps Syria by funding many organizations within the United Nations (U.N.), through non-government organizations (NGOs), and its own programs. Here are six specific groups that USAID helps fund.

6 Ways USAID Helps Syria

  1. USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART): DART currently has teams deployed to Turkey and Jordan. They are on standby in case of a sudden and large-scale displacement of Syrian refugees, or for any other humanitarian needs caused by the conflict in Syria.
  2. USAID/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA): USAID/OFDA funds U.N. and NGO sponsored programs. This department has helped provide medical care to Syrians by helping the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has been able to evacuate patients out of conflict zones, as well as identify and vaccinate against a recent measles outbreak. USAID/OFDA also funded NGOs to train Syrian medical staff, provide medical supplies, and vaccinate against polio.
  3. The Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM): USAID is funding the U.N. World Food Program and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which have been able to report on food and crop security in Syria. The CFSAM report shows that less food is being produced in Syria. With this information, the U.N. is able to respond with appropriate food deliveries.
  4. The World Food Programme (WFP): USAID gave $79,812,417 to the WFP’s work in Syria during the 2016 fiscal year. This does not include the funding given to the WFP for use in neighboring countries. In January, the WFP delivered food to 3.6 million people in Syria. The WFP has also given food assistance to conflict-isolated people in the Jordan-Syrian border towns. Finally, the WFP has given more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees food vouchers on debit cards.
  5. The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF): UNICEF is helping in Syria and in neighboring countries. Within Syria, UNICEF is bringing six million liters of water daily. This is estimated to help 400,000 people in the country. UNICEF is helping Syrian refugees as well. Last November and December, they provided $28 clothing vouchers for Syrian refugee children in Jordan to buy winter clothing. These vouchers were given to 128,430 Syrian children. UNICEF is also offering psychosocial support to Syrian refugee children in Turkey. In January, they helped 7,200 children. UNICEF is also helping refugees by providing social services.
  6. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): The U.N. organization, OCHA, received $3,000,000 from USAID in the 2016 fiscal year. As a result, OCHA has been able to present reports on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. As a result of this important work, the world now knows if humanitarian aid is able to get into Syria, citizens are impacted by aid disruptions and by the state of facilities and infrastructure throughout Syria.

While these examples are encouraging, Syria is still struggling to receive humanitarian aid being offered. In many cases, battles between the al-Assad regime and the rebel forces prevent aid workers from reaching citizens. In some cases, the Islamic State has deliberately blocked aid organizations from repairing infrastructure.

Yet, the world is persistent and continues to fund humanitarian aid to Syria. USAID helps Syria in even more ways than are listed here. Also, the USAID website implores people to donate to NGO’s working in Syria.

It’s dispiriting to watch what unfolds in Syria and hard to imagine how Americans can help. Another way we can help is to tell Congress to support the USAID budget. As few as seven calls from constituents have been known to impact the legislation that a congressman or senator supports.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Photo: Flickr

Refugees Come From
2015 UNHCR statistics estimate that 65.3 million people have been forced from their homes around the world. This equates to roughly one out of every 113 people on Earth. Almost one percent of the Earth’s population is displaced either internally, as an asylum-seeker, or as a refugee. Approximately 21.3 million of these people are considered refugees, and over half of these refugees come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

Syria

Approximately 4.9 million refugees are from Syria. This is a subset of the 12.3 million people who have been displaced from their homes within or outside of the country. The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 with anti-government protests, creating an opening for the militant group ISIS to infiltrate the country. The fighting has killed many citizens while destroying infrastructure including homes, schools, and hospitals.

Most Syrian refugees are resettled in five neighboring countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Many struggle to meet their basic needs and most live below the poverty line in these countries. Yet, life is still better in refugee camps than at home.

Afghanistan

Around 2.7 million refugees come from Afghanistan. Most of these individuals are resettled in Pakistan and Iran, where their human rights are in constant jeopardy. The number of Afghan refugees continues to dwindle because of continued efforts to repatriate them. These efforts are controversial because citizens still face poverty and war upon their return.

