The Crisis of Our Generation

The Crisis of Our Generation

Dave Carroll, December 2016

We are living in one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. In 2016, there are over 65 million refugees worldwide. What defines a refugee? A refugee is any person who has been forced to leave their home country in order to escape war, persecution or a natural disaster. Currently, there are over 15 million more refugees throughout the world than during the years following the end of World War II in 1945.[1] Many may not be aware, but we are living in arguable one of the worst humanitarian crises of all time.

Living in such a tumultuous time sparked my interest to know more about what is actually happening. Most importantly what is happening to the over 65 million people seeking safety and refuge.[2] I want to look specifically at the rights and treatment of the refugees that make it to foreign countries soil by observing what it is like being in a refugee camp, the way some countries view refugees, and the rights they have under law. There are countries that have played major roles in the aid of refugees such as Greece, Jordan and many others. I have had the opportunity to live in Greece and travel to Jordan and where I saw firsthand many of the refugees from Syria and other parts of the world. Jordan has taken over 600,000 refugees and has been a strong supporter of the lives of Syrians, while Greece has acted as an entry point for refugees attempting to enter the EU.[2] Having had the chance to see some of the conditions firsthand, supplemented with my own research, I hope to offer a unique perspective to the refugee crisis.

To start off, it is important to know what caused the massive displacement of people. The crisis, which is responsible for stranding so many people today, is the war and devastation occurring today in Syria. Syria, if you don’t already know, is a country wedged between Turkey and Iraq in the Middle East. Today, the country is in complete disarray. In the early in the 2010’s, during the Arab spring, the country, along with many other Middle Eastern countries began to unravel. The Arab Spring was a revolutionary wave that affected many countries in the Arab world, starting with Tunisia, followed by countries such as Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and others.[3] The Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, protests began against the government because of the oppression people were facing from the government in the city of Deraa. The president of the country Bashar al-Assad, dug his heels against the protest. Later in that year the army fired on protesters, killing four of them, then the next day shot upon mourners at the victim’s’ funeral killing another person.[4] After this, news spread throughout the country and civil war erupted. There were two main sides of the war, one side consisted of multiple rebel groups fighting to remove al-Assad from office, the other al-Assad’s Syrian forces. As the war continued to unfold, the country was being destroyed from the inside out.

The chaos and unrest in Syria paved the way for a prime opportunity for the Islamic State to act and claim territory for itself within Syria. The Islamic State is a radical Islamic militant group, originating from the neighboring country Iraq, that is known to use extreme violence and inhumane tactics. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has been trying their best to take over the region. They believe that anyone who does not believe in their extreme views should be killed, and have been using extreme acts of violence and utter violations of humanity in the region to instill fear and gain traction.[4] This created an extremely complicated issue in the region. The forces of the civil war fighting against the government, while both simultaneously evading and fighting the Islamic State. This complication in the country has caused complete chaos. Thousands of people have died and the entire country is in complete ruin.

Every single person in Syria has been effected, and most people in Syria have no way out. There has been fighting going on in all directions from the rebel groups, the government and the Islamic State. As many as 450,000 people in Syria have already been killed during the violence. [2] Millions of others are stranded in their homes, and in cities that are under attack or under siege by one of the militant groups in the conflict. Many have been able to escape and are included in the 65 million refugees in the world. Sadly, over half the population has either been killed or fled the country in search of a safe haven for their children and family.

