The Syrian Refugee Crisis: What You Need to Know

We cannot afford to be blissfully oblivious about the migrant crisis that has divided European nations and tragically amassed casualties in the past few years. These Syrian casualties are more than just numbers you see flashing by on a news screen or subtitle. They have faces and families – these are real people. As college students, our knowledge of world events cannot falter due to apathy, and the issues Syria and the rest of the global community are facing due to lack of cohesion by political leaders is a matter our opinions and conversation can help move forward. Here are the facts and figures regarding the crisis, along with background information to give context to the issues at stake.

Who: The International Organization for Migration has reported that more than one million migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe this past year, and Syrians account for more than half that number. IOM has also released that there are 3,695 people either dying or missing at sea.

What: Countries across Europe are struggling to handle the overwhelming inflow of migrants, mainly due to the insufficient amount of resources and manpower to handle and meet the needs of refugees as well as blurred conceptions of ethical border control.

  • The European Union has attempted, and arguably failed, to resolve the refugee crisis through a resettlement plan proposed during the September 2015 summit to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece, Hungary and Italy to the majority of the EU under a quota system, according to The Economist.

  • The only result since the summit has been the increase in political tensions between Eastern and Western European nations as the plan crumbled within the six months after the crisis erupted. The European Commission has reduced its stance to a statement of the summit being “a first step forward as a Union on the refugee crisis.”

Timeline and Figures: BBC News outlines Syria’s story of conflict in greater detail that dates back to the early days of Syria’s civil war in May 2011.

  • It began with pro-democracy protests against the President Bashar al-Assad regime in the southern city of Deraa after the arrests and alleged torture of teenagers that painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. Security forces opened fire on demonstrators, which killed three and led to a domino effect of unrest across the country.

  • As tensions rose across the country demanding for President Assad’s resignation, the government’s attempts to use force to demolish insurgency failed, as it only intensified the protesters’ tenacity. Hundreds of thousands were protesting all over the streets of Syria by July 2011. Rebel brigades began battling for control of territories.

  • The United Nations reports that by June 2013, about 90,000 had been killed in the conflict. That number rose to 250,000 in 2015, according to activists and the UN.

  • Religious undertones evolved from tensions, as matters became a battle between the president’s Shia Alawite and the country’s Sunni majority (read more here). Moreover, as other countries fail to make decisive measures in war-torn Syria, the Islamic State and other jihadist groups seek to fill in the cracks.

  • Evidence is brought to light by the UN commission that all parties involved have committed war crimes. In addition, they have also all allegedly contributed to abusive civilian warfare tactics like blocking access to food and health services.

  • In August 2013 hundreds are killed by rockets filled with sarin (a chemical weapon) in several suburbs of Damascus (Syria’s second largest city). No party takes responsibility.

  • Since the start of the conflict, more than 4.5 million people have fled Syria, while 6.5 million are internally displaced (in the process of fleeing).

  • Sunni opposition forces have gained varying degrees of international support, including the UK and US.

  • International airstrikes begin.

Where: Germany, Serbia, Kosovo and Sweden are the countries mainly dealing with the most asylum applications in the European Union, according to The New York Times. Yet, it’s Syria’s neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, that have faced the heaviest refugee burden.

Concerns: “We're just living on the edge of life. We're always nervous, we're always afraid,” said Mariam Akash, widow and mother of nine children.

  • According to the UN, about 90 percent of the Syrian population is in need of humanitarian assistance, such as access to water and basic food necessities. Moreover, about $3.2 billion is needed to help the 13.5 million Syrians, including 6 million children, with resources and shelters.

  • The so-called Islamic State has capitalized on the chaos and taken control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq, where it proclaimed the creation of a "caliphate" in June 2014, according to BBC. Its foreign fighters are waging their own wars against rebels and other jihadist groups, competing for their reign across different areas of the country.

  • Xenophobia (prejudice against people of other countries) has been a topic of discussion during European talks regarding Syrian migrants. The Atlantic examines the hostility toward migrants portrayed by Eastern Europeans, including the viral video of the Hungarian camerawoman tripping a refugee parent and child.

  • Approximately 58 percent of the one million migrants and refugees that have crossed Europe have been adult males, while 25 percent were children and the remainders were women. The gender imbalance has sparked concern over the serious risks communities face when males greatly outnumber women. Professor Valerie Hudson, a Texas A&M University professor, said that this sort of gender imbalance makes societies more susceptible to violence, insurgency and mistreatment of women.

  • Fears of human trafficking and other abuses have arisen as it is reported that more than 10,000 children have gone missing amidst the migration. Additionally, headlines during the past few months have covered the various stories and graphic images of migrant children drowning during their passage to Europe, including the discovery of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach a few months ago.  

Being informed and getting the conversation rolling about the migrant crisis sends a message to our politicians and international leaders that not only is the issue being taken seriously but also that regardless of our opinions, we can all agree that global cohesion needs to be reached to take action. If you would like to further your support by helping migrant children and other refugees, you can do so by supporting any of the following non-profit organizations directly aiding those in need here.

If you’re looking for a simple explainer, John Green’s video on understanding the refugee crisis is also a great well-rounded catch up. Stay informed, millennials.

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