This week, desperate messages from Syria broke through the bubble of news about impending political upheaval in the U.S. It's what humanitarian spokesperson for the United Nations Jens Laerke called "a complete meltdown of humanity."
Civilians trapped in the besieged city of Aleppo tweeted pleas for help from the outside world, including from a seven-year-old Syrian girl, Bana Alamed, who tweeted yesterday with her mom Fatemah's help:
By Tuesday afternoon, opposition forces said they had negotiated a ceasefire in the city, which allowed their fighters to evacuate–but it was still unclear whether that included any means of evacuation for the roughly 50,000 civilians remaining in Aleppo.
The conflict in Syria is not new. The civil war between the government, opposition groups, and the Islamic State (ISIS) has been raging since 2011 when the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad cracked down on protest groups using military force. Resistance groups armed themselves and began fighting back, and terrorist group ISIS found a foothold in that increasingly chaotic landscape. The violence has driven at least 4.8 million Syrians from their home country and displaced another 6.6 million internally. More than 312,000 have died since 2011. It is one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has seen.
On Monday, horrifying images and messages from Aleppo started to filter out into the world. As government forces prepared to declare that they had re-captured the city, reports emerged of civilians being executed in their homes, burned alive, and killing themselves to avoid being taken prisoner and potentially tortured by army troops. The people of Aleppo began to post final messages:
This is what Aleppo looked like before the war began:
The international community has had years to act, to intervene, and prevent the death and torture that's unfolding right now in Aleppo. But having failed that, here's what we can do this week:
Support Syrian refugees
Earlier this year, a string of Republican governors came forward to say that they were against allowing Syrian refugees to be resettled in their state, for fear of terrorism–even though refugees admitted to the United States undergo a stringent vetting process and are fleeing the very terrorist organization these governors are afraid of.
Trump said at a town hall event on the campaign trail in New Hampshire that he would be absolutely comfortable looking a Syrian child in the eye and telling them their families are not welcome in the U.S.
Let your incoming government know that you don't support outright rejecting the asylum requests of Syrians who have lived through atrocities in their homeland.
You can tweet, sure, but you can also offer financial support to the 12,000 Syrian refugees already living in the U.S. who have fled the war, some of whom are struggling to get by. These are some of the campaigns accepting donations for refugees here and abroad:
- This crowd funding campaign, organized by a Miami-based language academy, was set up to help local refugee resettlement agencies provide assistance to Syrians. "There is a group of Syrian refugee families, specifically from Aleppo, who have completed the US Reception & Placement program, yet need post-resettlement assistance to give them time to find jobs, learn English, and feed / clothe their families," the crowdfunding page says.
- The International Rescue Committee is one of the largest refugee resettlement non-profits working with refugees in the United States. Donating to them means helping them with cultural orientation, housing, job placement and employment skills, clothing, medical attention, education and English-language classes. "In 2015, the International Rescue Committee helped resettle nearly 10,000 newly arrived refugees and provided services to promote self-reliance and integration to over 36,000 refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking and other immigrants," the organization's website tells us.
- A donation to UNICEF, the United Nations' Children's Fund, would go toward providing clean water, nutrition supplements, polio vaccinations, and temporary schools to the 8.4 million Syrian children who have been affected by the conflict. They've been working in Syria and countries with displaced Syrian populations including Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Greece, among others.
Support humanitarian organizations trying to provide medical aid on the ground
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been on the ground in Syria and the Mediterranean, where thousands of Syrian refugees have fled seeking safety. At least 82 of their medical facilities have been bombed and damaged this year alone:
The organization's mission is to deliver emergency medical aid to people in need. Their latest report on their operations in Syria, from February this year, says, "In all, 154,647 war-wounded people and 7,009 war-dead were documented in the facilities in 2015, with women and children representing 30 to 40 percent of the victims." Those numbers have more than likely increased in the last six months.
Call on the United Nations to finally intervene
The United Nations Security Council's lack of action on Syria has been an ongoing matter of frustration to humanitarians. Russia and China are both permanent members of the council—their governments are allied with Assad's regime and they've both been accused of providing arms to Syrian government forces.
The Security Council has not taken action to intervene in the conflict, partly because it cannot agree on whether or not the Assad regime should be held responsible for any of the atrocities being committed, though human rights groups, including Amnesty International, say they have evidence that the government has tortured and killed thousands of civilians, and persecuted its own people since the conflict began.
You can find the United Nations representatives for the United States listed here.
Stay informed and active
Syrian-American writer and activist Lina Sergie Attar tweeted as she saw the images coming out of Aleppo. She had a warning: when these images stop, don't think that the suffering is over.
With the incoming administration's stated intent to reject all Syrian asylum seekers, it's more important than ever to read more about the extensive vetting process that refugees have to go through before coming to the United States, the ongoing threats people are facing in Syria, and the personal stories of why people are fleeing their homes.