The Syrian Refugee Crisis is arguably the worst humanitarian issue of modern times. Behind the influx of refugees into Europe and Middle Eastern countries is a complex and brutal civil war that has radically altered the lives of millions of people.
In the highly politicized environment that we now live in, the facts and the people are often lost in policy and personal opinion. Here’s what you should know about what is actually happening in Syria, and how it has impacted the people of that nation.
The Syrian Civil War began during the Arab Spring of March 2011 with anti-government protests. These protests began in response to the arrest and torture of several teens who painted revolutionary slogans on school walls.
When the government cracked down violently on protesters calling for the president’s resignation, more and more civilians joined the rallies. Eventually, a rebel coalition formed and a civil war broke out between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his regime.
Currently, different areas of the country are under the control of different fighting forces, leading to constant fighting between groups trying to reclaim territory. And it’s not simply the rebels versus the government. Major parts of northern Syria are under control of the Kurdish. The Hezbollah–an Islamic Shia extremist group from Lebanon–have also become involved, supporting the forces of President Assad.
Terrorist groups are also involved, making the war even more complex. The Islamic State of Iraq took advantage of the chaos to invade and take control of several regions of Syria, and it was in the midst of the civil war that the group separated completely from Al-Qaeda to become ISIS.
ISIS’s presence has led to increased atrocities against civilians and armed forces. They have executed, amputated, and terrorized all those who do not fall in line with their mindset. ISIS is fighting against both the Assad regime and rebel fighters (separately) as well as Kurdish forces and other jihadist groups.
The U.K., France, U.S., Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are backing the rebels while Russia and Iran are currently backing the Assad regime. The sheer amount of different factions fighting each other has led to difficulty in truly making progress in the war. For example, in 2014 a U.S.-led coalition began bombing in Syria to combat ISIS, however they worked to avoid any attacks that might benefit President Assad.
And that brings us to the real casualty of this war. The civilians. Caught between the warring factions, most of the population of Syria lives in constant fear for their lives. More than 250,000 people have died as a result of this war–around half of which are estimated to be civilians.
Life in Syria is becoming unsustainable as a result of all of this fighting. Over half of the 22 million people who lived in Syria before the war are in need of humanitarian assistance. For those who have remained in the country, getting access to this assistance is becoming increasingly difficult.
Both the rebels and forces loyal to Assad have been accused of blocking civilian access to food, water, and health services as a tactic of war. 70% of the population in Syria does not have access to adequate drinking water and ⅘ people live in poverty.
The violence has especially had a significant impact on the children of the country, forcing them to deal with trauma that no person should have to endure. Some have lost their entire families–or their entire limbs.
On top of this, the perilous situation for both refugees and those remaining in Syria makes all of these children more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, child labor, and child marriage.
These unsustainable living conditions are what have forced many Syrians to leave, crossing hundreds of miles of land or making dangerous journeys in rickety boats–trips that have often ended in tragedy. Syrians now make up about 4.8 million of the 65.3 million refugees on earth and about 10% of all Syrian refugees are seeking asylum in Europe.
The world is currently struggling to come up with a response to this brutal civil war that has displaced millions of people. It is important for us as citizens to know the facts about what is going on so that the needs of the individuals are not lost on us in the mess of politics and fear. By educating ourselves about the Syrian war and the resulting refugee crisis we will be better able to respond to victims of this war with compassion rather than hostility.