4,180,631 and counting. Now, say it slowly: four million, one-hundred and eighty thousand, six-hundred and thirty-one. One more time: four million. One-hundred and eighty thousand. Six-hundred and thirty-one. And counting.
Currently, that is the total number of registered Syrian refugees. This number is based solely on refugees that have been registered with Turkish, Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese and Jordanian governments—but “an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011,” according to this study. So, where are all of these people coming from? Why are they running?
The Arab Spring was the inspiration for the Syrian people to begin peaceful protests against the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in 2011. The Assad regime responded to these protests horrifically: killing, torturing, and raping activists and people associated with them. As you would expect, civilians soon began to fight back. From there, a civil war arose, and has been happening ever since. Right now, there are rebel groups, as well as Islamic State fighters all clashing with civilians and the militant government to gain control of Syria.
And, as much as I hate to say this, there doesn’t really seem to be an end in sight. Why? Well, it’s not that the U.S. hasn’t been trying to come up with viable solutions; it’s that there really aren’t any. I know, I know, this is starting to sound like the most depressing article you’ve ever read, but let’s talk about it. Why is this such a complex crisis?
Let’s look at who Syria has as an ally—the ever-democratic, always lovable Russia! Putin has backed the Assad regime, standing in the way of any UN intervention that might hurt the government, and, beginning in September of 2015, has been sending airstrikes to Syrian rebel groups, furthering the destruction of the country as well as heightening the tensions.
Another important aspect of the conflict is that of the Assad regime in general and it’s rough history. Bashar al-Assad was preceded as President by his father, Hafez al-Assad who died in 2000. And let’s just say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Hafez set an example for his son when he stopped an uprising in 1982 by killing thousands of civilians, including those who had nothing to do with the uprising.
Lastly, the two main forces in Syria are the Assad regime and ISIS. Both have been accused of human rights violations by the UN, and unfortunately, both show little signs of letting up.
So, all in all, it’s basically a really sucky situation. And there are millions of innocent people who are being seriously hurt by it. Families are being ripped apart, children are being forced to become adults in more ways than one, and lives are being destroyed. With no end in sight, it’s easy to get depressed about this conflict. To feel hopeless and powerless to stop it. But that simply isn’t true.
All you have to do is pack up your bags, book a ticket and go hand out food, supplies and support on the ground!
OK, so obviously that isn’t exactly a feasible option for most of us, and I totally get that—I can’t do that either. Not everyone is meant to go volunteer abroad, and that’s OK, because there are plenty of other things you and I can do to help out.
There are quite a few large charity organizations to give to, such as UNICEF and Save the Children, which both focus their aid on assisting kids, as well as The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the International Rescue Committee and UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency). Any of these organizations accept donations online that make it easy to give any amount you’re capable of giving.
Understandably, it can be difficult to decide which larger charity to donate to. You never know if they’re doing what they say they’re doing. Charity Navigator has made this easier for you (or you can do your own research). They look closely at each charity and develop scores of reliability and financial accountability for 22 charities involved in Syria.
But there are other organizations, smaller and not as well known, that are doing important, on the ground work as well.
In order to escape Syria, many refugees pay smugglers enormous amounts of money to take a cramped boat across the Mediterranean to get to the shores of European countries where more aid is promised. But far too often, the boat doesn’t make it. In August of 2015, a boat carrying refugees capsized, killing more than 200 refugees. You may remember that picture of the little boy who washed up on the shore of Turkey? That haunting image is a result of a boat that went down while trying to reach Greece. Fortunately, there is now an organization whose sole purpose is to help prevent further catastrophes at sea. Their staff are “passionate about the plight of those seeking a better life, free of violence, despite the dangers they face.” They are MOAS: Migrant Offshore Aid Station workers.
Another great organization is Refugees Welcome, whose mission involves providing housing to refugees in several countries. The idea behind the organization is this: “Why shouldn’t refugees in your country be able to live in shared flats (or other normal housing situations) instead of mass accommodation? We thought the same & found a way to make it possible.” Basically they match refugees up with locals who are willing to allow them to stay in their homes with them. Pretty awesome, huh? You can donate to them, or, if you live in Germany, Spain, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands or Poland, you can actually sign up to host a refugee.
And, although I’m biased having studied abroad in Istanbul last semester, my personal favorite is Small Projects Istanbul. Turkey is the country who has taken in the greatest amount of Syrian refugees. However, Turkey’s asylum policies have made it to where only Europeans can apply for asylum in Turkey. Small Projects Istanbul, though, works closely with kids, offering them Turkish classes and even the possibility of scholarships to continue their education.
As you can see, there are a lot of different avenues you can take to play a small role in helping with the Syrian refugee crisis. If we all donated just $5 to an organization of our own choice we could literally save lives. We can step out of the millennial stereotype of being self-involved. We can do something. Please, let’s do something.
4,180,631. That number rises every day. Every day more Syrians struggle, fight for their lives, try to find a place to just be. To breathe, to sit, to do the things we take for granted a thousand times a day. So go to Syria, get on the ground, help. Or don’t. Donate, spread awareness, pray, send good thoughts. Do something. Stop that number from growing. Let’s not let it get any bigger. Those four million, one hundred and eighty thousand, six hundred and thirty-one people need us. They need you.