Afghanistan has had economic and security-related difficulties since the withdrawal of many international humanitarian programs in 2014. At the end of 2015, an earthquake displaced even more people. Violence continues to put those remaining in the country in danger. The country’s failing infrastructure has caused a lack of access to electricity, education, and clean water. Women and children are also heavily abused.

Somalia

Roughly 1.1 million refugees come from Somalia. Since disastrous battles in 1991, Somalia has endured continued conflict. In combination with ongoing flooding and drought, many face extreme poverty and malnutrition.

Seventeen percent of the population is either displaced or living elsewhere as refugees. Thousands of Somalis live in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where they have remained for multiple decades. Many others live in Ethiopia and Yemen. From 1990 to 2015, the number of Somalian-born people living outside the country doubled.

Humanitarian crises have put these countries at the forefront, in terms of numbers, of displaced persons and refugees. Nonetheless, waves of refugees change with global conflict. Most refugees today are fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. The 1970s saw many from Vietnam and Cambodia, while the 1990s saw mostly European refugees from the former Soviet Union and Kosovo. No matter where refugees come from or where they resettle, we must continue supporting them.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr


Awareness and Prevention Through Art, otherwise known as AptART, is an organization that began in Mozambique and is bringing together artists and activists. The non-profit organization is aiming “to share with conflict-affected and marginalized youth an artistic experience alongside the opportunity to express themselves.”

In 2012, AptART took its concept beyond the borders of Mozambique, working on a project in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, AptART has been teaming with local and international organizations creating workshops for kids in places such as Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Palestine and countries in Europe. The art created in these workshops varies; some are large-scale street murals while others are smaller individual works. Through their work, the organization seeks to build awareness and promote prevention while creating messages of hope and positivity.

A recent project the organization has been working on is a street art project in Jordan. Jordan has a large community of refugee children, many coming from Syria. In partnership with local Jordan artist Suhaib Attar, they host street art and mural workshops to introduce kids to the community to color and art as a form of expression. Previously, the organization also held workshops for children in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp.

Director Samantha Robison from AptART told Al Jazeera, “Our aim is to amplify the voices of marginalized groups and put their ideas and identities in the public space. Street artists have an opportunity to convey a message to a large audience in a way that other artists might not. The world is their gallery; it’s art for everyone.”

Art created through these workshops are exhibited locally and throughout the world. All sales go towards funding the organization’s future projects. Some other major organizations that support and collaborate with AptART are UNICEF, ECHO and Mercy Corps.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

 Serbia Refugees
From 2015 through March 2016 refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and more traveled through Serbia on their way to Hungary and Croatia. The closing of the border led many people to think that the refugee crisis was over, but refugees from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to arrive in Serbia daily. Below are 10 facts about Serbia refugees and the unprecedented crisis.

  1. Between May 2015 and March 2016, over 920,000 refugees from Greece, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq traveled through Serbia as they made their way to Hungary and Croatia.
  2. About 20.1 million euros in humanitarian aid from the EU helped provide emergency assistance at 16 government shelters. These shelters provide services including medical care, family-friendly shelter, clothing, food, water and security. Currently, aid is being used to improve living conditions at shelters. Previously, Serbia received 24.5 million euros in aid toward the refugee crisis.
  3. Winter weather and freezing temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius endanger the health and lives of as many as 1,500 refugees living in the streets or unheated temporary shelters. Sadly, 60% are unaccompanied minors. Many people are afraid to go to official shelters due to concerns that they will be deported.
  4. The Serbian government, the U.N. Refugee Agency, and other humanitarian agencies made room in heated shelters for 5,000 more beds.
  5. The Serbian government opened additional accommodations in mid-January, enabling 400 refugees, including women and children, to move from unsanitary improvised shelters to a clean shelter – 85% of refugees are now living in one of 17 government shelters.
  6. Humanitarian organizations are prohibited from helping refugees outside official shelters. A group of international volunteers called “Hot Food Idomeni” has found a way to help. They serve hot soup, ensuring that refugees living outside official shelters get a least one meal a day.
  7. The EU civil protection mechanism, along with 10 Member States, provided 246,000 relief items to Serbia.
  8. The government registered 815,000 refugees in 2015. There was a dramatic drop in the number of refugees arriving in Serbia after the closure of the “Western Balkan migration route” in March 2016.
  9. Since the closure of the “Western Balkan migration route” refugees have been stranded in Serbia. Many have stayed in one of 16 reception centers located in the west and south. Refugees are free to travel around the country. They can even apply for asylum.
  10. After the closure of the migration route, a small number of refugees from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continued to arrive increasing the number of refugees from 2,000 in March 2016 to 7,550 in December 2016.

