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Syrian refugees

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.”

Pictures

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“I want to talk about pictures because I love photography.”

Removed from the Swarthmore bubble, I am in London going over the work Ahmed, a Syrian immigrant, needs to do for his class. He tells me that he needs to present in English, and the strain is evident in his face.

Ahmed arrived nine months ago from Syria with his father. His mother, younger sister, and brother are still in Syria. In slow, stumbling, and accented English he proceeds to give me his presentation:

“I was hanging out with my friends near a checkpoint. We were exploring and having a lot fun, but suddenly an armed soldier pointed to me and told me to come over. He saw my camera. He told me that he was going to break it, that I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures [even though I hadn’t].”

This made me ask, “Why is an armed soldier afraid of a schoolboy with a camera?”

Ahmed pulls up two photos. One is laden with flowers white at the bottom, fuchsia at the tip, vibrantly blooming from the ground. Another is a photo of a brown, gnarled, lone leaf in the middle of melting snow.

“Where do you think I took these? Which one is from Damascus and which one is from London?” he asks.

I don’t tell him, but he sees through my assumptions.

“The outside world probably thinks that this [the winter photo] is of Damascus and this [the spring photo] is of London.”

I nod.

“But this photo, the one with spring, is one from Damascus. It was taken minutes before a bombing. And this photo, the one with winter, is from London. This is the first photo I took in London.”

I ask him, “The ugly photo is from London?”

He shakes his head and says, “Not ugly. Just sad.” He then proceeds to answer my initial question.

“So why is the armed solider afraid of a schoolboy with a camera? It is because pictures have the power to change the narrative; it is because pictures have the power to capture a truth, no matter how sad or how beautiful.”

I wish to share this story with those in the U.S. who are the brightest, most driven, yet most removed from the current status of migrants. I hope this reaches Swarthmore (and beyond) so that we do not become desensitized to the exclusion of others and so we will remove ourselves from our bubble when we can to be dismantled in order to rebuild ourselves.

Give me your tired … but don’t actually

in Columns/Opinions by

Almost two decades ago, my father stepped off a plane from India, with only a small suitcase and roughly one hundred dollars in his wallet. In tow were my mother and my then two year old brother, entering a world unbeknownst to them. For the Singh family, America was a land of hope and promise, a country that offered boundless opportunity, and democratic freedom without the corruption that plagued India’s regime. For the Singh family, America was their new home.

In the wake of 9/11, I remember travelling with my family, and seeing my Sikh father who dons a turban be pulled aside and searched extensively, with his head being patted down. I was confused as to why he was being looked at differently, confused as to why it was that he caught the security guard’s attention. It didn’t take long for me to realize that to others, it was clear that we weren’t from here; we were different. Even though we weren’t from a Middle Eastern nation, or of the Islamic faith, in the eyes of others, we were not American.

In times of terror and fear, it is natural to have a heightened sense of alarm, and take extra preventative measures in the hopes of avoiding future tragedy. However, it is equally important to offer support and kindness to our fellow humans, irrespective of where they come from, especially in their time of need. Governors of the 27 and counting states who have closed their borders to Syrian refugees, I am looking right at you as I assert this.

In December of 1938, American college students were polled and asked if Jewish refugees from Central Europe should be given a safe haven in the United States. 68.8 percent of respondents said no. As we look back at history, we often shame governments and nations who didn’t open their arms wholeheartedly to those that were persecuted in the Holocaust; one can only wonder what the next generation will look back and say about us as we turn our backs on those that need our help the most.

Unlike the college students of the 1930s, our generation seems to be far more humanitarian and socially conscientious, with plenty of my fellow Swatties having changed their profile picture in an effort to demonstrate solidarity and support for Paris. While this is a great first step, remember that Syrian refugees are still displaced, and our obligation as concerned citizens ought not to stop there. It is especially pathetic to see that while so many governors have quickly closed their doors, France itself has offered to take in 30,000 Syrians, despite the heinous act of terror that occurred in Paris less than a week ago, resulting in the loss of 136 lives. If you hail from a state with a governor who has not yet offered a safe haven for these refugees or has explicitly denied accepting refugees, it is your responsibility as a constituent to reach out to them via email or a phone call and express your condemnation of their actions. We should be proud to attend college in a state with a governor who has already expressed care and concern for humanity by committing to opening our borders to Syrian refugees, and Governor Wolf should be held as an example for governors nationwide.

First and foremost, we must remember that ultimately these refugees have been persecuted, and our primary concern ought to be their immediate safety and protection. Several think tanks and policy institutes argue that terrorists are least likely to opt for refugee resettlement as their method of entering a new nation, as they have to undergo very thorough background checks and a comprehensive security database comparison to ensure that they are not predisposed to engage in an act of terror.

Immigrants and refugees are often looked at in the same light, as posing a possible threat to national security. They are no more likely to commit a crime or participate in organized terrorism than anyone else; in fact as The Economist reports, since 9/11, of the 750,000 refugees that have entered the United States, none have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, while three having been arrested on some terrorist charge. The frequency of domestic terror attacks caused by right wing extremists is almost three times as high as those caused by Islamic militants, according to The New York Times.

The Statue of Liberty stands proudly on Liberty Island, acting as a symbol of the American Dream, the beacon of hope for those searching economic possibility or religious freedom or political asylum. For Lady Liberty, and America at large, to turn our back on Syrian refugees is not only morally wrong, but also un-American.

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