We can all use some good news, particularly with the holiday season upon us. Indeed, recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal welcome of Syrian refugees to Canada was certainly refreshing – and we at The SecDev Foundation are proud of our new leader’s decision.
Yet the promise to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada by the end of February 2016 is but a tiny drop in the sea of a crisis that is possibly the worst humanitarian disaster in recent history.
The Worst Humanitarian Crisis Today
Source: World Vision
The scope of the Syrian crisis is colossal – so massive that it can seem almost immeasurable. Indeed, the number of registered refugees is nearly equal to the entire population of New Zealand.
What Canada’s Welcome Means
Much of the challenge in attempting to address the Syrian crisis is the catastrophe’s complexity and spread. The conflict is entering its fifth winter. For the uninitiated, understanding the various groups fighting in Syria, much less the foreign countries involved, can be dizzying. The conflict’s resulting 4,389,735 registered refugees are spread out across the Middle East and North Africa. This increases the difficulties of reaching and helping all at-risk Syrians.
Where Syrians are Currently Displaced in the Middle East
The Syrian refugee situation is so enduring and desperate that many are no longer waiting for help, instead taking matters into their own hands and making dangerous voyages to cross into Europe. By August 2015, an estimated 300,000 refugees had attempted perilous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea – with some 2,500 dying. Others braved a walk overland that takes an estimated 50 days to complete. This migration changes the scope of the crisis, making needs much more diverse in how Syrians must be helped.
The Walk from Syria to Serbia
All of this his is not to belittle Canada’s efforts. Every contribution helps – and even the smallest ones can add up to a noticeable difference for a person caught in conflict. But faced with the scale of the conflict, it can be paralyzing to even act. What does one do? How can a single person even help?
There are many ways you can help Syrians:
- Support Syrian Refugees in Your Country: If your country is helping resettle Syrians, search for community groups near you that are welcoming refugees – they will need clothes, places to stay, and on-going support to get back on their feet. In Canada, a hotline for those who want to help has been created at 1-844-61 SYRIA, and other groups such as Lifeline Syria are emerging to assist.
- Donate to Organisations Helping Syrians: Websites such as Charity Navigator offer lists of organizations providing support to Syria, complete with a user rating system. This can help with finding organisations to support. Many established and well-known charities are working in the region, such as Save The Children, the International Rescue Committee, and UNHCR. While support is welcome at any time, consider making donations to organisations helping Syrians instead of buying Christmas presents this year.
- Keep the Plight of Syrians at the Forefront: Continue to share information about the Syrian conflict. Let your social networks know that more needs to be done, and provide simple ways that people can support at-risk Syrians.
For our part, we at the Foundation aim to redouble our efforts to help Syrian non-violent actors. Since 2012, our SalamaTech project has helped millions of Syrian non-violent actors stay safe online and use social media to make their voices heard. Why, in the midst of such terrible suffering is this important? The Syrian refugees who are shown clinging desperately to their cell phones tell part of the answer. The internet is a lifeline for survival in Syria’s war. Ordinary citizens rely on the internet to know where bombs are dropping, where food can be found, where their missing family members are, how to get out, when to lay low. Civil society and humanitarian actors rely on the internet to deliver aid and safety. And those Syrian activists and citizens who resist the regime, and/or ISIS leverage the internet to bear witness, to document war crimes, to reach out to the rest of the world.
But the internet lifeline is now also a vector of incredible risk for Syrian non-violent actors. Syrians are being captured, tortured and killed because of their online activities. A simple dissenting comment on Facebook has found people grabbed at checkpoints and imprisoned, or executed point blank by the young militants on duty.
That is why we, at SalamaTech, will keep working to provide real-time assistance that helps Syrians stay safe online. And, in 2016, we will be expanding our efforts to especially help those brave voices for peace and human rights who are trapped inside dangerous enclaves ruled either by ISIS or the regime. Our Be Heard project will help their voices reach the world: “We are here!”
Let’s connect and support these incredibly brave people together.
Header Image Photo Credit: Banksy’s Graffiti of Steve Jobs as a Refugee in Calais