By Lara Kajs
As the Syrian Civil War enters the fifth year, there is little evidence that the conflict or the mass influx of refugees that the violence has produced, will end anytime soon.
More than 13.5 million people have fled their homes and are internally displaced within the country. While they have not left Syria’s borders, most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are not settled, but constantly move about within the borders trying to avoid the conflict and violence.
On the outside, nearly 5 million (4.8) have escaped the war by crossing the border in search of refuge and safety. 4.8 million is the size of the population in the State of Alabama. Imagine if the entire population of Alabama were to leave the state and cross into other neighboring states. This is what has happened in Syria.
Contrary to what some leaders (politicians) would have people believe; nearly 80 percent of the refugees from Syria are women and children and almost half are children under the age of 14. What’s more, millions of children have not had access to education for nearly five years.
Although 4.8 million have fled Syria, not all of them have made journeying to Europe the goal. In fact, many are still hoping that the situation in Syria will be resolved and they can return home. The vast majority of the refugees are in Lebanon (over 1 million), Jordan (650,000) and Turkey (2.6 million). These countries bear the brunt of supporting the increase to their own populations and many are struggling, as they grow nearer to the breaking point.
Asylum and Resettlement
Many refugees seek asylum or reresettlement to other European countries, something that has become increasingly difficult since the EU – Turkey deal went into effect. Under the agreement, any refugees or migrants entering Greece or other countries without permission will be forcibly deported to Turkey. The deal has not been received well within humanitarian or rights organizations. Reports indicate that refugees are being turned away without being allowed to apply for asylum. The agreement between Turkey and the European Union has come under significant scrutiny and its lawfullness debated.
Although Canada and Germany, as well as a handful of other countries have taken in approximately 300,000 refugees, resettlement to some of the world’s wealthiest nations is nearly nonexistent. The United States has taken in less than a fifth (1,736) of the promised number (10,000) of refugees President Obama said it would resettle in 2016.
Since World War II, humanity has not witnessed a crisis like what is unfolding before our eyes. As voices call out for opening borders and welcoming refugees, many countries are simply not willing.
Pope Francis visited the Greek Island of Lesbos where hundreds of thousands have arrived on the shores, at times as many as 1,000 each day. During his visit he said that society should look past its differences and consider solutions based on compassion and dignity. To set the example he resettled 12 refugees to the Vatican.
There are many reasons why opening borders and welcoming refugees for resettlement is a human thing to do. Open borders and resettlement means that refugees and migrants will not need to resort to risky travel or fall victim to human traffickers to have a chance of getting to safety and rebuilding their lives.
Refugees and migrants need to be able to get on with their lives and it should not come at the cost of being subjected to spending years, even decades in camps or rejected because of their home country. Children need the opportunity to return to school and parents need the opportunity to earn a living so that they can provide safe and secure housing for their families. For the overwhelming majority of 4.8 million, any hope for a future depends on the humanity of the rest of the world.
Featured Image: Internally displaced Syrians carry their belongings as they arrive at a refugee camp near the Bab al-Salam crossing, across from Turkey’s Kilis province, on the outskirts of the northern border town of Azaz, Syria, Feb 6, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Osman Orsal