People flee war-torn countries hoping to find safe refuge within the borders of their neighbor. These 10 facts about Serbia refugees reveal what these brave refugees endure in their journey to find their safe refuge.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

 Refugees in Malta Facts
Situated by the Mediterranean Sea, the island country of Malta has long been a safe haven for refugees. Although Malta is geographically and economically small, its location between Europe and North Africa makes it a logical first step for refugees seeking a new life in Europe. Discussed below are 10 facts about refugees in Malta.

Top 10 Facts about Refugees in Malta

  1. Malta created its Office of the Refugee Commissioner (ORC) in 2001 and it began functioning in 2002. Since then, the country has received more than 15,000 asylum seekers, primarily from the Middle East and Africa.
  2. Approximately 93% of migrants arriving in Malta by boat are asylum seekers, according to a report by the Human Rights Watch.
  3. Malta often acts as a temporary home for refugees. Less than 30% of the 19,000 Libyan refugees in Malta housed since 2002 remain there, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates. Refugees in Malta have a document that permits them to travel, and many choose to leave the country voluntarily.
  4. In order to keep families together, refugees’ dependent family members receive the same rights and benefits as the refugee.
  5. In 2011, Malta concluded the first European Refugee Fund project, which aimed to improve the information applicants receive about refugee rights and obligations. The project was such a success that the ORC hosted a conference in order to help the Maltese community get to know and connect with local refugees.

  1. Malta operates five mobile offices for refugee services in order to hold information sessions about the asylum procedure for third-country nationals or individuals who belong in neither the country of refuge nor the country they fled.
  2. Due to Malta’s location, many refugees end up in the country unintentionally. Malta is responsible for search and rescue in a large area of the Mediterranean Sea stretching from Tunisia to Crete, Greece and Sicily and Italy to Libya, and is, therefore, a popular transport hub for asylum seekers.
  3. Malta ranked 10th out of the countries with the most refugees per capita, with 14 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, according to a UNHCR report.
  4. Malta’s fertility rate is below the EU average. However, the population has continued to grow in the last few years because of a large number of refugees and other immigrants.
  5. Only 9.2% of asylum seekers in Malta receive refugee status. The majority, 62.1%, receive subsidiary protection status. This allows them some, though not all, of the rights given to refugees.

Despite crowding and tight resources, refugees in Malta are working together to create a sense of community and home despite being so far away from their own.

Alexi Worley

Photo: Flickr

Village in Germany
As hostility and division in Germany have grown over the course of entering the nation, one village has remained untouched by the discourse.

Golzow is a small, yet famous, village on the German-Polish border. Film fans know it by a 42-hour documentary filmed over five decades, The Children of Golzow. In spite of the film’s success, the population of Golzow has decreased by 12% — down to 835 people. By March 2015, the school of Golzow couldn’t reach the number of students needed to hold class and had to be closed.

Nevertheless, mayor Frank Schütz had the solution: invite Syrian refugee families with primary school-age children to join the community of Golzow and donate to them the now-empty apartments. By helping those in need, Golzow’s need would be fulfilled as well.

