Friday, August 23, 2013

The Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugees crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan
(picture courtesy of the BBC and UNHCR)
As I'm sure most of you know, the death toll in the Syrian conflict passed the 100,000 mark last month.  Just this week, hundreds were killed outside of Damascus, including many children, in an attack using chemical weapons.  This is a particularly horrific reminder for the Kurdish people in Iraq of the chemical weapon attacks against them by Saddam Hussein 25 years ago that also killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children. 

Halabja March 1988
Also this week, tens of thousands of refugees poured into Kurdistan -- almost 10,000 in one day, bringing the total number to more than 160,000 -- flooding already over-burdened refugee camps.  But Kurdistan has not closed its doors to the refugees, and many of those arriving in Northern Iraq are Kurds.  In addition, as widely reported by the BBC and others, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massuod Barzani, recently threatened to intervene  to defend the Kurdish population caught up in Syria's unrest.  He said if Kurds were "under threat of death and terrorism" then Iraqi Kurdistan would be "prepared to defend them".
Syrian refugees at the Iraqi border
(picture courtesy of the BBC and UNHCR)
Refugees are fleeing the horror of the war in Syria.  Many -- including children -- have witnessed traumatic events and have been subject to torture and other forms of violence.  They arrive here hungry, tired and traumatized.  UNHCR and various organizations around the world are trying to respond to this crisis but are fighting an uphill battle.  And the tragedy is that having escaped the horrors of the Syrian conflict, many refugees -- particularly women and children -- may become victims of human trafficking, including sex trafficking.  In need of  food and shelter, and unable to find jobs, displaced persons are often lured into sexual trafficking with promises of legitimate employment.   In addition to the refugee crisis in the North, sectarian violence continues to escalate in Southern Iraq.  With daily car bombings and other terrorist activity, the violence in Iraq is at its highest level since 2006. 
All in all, the needs here grow each day and of course, there are never enough resources to meet them.  Heartland Alliance International is developing programs to respond to these challenges, including, for example, programs to  serve survivors of trafficking -- particularly women and young people who are Syrian refugees -- through legal, social and mental health services.  This is in addition to maintaining our current projects.  I ask that you consider a donation to help us.  I have set up a website where you can donate directly.  Please feel free to pass it along to your friends and colleagues and please know that any support is greatly appreciated.