Background Information – The Civil War in Syria
Did you know that millions of people have fled Syria since 2011 because of a civil war? A civil war is a war between different groups of people from the same country. For example, the US had a Civil War in 1861-1865. This war was fought between the North and the South over slavery.
Before Syria’s Civil War, Syrians were very much like you. They lived in houses with yards and gardens. Parents worked and took care of their homes and children. The children went to school and played with their friends. People enjoyed sports, music, their pets and vacations. But then the war broke out throughout Syria. At first people peacefully protested against some of the things the government was doing. They wanted better jobs and needed more money. They wanted the government to give more help to the people in Syria. Then the protests became more serious and involved fighting with weapons. Different ethnic groups had their own opinions on who should rule the country. There were lots of disagreements.
Where is Syria?
Syria is a country in the Middle East. It has a small strip of Mediterranean coastline. Can you find Syria on the map?
Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000. Many people consider him a dictator who has total power over Syria. He appears to make all decisions no matter what the people say or want. Do you think the people of Syria like dictators? Would you?
People leaving a country or region where they live to escape war, power or danger are called refugees. The Syrian refugees chose to leave because it was unsafe to live in their homes. As of fall 2015, approximately 150,000-300,000 Syrian men, women and children have been killed as a result of the war (Wikipedia). The cities and countryside are in ruins. Stores, hospitals, schools, and homes have been damaged and bombed.
The Refugee Crisis
You might have heard about the refugee crisis on the news. There are about 11 million Syrians displaced. Half of these are children. The word “displaced” means they left their homes to go elsewhere.
Some refugees stay in Syria. They go to camps, places setup to handle large numbers of people. There, they are given a few basic necessities, food and medicine. There is not enough to go around. There is no heat and limited water. Many live in tents or small metal buildings that have been built by the International Rescue Committee or another agency that helps people in time of need.
Some of the camps have schools. They usually are crowded and don’t look like your schools. Instead, school might be held under a large tarp that is strung between trees. The children sit on the ground and study in the shade.
Other Syrians cross over into neighboring countries. Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, has taken in about 2 million refugees, the most refugees of any country (MercyCorps). The neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq have also taken in many refugees. Watch what is happening now.
Many of the Syrian refugees who have escaped into these neighboring countries want to continue traveling to Europe because European countries are democratic and offer freedom. The refugees often travel through Turkey and then onto Europe. The video shows the refugees boarding boats to escape. It costs about $1300 per person to take the boat trip across the Mediterranean Sea to start a new life (CNN).
Can you think of what it would feel like to leave someone in your family behind?
The boats are unsafe. There are too many people. There isn’t a trained captain to guide the boat to safety. There are not enough life preservers and many people can not swim. Several boats capsize on the journey. Some people are lucky to get rescued by fishing boats or the Coast Guard.
Then when you get to a new land, you are tired and scared. You may not be accepted by the people who live there. You need to communicate with a new language and learn new customs. It is difficult to find a job and a safe, clean place to live. If a job is found, it pays very little. There is not enough to eat.
Many people in the world are calling this one of the “worst humanitarian crisis of all time.” It is predicted that the Syrian refugee population will grow even more without international help.
Now that you understand the Syrian situation better, we can talk about this important question: Is there a cost to help refugees? This video shows how some people in Germany are not accepting of refugees and also how others in Germany are helping the refugees.
You can see from the video that everyone in the world is not happy to help the Syrian refugees. Why not?
Because of these and other reasons, they feel the refugees should be turned away and not be helped. So you see, many people think there is a cost to help the refugees. That’s why grown ups are having lots of debate over the Syria refugee situation. But other people as shown in the video believe it is their responsibility to help. Why?
Some countries, leaders, organizations, and people like you and your family are helping the refugees. You could see this in the videos. Others may want to help, but just don’t know how. And some people seem to refuse to help and are even angry about it. You could see this in the videos, too. What do you think? Is there a cost to helping refugees? Is it worth it?
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