When we talk about Syrian refugees today, it is easy to refer to them as products of the past few years: namely the product of what many refer to as the “conflict in Syria”. These conflicts refer particularly to the year 2011, when a stinted revolution resulted in a surge of military-led sieges across Syria, inspiring many to flee to neighboring countries across the border.
In reality, refugees from Syria have been involved in a mass exodus since the 1980s, when a Baathist coup established their newest successor in the region. In fact, if you were to introduce yourself to refugees and the family of refugees in the Niagara region today, it is quite possible you would meet the children of Syrian refugees from a few decades prior. Were we to shift focus to the current refugee crisis, the one that has dominated the region since 2011, we can see that even a snapshot of the situation would seem unbelievably dire.
Named the most extreme circumstances involving refugees since WWII, an estimated 10 million Syrians have been displaced by the war in Syria since its outset in March, 2011. Approximately 6.5 million of these displaced people are scattered within Syria itself, and over 3 million people have traveled to bordering countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to seek refuge.
107,500 refugees seeking asylum have traveled to the European Union (EU) in July of 2015, with the majority being Syrians. Nations belonging to the EU have agreed to take on another 33,000 Syrian refugees, of which 85 per cent will be accepted by Germany alone.
Unable to seek safe, reliable methods of transportation to the EU, many Syrian refugees have resorted to dangerous methods of crossing the Mediterranean Sea, often at the mercy of smugglers. The sudden rise in the illegal trade has resulted in numerous deaths over the course of a few years. In August 2015, 71 refugees, including children, were found dead in an abandoned freezer truck in Austria. It is thought that the smugglers abandoned the truck while the people inside suffocated. In the same month, 52 refugees drowned on a smuggler’s boat in Italy. Similarly, 180 refugees attempting to flee the country drowned near the Libyan coast. In the combined years of 2014 and 2015, 6000 refugees have died in smuggling attempts according to the UNHCR.
Military attacks, the dangers of fleeing, and smugglers are not the only threats to the Syrian refugee population. The worsening conditions of refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, have given rise to infectious diseases such as multiple drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB), cutaneous leishmaniasis, and possibly the most shocking resurgence of a once-eradicated pandemic, polio.
Furthermore, Syrian refugees who are able to successfully cross into the EU are faced with camp closures, police brutality, racism and forced expulsion. Most notably in recent news, a series of makeshift refugee camps in Calais, France were demolished by government forces as tents, temporary homes, and makeshift shelters were razed to the ground. Though the French government promised clearance of the camp and its inhabitants without force, videos of police assaults on asylum seekers were published on CNN during and after the demolition. Refugees could be seen standing on top of their makeshift shelters in protest as police forcibly removed residents from the camp sites. Similar refugee expulsion was witnessed in the summer of 2015 as Macedonian police confined refugees attempting to cross the border into northern European countries.
As the imminent threats to refugees become more and more prominent in their severity—from lack of resources in various refugee camps, to dangerous methods of transportation, to police brutality and forced expulsion—it is clear the Syrian refugee crisis will persist in its complexity in the years to come. As Canada accepts its 25 000th Syrian refugee, the question of future efforts to resettle the remaining 98.4 per cent of refugees still remains.
WAYS TO HELP
Several humanitarian organizations have established connections with refugees in Europe and various refugee camps in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to distribute medicine, health and sanitary items, prenatal care, child care items, and counseling.
UNICEF: A global children’s emergency fund contributing to vaccination efforts, education enrollment, medical care and mental health.
Migrant Offshore Aid Station: an organization attempting to prevent deaths of refugees traveling by sea.
Save the Children: providing items such as diapers, clothing, baby food, prenatal care and medicine to refugee camps.
Worldvision: providing food, water, shelter, education and psychosocial care to refugees and children traveling without guardians.
Red Cross Europe: Helping to provide medical relief at train stations across Europe where refugees may be traveling via rail.