Many people in Syria wants to leave and is seeking a safe way out. The unfortunate fact is that most of the population cannot afford to make it to a safe place such as Europe or bordering countries. Syria has never been considered to be a country of wealth. When the civil war stuck people did not have the chance to save up the money for an impending disaster, they just had what they had. To put a number to it, in 2013 the average household salary in Syria was just 300 USD per month.[5] This is close to a non-livable wage, especially if you are trying to support a family. While at a minimum it costs an average of 3,000 USD to get one person to Europe from Syria, a price tag by no means guaranteeing safe arrival.[6] For a family of 4 that is 12,00 USD, which amounts 3 years of work for the average person in Syria. The cost of making it to Europe leaves many hopeless. So, they have been forced to flee to other neighboring countries like Iraq, Turkey & Jordan. These countries are becoming vastly over crowded. This is causing many refugees to attempt to make it to Europe through much more dangerous methods. Just this year alone almost 20,000 refugees have died trying to make it to safety.[2] As it stands it is excruciatingly hard for Syrian refugees to make it out, but millions have made it, most unfortunately, still suffering.

The countries neighboring Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have taken the majority of refugees. When the refugees enter these countries they are forced to live in camps. They are designated area that countries set aside for asylum seeking refugees, although the conditions vary, sometimes drastically. In many camps, governments, and organizations like the United Nations High Commission for Refugee, the UNHCR, have setup tents and facilities that now serve as the homes and communities for these refugees. In the world’s largest refugee camp in Jordan, Zataari conditions seem to be better than most refugee camps. [7] Although, even in Jordan where conditions are at their best, children have no means any form of education. The children have little to do on a daily basis and have very limited resources. As for the adults, they do not have many options either, especially for work. Many countries fear their citizen’s jobs will be taken by refugee and make it hard or illegal for them to work. In Jordan, the economy, already weak, is hesitant to allow Syrians to work in fear they may be taking away from the jobs of native Jordanian workers. People in the Zataari camp according to the documentary, After Spring, are horribly afraid for their future.[7] They see their current conditions in tents in these camps as possibly being permanent; with no resolution in sight and their country still in complete devastation. All they really care about is their children’s future, considering that over 50% of all Syrian refugees are children.[2] This is a concern held by many.

The conditions in other camps are not all as adequate as Zataari. The conditions in the Greek refugee camp, Idomeni, have been compared to that of a Nazi concentration camp.[8] It is very scary that this is where some may end up. These refugees don’t necessarily have a choice of where they can stay, it is just wherever they end up. I have had the opportunity myself, to travel to a refugee camp in Greece, where the Greek government has allowed the refugees to completely take over the old Athens airport and the surrounding fields. Here they live in camping tents and makeshift shelters could put together. When I traveled to Jordan, I had the opportunity to speak to a local man about the conditions inside of some of the Syrian refugee camps. To my dismay, he told me of the horrors which take place inside. Inside, the massive camps conditions have become lawless and many people are being murdered in harsh ways, he told me. He told me there have been stories of child prostitution rampant and many other audacities within. While I could not find specific articles online that spoke directly to his stories, I was able to find information about the security of some of these camps in Jordan. The Jordanian government, due to its proximity to Syria, has taken on refugees to their limits. “They do not have the troops and they do not have the troops” to provide law & order to these camps.[9] With the lack of security and policing needed to police over 600,000, which is a high portion of their own population, it leads me to believe that some of these horrible things do happen to refugees at camps.

Many countries view Syrian refugees as a burden, as criminals or as a problem that they don’t need to worry about. Many governments have taken isolationist policies, while some have refused to take on any refugees at all. Even in the US we have President-Elect Donald Trump talking about not allowing Muslims into the country at all. His opinion on protecting and helping refugees can be defined by a tweet that his son Donald Trump Jr posted to twitter recently comparing the crisis to skittles, “If I had a bowl of skittles, and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful?”.[10] Many countries, the US included, fail to see the humanity in the crisis. Queen Rania of Jordan, in an interview with CNN, said it very accurately “Nobody chooses to be a refugee, you become a refugee when you run out of choices” and they are people just like you and me. She goes on to say that “It is a global responsibility” for all nations to step up and help out.[11] The issue unfortunately has shifted from something fundamentally humanitarian, to something political. You see in some countries, like Slovakia, where parties are forming around the anti-immigration of refugees, instead of banding together to help out the crisis.[12] This is not the way countries should be reacting to such a massive worldwide crisis.