The first family who accepted the invitation brought six school-age children with them. This allowed the school of Golzow to exceed the number of students necessary to keep it open. The mother recalled her family’s arrival, describing, “Everyone came to welcome us here with flowers. [Golzow] is very open, it’s a very small village and the people are very beautiful.” As the Syrians found a home,  the school and the town found new life.

Other Syrian refugee families have followed in their footsteps. In February 2016, Golzow welcomed its third Syrian refugee family. Halima, her husband, and her children were able to act as Golzow’s very own unofficial translators between Arabic and German.

Since 2015, more than one million refugees have sought asylum in Germany. Unfortunately, after experiencing violence and economic hardship, the climate of the culture towards Syrian refugees has begun to sour. Today, as the once-warmly welcoming Germany is paying asylum seekers to return to their countries, Golzow serves as a reminder that those who stay have a purpose.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

 Syrian RefugeesEarlier this month, the United Nations and other NGO partners called for $4.63 billion in aid for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. This is in addition to the $3.4 billion needed to aid the living conditions of the 13.5 million people still in Syria.

While Aleppo has fallen silent and numbers fleeing en masse to Europe have waned, those who have watched this crisis unfold should not believe its end is anytime soon. Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said on this matter, “I hope that everybody realizes that the Syrian refugee crisis has not gone away and continues [to] be a tragic situation for millions of Syrians.”

Syria will experience the sixth anniversary of its war in March, comparable to the length of World War II. Should peace suddenly come today, the humanitarian need in Syria would “continue for a good time to come,” according to U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien.

The majority of Syrian refugees fall below the poverty line, meaning that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare are a severe struggle to find. Women and children make up 70 percent of this population, and half of all school-age children are unable to attend school.

Part of this aid for Syrian refugees will provide academic opportunities for children. Other aspects of the aid will seek protection of basic human rights, create job opportunities, and pave a smoother path to healthcare for all Syrian refugees.

While the U.N.’s appeal is primarily for refugee aid, a portion of the funds will also go towards the communities and countries hosting these people, specifically those in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. The communities in neighboring countries that the Syrian refugees call home are also usually impoverished and in need of their own assistance.

Grandi also said in regards to the assistance, “The international community must send a clear message that it stands with them and provides the urgently needed support.”

This aid sends it loud and clear.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr

Global Education in 2016
Global education in 2016 has seen many successes and many challenges. Advances in technology have increased many children’s access to education and educational materials, but the ongoing refugee crisis has created an education crisis for children in much of the world. Above all, two landmark pieces of legislation, the Education for All Act and the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act have aimed to expand and protect access to education for those all over the world.

While many parts of the world suffering from poverty have limited access to resources such as textbooks and other school supplies, technology has been making strides to replace these things in countries all around the world. E-readers, smartphones and online libraries have been used in places like Sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti, and these advances aim to make education more accessible to children in impoverished regions.

This year has been notable for the refugee crisis, with 2.1 million Syrian children among the many global refugees. School enrollment rates for Syrian children remain lower than those in Sub-Saharan Africa, and refugee children remain five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children. This has been a serious challenge to global education in 2016, and it will likely continue well into 2017 and beyond.

Male students globally remain more likely to receive an education than their female counterparts, and this problem is what the Education for All Act hopes to solve. This bill is a bipartisan effort to advance and encourage basic education for all while prioritizing groups who have been marginalized or denied an education due to conflict.

Another effort to improve girls’ access to education worldwide is the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act. This legislation hopes to protect girls who are in danger from conflict or who are refugees by improving their access to education. When they are not enrolled in school, refugee girls are especially vulnerable to dangerous situations such as trafficking, child marriage and underage labor.

Global education has seen both improvements and increased challenges in 2016. While the refugee crisis has seen an uptick in children who are not enrolled in school, the Education for All Act and the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act aim to combat this problem and improve access to education for the most vulnerable and stigmatized.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr