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UNICEF and Syria

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

The Syrian Civil War and the United States’ involvement in it has been an area of contention since the U.S. first supplied rebels with non-lethal aid in 2011. This aid has since evolved—as the government’s injustices have grown—facilitating more violence. After Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons earlier this month, President Trump decided to strike back, and people’s reactions varied. Yet, regardless of how you view Trump’s actions, or even Trump himself, this act was necessary. Now that military intervention has occurred, further involvement in the form of humanitarian aid—dispensed in part by UNICEF—should take over. This aid has been consistent in Syria since the beginning of the conflict, and it is critical that support continues in light of recent events.

Although Assad denies the use of chemical weapons, BBC confirmed the airstrike released toxic gas that produced over 125 fatalities, and another 541 injuries. In addition, there were already nearly 13.5 million people displaced over the past six years. The impact on children is harrowing. According to UNICEF, children have been forced to fight in the war, forced to enter into early marriage, and forced into child labor. In more than two-thirds of households, children are working in extremely harsh conditions in order to support their families, and now, over 6 million children are depending on humanitarian assistance. It is these conditions and lifestyle that underscore the importance of humanitarian groups such as UNICEF.

The Syrian Civil War began with the arrest of a group of teens and children who simply voiced their opinions by spraying graffiti on a wall. People began gathering and protesting in support of this group, violence ensued, and a revolution was born. Soon after, heads began turning in the international community, but foreign pressure did not seem to stop the bloodshed.

According to CNN, more than 1,000 people were killed in a chemical attack near Damascus in 2013. After the attack, Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” and would prompt him to strike back, yet no action was ever taken due to complications in seeking congressional authorization. President Trump also rebuked the use of chemical weapons saying, “it crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies … with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines.” Similar comments followed from U.S. leaders, emphasizing the impact these atrocities have on children.

In addition to speaking out, Trump dispatched a military strike on the Syrian government air base that launched the chemical attack. Many have condemned Trump’s visceral reaction for various reasons. Some question the legal grounds of his retaliation, as he acted without consulting Congress. In addition, his strike could have killed innocent civilians, or could have hurt our relations with Russia—who seems to be supporting Assad. Still others scrutinize Trump’s hypocrisy since he has previously implied an “America first” policy.

As valid as these concerns may be, it really doesn’t matter how you view the logistics of Trump’s response. The bottom line is, something needed to be done. Too often we sit unwavering in the face of such inhumanity. This is because we have become desensitized to violence. Disturbing images are constantly flashed on television screens, splattered on the front pages of newspapers, and fill our social media feeds. We consume news of cruelty and violence so often that we have forgotten that those people in the pictures are real people. To them, this is not just another war or explosion—it is the one that destroyed their homes, tore their family apart, uprooted their lives.

So, where do we draw the line and decide to intervene? I’m sure we all wish for a world where that line is superfluous, but unfortunately, we are not living in a utopia. Brutality and lack of concern for one’s actions are not new issues and it is unlikely that they will cease to be problems. Therefore, I find myself agreeing with Trump that the use of chemical weapons should most definitely cross more than a few lines.

Regardless of whether or not you agree, this horrific attack should remind us how important it is for people in need to get the resources, treatment, and support that will help them get back on their feet and move forward with their lives. It should remind us of the necessity of organizations who are working to provide victims of atrocities with valuable assets.

Now that the airstrikes have occurred, whether or not you agree with them is unimportant. We should instead focus our efforts on what we can do to help the people of Syria move forward. In light of recent events, it is especially salient that we must pay more attention to current events. It is fitting that UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) club was recently formed on Swarthmore’s campus.

UNICEF is an organization that ensures basic needs for children in need, and Syria has been one of UNICEF’s largest focuses due to its unrelenting violence. UNICEF is committed to minimizing the impact of this crisis on children by providing Syrian families and children with nutrition, immunization, water, and sanitation, as well as education and child protection. The organization is hopeful for an immediate political solution to end the conflict in Syria, and an end to the violations of rights against children.

The club on campus will be organizing movie screenings, speakers, fundraisers, and more in the hopes of both raising funds that will help provide children with vital resources and garnering support to push decision-makers to protect children’s rights across the world. In the wake of events that ignore human rights, we will take action.

While I believe that American intervention within Syria in the form of airstrikes was critical in order to condemn the use of chemical weapons, I also believe that the most productive course to take now is focusing on humanitarian aid. As UNICEF’s executive director stated, “We must draw from this not only anger, but renewed determination to reach all the innocent children throughout Syria with help and comfort. And draw from it also the hope that all those with the heart and the power to end this war will do so.”

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