During the 1967 Geneva convention, the rights of refugees under International Law were declared and more clearly defined. These rights include the right to seek asylum, rights of religion, rights to work, rights of education, rights of self-employment, right of life, and the right of freedom of opinion.[13] Unfortunately, in most cases some of these International Laws are ignored. According to the convention, while refugees have the rights to seek asylum, they do not have the right to be granted asylum.[13] This means that even when they escape Syria, risking everything, they are still at risk to be deported back to their war-torn home. In some cases, such as in Turkey, earlier this year, there have been reports of people being deported back to Syria in an illegal way, which outraged the global community. [6]

Countries like Lebanon have taken on so many Syrian refugees, to the point now where 1 out of every 4 people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. We have major world powers like the US, who have let in only 40,000 refugees, which is far less than some drastically smaller countries have taken on to help out the crisis.[2] It is unsure when the fighting will come to an end and what it will take for Syria to eventually rebuild. Some countries have united to put an end to the fighting in Syria but for now the fighting continues. Caught in the middle of this resolution will be the Syrian people, the saddest and scariest part is that these are people caught in the middle of this crisis. They are just like you and me, but they have lost everything, and are just looking for a place to start a new life or salvage the lives they have. The world powers need to step up to focus on helping the innocent civilians of this crisis, because some are failing to realize the scale of the issue at hand and the number of lives that are in dire need of help. It is a world responsibility and it is time that more major powers of the world step up to help put an end to the suffering of so many millions of people.

Notes
[1] Ronk, Liz. “This Is What Europe’s Last Major Refugee Crisis Looked Like.” Time. Time, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[2] “Quick Facts: What You Need to Know about the Syria Crisis.” Mercy Corps. N.p., 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[3] By Themselves, SM Do Not Cause Popular Uprisings, Demonstrations and Revolutions. After All, This Technology Is to Be Found Everywhere (though Certainly with Restrictions in Some Places), but We Do Not Live in a World of Constant Global Revolt. “Arab Spring.” – SourceWatch. N.p., 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[4] BBC. “What’s Happening in Syria? – CBBC Newsround.” BBC News. BBC, 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[5] Williams, Lauren. “‘Things Are Getting Harder in Syria. But This Is Not Egypt'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[6] Mortimer, Caroline. “Refugee Crisis: Hundreds of Syrian Refugees ‘threatened with Deportation Back to Syria'” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[7] After Spring. Dir. Ellen Martinez and Steph Ching. After Spring. Tribeca Film Festival, 14 Apr. 2016. Web.
[8] Worley, Will. “Greek Refugee Camp Is ‘as Bad as a Nazi Concentration Camp’, Says Minister.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 18 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[9] Abuqudarair, Areej. “Despite New Police Presence, Security Concerns Persist at Syrian Refugee Camp.” IRIN. N.p., 06 June 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[10] Trump Jr., Donald(DonaldJTrumpJr). ”This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first. #trump2016” 19 Sep 2016, 7:41PM. Tweet
[11] Amanpour, Christiane. “Queen Rania of Jordan: We Must Recast Refugee Debate – CNN Video.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[12] Mudde, Cas. “A Slovak Shocker! How Syrian Refugees Kidnapped the Slovak Elections.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
[13] UNHCR. “The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Its 1967 Protocol.” UNHCR News. UNHCR, 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Further Reading

CINDY OTT, RNSpecial to The T&D. “Syrian Refugees in Jordan Share Stories of Horror, Grief, Despair.” The Times and Democrat. N.p., 27 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Williams, Alison. “Refugee Crisis Creating ‘significant Problems’ for Greek Economy: OECD.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Amnesty. “Turkey: Illegal Mass Returns of Syrian Refugees.” Amnesty International, 1 Apr. 2016. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.

Worcester State University Fall 2020