BY TANYA SOMANADER
Summary: A deeper look into what the U.S. and the world are doing to address the suffering of millions of innocent people who have been displaced by the violence in Syria.
Your home country is all that you know — it’s where you were raised, where you’ve loved, and where you’ve lived all your years. So what happens when one day, without warning, or without cause, that sense of security is ripped from you? War, violence, persecution for who you are or what you believe; your home has become the crucible for your greatest fears, a place you no longer recognize. You’re afraid for your life, for your family — you don’t know where to go but you know you can’t stay. You and your family are forced to flee into an unknown future and the unknown peril it may hold.
You are a refugee.
This is the all-too-common experience of millions of innocent men, women, and children across the globe who have been driven from the place they once called home. And right now, the world is witnessing the human suffering of the thousands of families fleeing the conflict in Syria — their personal tragedies spotlighted on the front pages of newspapers around the world as they risk their lives to find safe haven.
While the world turns its attention towards these refugees — and rightly so — we must not lose sight of why they fled for their lives, and the gravely urgent task of responding to the overwhelming needs of those who remain behind.
Since 2011, almost 12 million people, equivalent to half of the Syrian population, have been displaced by the conflict, including 7.6 million displaced inside Syria. Their homes and schools have been bombed out of existence by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s merciless regime. Their lives have been imperiled by ISIL and terrorism. Many have been forced to flee to other parts of Syria or seek refuge in neighboring countries.
It is as if every student in the 45 largest U.S. school districts — including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — had been uprooted by violence, hunger, or disease all at once.
They are in desperate need of aid.
The importance of this aid cannot be underestimated. It is critical to helping people where they are, so they are not forced to take perilous journeys on fierce seas or entrust their welfare to human smugglers. The relief agencies and organizations that bring this assistance directly to those in need require financial support, and that is why the U.S. has provided $4 billion in financial assistance to help meet those urgent needs in the most effective way. Under President Obama, the U.S. is currently the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance in the world.
The U.S. can also provide a safe haven for those seeking a new home. In this fiscal year alone, the U.S. expects to admit 70,000 refugees from all over the world. In order to ensure safety and security within American communities where those in need are welcomed, each refugee admitted in to the U.S. undergoes the highest category of security screening for entering the country.
The President has directed his Administration to scale up the number of Syrian refugees we will bring to the U.S. next year. By the end of September, the U.S. is on track to take in about 1,500 Syrian refugees, and the President has asked his team to make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.
It is not feasible for millions of Syrians to come to this country — we know that. However, we must do what we can to provide for their basic needs.
But, no change in refugee policy or amount of humanitarian aid can resolve the political crisis that is displacing so many innocent people. To bring an end to this crisis, the U.S. is working with the international community to reach a negotiated political solution to the conflict. Ultimately, the instability and the responsibility to resolve the violence rests with Syria’s President Al-Assad.
Have questions? Here are a few answers to some that many Americans are asking:
1. What can I do to help?
The best possible way to help those affected is to get involved and support relief efforts by a reputable humanitarian organization working in the region. Check out USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), which lists organizations that are responding to particular disasters. Then share the information about these organizations and the importance of needs-based assistance in your community to spread the word about the most effective ways to help those in need. Here’s how you can get started.
2. What is happening in Syria to cause this crisis?
In March of 2011, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad pledged legislative reforms in response to peaceful demonstrations against the Syrian Army (SARG). However, reforms failed to take place, and SARG forces loyal to President Al-Assad began responding to these demonstrations with violence, sparking retaliation from armed opposition groups.
These groups formed an umbrella organization in November of 2012, which the U.S. formally recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people that December. This group — known as the Syrian Coalition (SC) — established the Syrian Interim Government, which opposes the SARG and is based in decentralized locations throughout opposition-held areas of Syria.
President Al-Assad’s attacks have been horrific and devastating. He has launched rockets in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus, and has even attacked Syrian civilians with chemical weapons. So many innocent men, women, and children have been gassed to death by their own government. The international community found a diplomatic solution to effectively destroy Syria’s capacity to make chemical weapons. However, intense and ongoing violence remains, driving millions to seek refuge outside of the country.
3. How much humanitarian aid has the U.S. provided, and where is it going?
The U.S. is the world’s largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid. To date, the U.S. has provided $4 billion in humanitarian assistance and is leading the world in responding to this crisis through relentless humanitarian, diplomatic, and development efforts.
This assistance provides healthcare, food, water, and basic necessities to people suffering in all 14 Governorates of Syria and to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The U.S. Government assists approximately 6.6 million Syrians per month with this assistance.
When communities are bombed, our support for medical teams means more than a half-million surgeries that are helping save lives. When there is no food in the market, our partners risk their lives to deliver that food to displaced families. When neighboring communities have strained to care for refugees in their midst, the U.S. helps them upgrade their electrical grids, build more pumps for clean water, and manage double or triple shifts in their schools.
Read more about the U.S. response here: https://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria
3. How many refugees are we allowing into America?
The U.S. expects to admit 70,000 refugees from all over the world this fiscal year, and President Obama has directed his Administration to scale up the number of Syrian refugees we will bring to the U.S. next year to 10,000.
Tanya Somanader is the,
Deputy Director of Digital Content for the Office of Digital Strategy, White House