Let’s Care About Syrian Refugees

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From The Baltimore Sun.

“There’s no hope left,” says a woman living in a Syrian refugee camp called Atmeh that hugs the Turkish border.

The civil war in Syria has displaced six million people inside the country, and at least two million more have fled into neighboring states. This makes it the worst evacuation since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago, except more than half of the two million refugees are children.

With no end in sight, many Syrians have been forced to find refuge in camps within neighboring countries or in areas of Syria where there is no fighting. Although some Syrians have found shelter, the conditions of the camps are abysmal. “Mice walk around on our face while we are sleeping at night. I would rather live under bombshells…” said a refugee living in Zaatari, the second largest camp in the world.

Many of these “camps” have become nothing more than slums.

There have been reports of refugees piling up extra layers of plastic bags and tarps to try to reinforce their camps, since only thin pieces of metal hold them together. These tents are so bad that The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has teamed up with the charitable wing of IKEA to build more housing.

Winters are harsh and many have to endure sub-zero temperatures in the unhygienic camps. This puts infants at high risk for diseases such as pneumonia, as they spend their first crucial months living in these deadly conditions. The 200,000+ pregnant mothers are just as vulnerable to disease and the nearly unbearable weather.

Summers are just as bad – many people in the camps become dehydrated and are at constant risk of heat strokes.

Because of the harsh climate, unhygienic conditions, and scarcity of essential goods, many children are dying from conditions that are easily preventable. Cholera and polio spread throughout many camps’ water systems, making clean running water a luxury; a lack of access to medicine has only made things worse for new and existing refugees.

Malnourishment has been one of the biggest problems facing refugee camps. With tens of thousands of people displaced within a single camp, aid delivered by the United Nations and other organizations has been inadequate and inefficiently distributed. There have even been reports of families surviving on animal feed, weeds, and spices just to stay nourished, since finding any food is difficult.

By far, the worst site in terms of food availability is the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, the capital of Syria. A now famous picture, taken by the Associated Press, shows how apocalyptic the line for food and aid is at UN distribution points. The Guardian has reported that since the photograph was taken, aid has ceased to be delivered due to security concerns.

I should emphasize this – the worst camp in Syria is actually in the Syrian capital, where one would assume there would be more assistance, not less.

The UN openly acknowledges that there is a serious lack of aid within refugee camps. That is a major problem, but it gets worse – radical Islamists and local criminals have been terrorizing NGOs, UN workers, and residents.

Supplies, supposedly under the protection of local security forces, are routinely stolen and even the aid workers themselves are being robbed. Sunni Islamic radicals make things worse as they are quick to chase out all non-Muslims who work in the area. In some cases, aid workers have been assaulted or even killed.

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, but as long as the Syrian war rages on, conditions will not improve in these camps. Too many people are being displaced from their homes, and as fighting between rebels and government forces intensifies throughout Syria, the relocation of normal citizens will continue to overwhelm refugee camps.

The awkward elephant in the room is: Are we going to do anything about it?

About Eric Bates

Eric received his B.S. in political science with an emphasis in international relations from Santa Clara University in 2012. Upon graduating, he traveled and worked for a non-profit in Central America. He is a religious viewer of Conan O’Brien and also loves traveling. Eric is attending San Jose State University's graduate school program to receive a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at ebates0@gmail.com.
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