Nearly 70% of all refugees come from five countries. 6.6 million refugees have been displaced from Syria.
Syria, bordered by vast mountain ranges, the Mediterranean Sea, and covered mostly in the expanse of the Syrian Desert offers not only a long history of cultural evolution but an accompanying blood shed associated with such movements. The region has seen much political unrest-- spanning centuries-- but this century is no different.
In a bloodless revolt, Hafez Al-Assad took power from the ruling civilian party in 1970. When he passed in 2000, the Syrian Government quickly amended the constitution to allow his 34 year old son, Bashar Al-Assad, to take power in his father’s place. This period in history was marred by much internal conflict and lives lost as exchanges continued between the ruling party and the civilian opposition.
Unrest in the region was aided by natural disaster. From 2006-2010, Syria experienced one of its worst droughts in history. Mass migration pushed rural villages into the already overpopulated urban centers. Infrastructure suffered due to the new influx of civilians. Along with this migration, a rise in anti-government protests advanced.
In early 2011, Bashar Al-Assad responded to the uprisings. “The Assad regime responded aggressively, deploying the country’s powerful security services to break up rallies, often with live fire, and to arrest suspected dissidents.”(1) With the surge in violence, many have been forced to leave their homes. World Vision, an organization dedicated to providing for refugees, working specifically with the Syrian population, provided more insight into the reasons for the migration.
“Syrians are leaving their homes when life becomes unbearable. Some of the top reasons they cite include: Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began, an estimated 500,000 people have been killed, including more than 55,000 children, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The war has become deadlier since foreign powers joined the conflict. Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, 95% of people lack adequate healthcare and 70% lack regular access to clean water. Half the children are out of school. Conflict has shattered the economy, and 80% of the population now lives in poverty.
Children in danger and distress: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and experienced unspeakable violence and brutality.”(2)
The majority of these refugees fled to the surrounding countries in the area such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. But many have also turned a more hopeful eye to the rest of Europe. However, the capacity to house those seeking asylum has led to more difficult issues than the EU anticipated. “Despite EU efforts, many Greek islands remain accessible to people who are seeking asylum in the European Union. In fact, more people cross from Turkey to the islands in the eastern Aegean Sea than depart from them, creating a growing population in reception centers for whom the authorities have struggled to provide.”(3) Much of the movement happened in 2015 and 2016, but the refugee camps, originally anticipated to be short term, now face much larger scale struggles.
The issues facing these Syrian Refugees, especially in places such as the Greek Islands, includes housing arrangements (mostly tents and camp containers), infrastructure and distance from health services, and the long term social, emotional, and physical impacts of residing in a refugee camp as long term homes. Some organizations have popped up to help stave off harsher impacts for this population, such as The Greek NGO SolidarityNow. This organization operates at 14 refugee camps in Northern and Central Greece, offering psycho-social services, legal counseling and protection, and recreational and educational activities to children, women and families.
Bellwether works with organizations like these in Greece in continuing to provide meaningful impact for Syrian families in need. The importance of religious leaders both in refugee camps and in efforts to address the ongoing crisis can not be overstated. This May, Bellwether will take a team to the Greek Islands to assess current conditions, learn from the refugees about their experiences, and make informed high impact decisions to create sustainable change and support. Thank you for supporting us and these other organizations. Protecting freedom of religion or belief at the intersection of aid to displaced people remains a fundamental pillar of Bellwether’s unique mission and influence. To stay updated on Bellwether’s efforts to help Syrian refugees subscribe to our weekly newsletter.