Since 2011, the world has watched as Syria descended into violence, and ever-increasing numbers of refugees have sought protection from an outside world that is simultaneously growing more hostile and discriminatory toward refugees. Most recently, we watched in horror as Aleppo fell under siege for five months, one of the longest sieges in modern history, and civilians took to social media to say their final goodbyes to the world in mid-December. Because of the nature of foreign policy and international affairs, it often feels hopeless, and that we, as civilians, are useless to make any change or affect the outcomes. We have put together this resource guide to educate and bring awareness of the Syrian crisis and the groups working to help refugees on the ground, as well as steps people can take to make change in their own communities.
Since the 2016 U.S. election, the influx of blatantly fake news and cleverly disguised propaganda in our news sources has become a hot topic, and people are looking for reliable sources of news. This is an especially difficult problem with news out of Syria, due not only to the danger to journalists in covering a war zone, but also to warring factions that have sought to control the narrative by expelling journalists, kidnapping or killing professional and civilian journalists, and taking to social media themselves. Here are three sources we trust for learning about the situation in Syria as well as government responses to the refugee crisis.
- News Deeply: Begun as Syria Deeply in December 2012, News Deeply was founded to take a deep, fact-based dive into the most complex issues facing our world, and as a Benefit Corporation, remains strongly committed to increasing foreign policy literacy through public service journalism. While Syria Deeply remains the flagship site of the company, they have also expanded into other complex issues, including Refugees Deeply.
- PRI.org: Started in 1983, the non-profit Public Radio International is an excellent source of fact-checked news and sober analysis. PRI works to fill in the gaps of media coverage and partners with media organizations from around the world, such as the BBC. As they say on their website, “We create a more informed, empathetic and connected world by sharing powerful stories, encouraging exploration, connecting people and cultures, and creating opportunities to help people take informed action on stories that inspire them.”
- Countable: Keeping track and staying informed about legislation introduced in Congress can take a lot of time. Countable has launched a mobile app to help you follow bills introduced on topics you care about, with non-partisan summaries of a bill’s components, impact, cost, media coverage, and progress through the legislative branch.
Donate and Volunteer
Since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, several organizations have started to provide services and care to those affected by the violence, both inside and outside the country. As the refugee crisis continues to grow, these organizations need support more than ever before. These six organizations are doing some of the most important work in helping Syrians and refugees around the world:
- Karam Foundation: Based in Chicago and founded by a woman from Aleppo, Lina Sergie, the Karam Foundation is helping Syrian refugees not only along the Turkish border, but also inside Syria itself. Although founded in 2007, Syria has inspired a refocusing of Karam’s efforts, and since 2011, they have focused on providing emergency aid and longterm support to internally displaced populations inside Syria as well as refugee communities in neighboring countries. Karam believes that traditional aid models have failed in Syria, and has worked to build innovative new approaches, including opening The Souk, an online store that sells products made by Syrian women, and pushing the Books Not Bombs campaign to help Syrian youth return to school. In addition, Karam has sponsored over 200 children to go back to school, sponsored 15 schools inside Syria, donated 4 ambulances to the White Helmets, facilitated several food and aid distributions inside Syria, and impacted the lives of more than 8,000 children through its education programs.
- Basmeh & Zeitooneh: Founded in 2012, Basmeh & Zeitooneh serves Syrian refugees located in the countries surrounding Syria, with community centers set up in Beirut, Burj Al Barajneh, Tripoli, and the Bekaa Valley, with another underway in Gaziantep, Turkey. In Beirut alone, Basmeh & Zeitooneh provides over 15,000 Syrians with services to allow them to live a life of dignity. This includes literacy and vocational training, peace education, arts and culture projects, medical services, and women’s workshops that empower women and provide them with a source of income. Because Basmeh & Zeitooneh is incorporated in Lebanon, the Karam Foundation has partnered with them to both collect on behalf of Basmeh & Zeitooneh and handle the transfer of funds raised. This way donations remain tax-deductible and are guaranteed to reach Basmeh & Zeitooneh. A tax receipt will be sent from the Karam Foundation. Donate here.
