Global Problems, Personal Stories

Global Problems, Personal Stories

Posted on in Emergencies, Middle East, Refugees.

This is a guest post by Sarah Long. Sarah has a Masters in Forced Migration from the American University of Cairo and has worked with refugees in the Middle East.

The Syrian refugee crisis is without a doubt one of the most horrific displacement of peoples this decade. It is the intention of this blog to draw attention to and stand up for the vast array of refugees around the world who are oppressed and seeking assistance, and not necessarily to take a political stance. However, in many refugee stricken countries, including Syria, the two coincide and one is irrelevant without the other. What is foundational to understanding each individual’s story is understanding what they are in fact taking refuge from. You can visit several Middle Eastern news sources to get an insight on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, but to keep political information minimal, Syrian refugees are fleeing because what they once called “beit” or “dar” is no longer a house of security and peace, for they fear it will be or has been the next target of this bloody civil war.
As of late Jan 2013, 728,553 Syrians are now either registered as refugees or awaiting registration with the UNHCR. This number comprises 237,623 in Lebanon; 227,484 in Jordan; 163,161 in Turkey; 79,769 in Iraq; 14,478 in Egypt; and 6,338 in North Africa. There is an estimated 45,000 displaced Syrians living in appalling conditions in Northern Syria. The 22 month war has claimed 60,000 lives.
Numbers can be overwhelming. Particularly so if you deeply desire to do something, anything, but are not affiliated with an organization on the ground. Simply making yourself aware of current events is the foundational piece to not missing an opportunity. When the Arab Spring began my husband and I were living in Cairo. Over 800 people died in the 18 day revolution. It was heart breaking and we felt helpless. We did everything we could to serve the wounded and protect refugees that were in transition-all the while the numbers were growing in Syria. 200 dead. 1,000 dead. 10,000 dead. 60,000 dead. As the body count continued to multiply, and still does, our desire to “do something” was only met with the familiar barrier of hopelessness. But, surprisingly, and without much effort, an opportunity was presented to us.
Through a friend of friend of a brother of a cousin of a friend, we, along with a church in southern Cairo (comprised of 40 different nationalities), were able to assist 11 Syrian families (who were uprooted from the conflict) arrive in Cairo and stabilize. It is important to point out that these 50+ Syrians who came to Cairo did so by flying from Damascus to Cairo, or Damascus-Beirut-Cairo. They had the funds to evacuate their entire families. They are to be considered a bit more fortunate than those who have literally fled by foot to neighboring countries, wearing only the clothes on their backs and the money in their pockets. There are refugees who are at a far greater risk of persecution. For example, because of the complex political make up of Lebanon (the ongoing support of the Assad regime in areas) and depending on where Syrians attempted to cross into Lebanon, some were denied access and handed over to Syrian authorities. This information cannot be confirmed, however it was the fear of the Syrian families we encountered. We are unsure if the same is true in Egypt, therefore for the sake of protecting the families, their identities will not be disclosed. Regardless of the exit route or one’s economic standing, all are fleeing for fear of persecution. And until you are the one running, the severity of the persecution is relative.
Back to the story. When I first heard of the families arriving in Cairo, my immediate response was thankfulness for their escape. However, being displaced, regardless of the length of time, makes one vulnerable to a risk of impoverishment and a lack of human rights. They had not so forgotten memories, suitcases and each other. That was all. Where would they sleep tonight? Where would their children go to school? Would they be accepted in their country of refuge and able to integrate? Do they have connections to a network of people? Would the adults have work opportunities? Is the UNHCR (who sits under the umbrella of the Egyptian government) accepting Syrian interviews for refugee status or temporary asylum? No one had the answers to these questions. People only knew they were without homes and in dire need of an intervention. A local classmate was able to convince 11 landlords to open up their available flats to the families (not knowing about future visa situations I might add). Once the word got out that these flats needed to be filled, people responded like a wildfire. Five to six days’ later trucks were literally dropping off sectional couches, refrigerators, bed frames and mattresses, food and water, armoires, rugs, etc. It was awesome.

Far more beautiful than my husband telling “Samia” on the phone that they are going to need to make 3 trips to conquer all this stuff was her tear-filled response when he told her who was helping them. “But why would they want to help us?” This just makes me smile. Governments and cultures and religions can try to divide us, but take heart, friends, they only will if we let them. Our culture is drowning in an us vs. them, good vs. bad tsunami (this explanation is for another time). We need each other. We can always be of assistance and serve refugee stricken communities. Unfortunately they are present all over. Who knows, we might be that community one day. We must be mindful and relentless not to elevate injustices above our service. Otherwise, you will drown your self in your own tsunami of despair. Grow in wisdom of the needs and an opportunity will present itself-big or small. We will not solve a conflict as large as the war in Syria, but impacting one life is far greater than impacting none.