- INARA: Borne out of Arwa Damon’s, a Syrian-American CNN Senior International Correspondent, direct experience on the ground in conflict zones, INARA provides medical care to Syrian refugees, Palestine refugees from Syria, and other refugee children impacted by conflict, by partnering with the American University of Beirut Medical Centre (AUBMC). INARA provides each child with a dedicated caseworker who follows the case from the start to the end of treatment, and funds funds reconstructive, plastic, and orthopedic surgery for soft tissue wounds and burn scars, which often have a physiological impact.
- White Helmets: The Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, has been on the front lines of the conflict in Syria. An unarmed group of volunteer emergency workers, the White Helmets rush in to rescue people from collapsing buildings after bombs fall, and according to their website, they have saved 78,529 lives so far.They were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
- International Rescue Committee: Founded at the request of a prominent refugee, Albert Einstein, the International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people rebuild their lives by providing vaccines, reproductive health care, clean water, schooling, counseling, and job training. In 2015, they helped 23 million people; among those were in the United States, where they helped resettle 9,961 newly arrived refugees and provided services to over 36,000 refugees, victims of human trafficking, and other immigrants.
- Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders: MSF responds to medical crises caused by conflicts, natural disasters, epidemics, or lack of access to health care in more than 60 countries. In Syria and surrounding countries, MSF has worked to provide hospitals with supplies and to provide emergency care to displaced refugees. In Aleppo, some of the first medical supplies the population received during the five-month siege of the city was provided by MSF.
Organizations in Utah:
- Refugee and Immigrant Center – Asian Association of Utah: Originally established to support Asian immigrants and refugees in their transition to life in the United States, they have expanded to assist refugees and immigrants from around the world.
- Catholic Community Services: Empowering people in need along the Wasatch Front, with a special focus on refugee and immigrant support and services for the homeless.
- Community Action Services and Food Bank: The Circles Initiative connects people across income lines and helps refugees and immigrants build community connections and support networks.
- Shropshire Music Foundation: Based in Layton, Utah, they develop youth leadership and capacity for peacemaking and problem-solving in global conflict zones through locally-based music programs. Programs currently exist in Kosovo, Uganda, and Northern Ireland, and they are fundraising to expand into Syria.
If you are ready to do more, here are four steps to action, listed from the least amount of time involved to the most.
- Light a Candle: Dating back centuries, the candle in the window has signified warmth, freedom, and welcome for oppressed communities. When the Nazi occupation of Denmark ended, Danes put candles in their windows in celebration; many continue this tradition today. Following a candlelight vigil at the Utah State Capitol on December 20th, we invite you to place a candle in your window to welcome refugees.
- Books Not Bombs: Petition your local university or alma mater to provide scholarships to Syrian refugee students. Join the campaign here.
- Call Your Representative: In the United States, Representatives usually have fewer constituents than Sentators, and they hear from those constituents less often. This is especially the case with local offices based in the district they represent, as opposed to the DC offices. Call your Representative — ask them to publicly stand up for refugees and to support expanding the U.S. Refugee Admissions program, which accepted only 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016.Not sure where to start?Visit Call to Action, a tool created after the 2016 election to encourage civic action. Put in your address, and Call to Action will give you a phone number and script to follow.
- #StandUp4HumanRights: On December 10, Human Rights Day, the United Nations launched a campaign calling on people everywhere to pledge to stand up for human rights. “Wherever there is discrimination and exploitation, we can speak up and let it be known that we oppose this, and seek to stop it. We can join others to publicly lobby for better leadership, better laws and greater respect for human dignity,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “In the street. In school. At work. In public transport. In the voting booth. At home. On social media. In sports. Wherever we are, we can make a real difference in someone’s life – perhaps many lives.”You can start by taking the pledge here, then by taking action to #StandUp4HumanRights. This can include grassroots organizing, pressuring businesses to examine how their practices affect human rights, volunteering with local non-profits, or urging community leaders to speak up publicly about human rights.
Photo: IOM | UN Migration Agency (cc).
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