A delegate at the Supporting Syria conference checks out an immersive story - Clouds Over Sidra - following the life of one young Syrian refugee living in Za'atari Camp in Jordan. Source: UK Department for International Development

The proliferation of social media and smart technology has helped not only raise awareness of refugee’s plight around the world but also to assist refugees by facilitating communication between family members as well as sending remittances. It has also proven to be an invaluable tool in helping refugees navigate their way through countries and to determine displaced population sizes. Recent technological advances have changed the way we view and experience videos and movies. But so-called “new technology” like Virtual Reality and Drones also plays a part in humanitarian issues. It is able to provide an important layer to humanitarian assistance; Virtual Reality and 360 movies, for example, are known as the “Empathy Machines,” as they are able to transform a mere 2D movie into an all-encompassing experience. The hope is that by doing so, policy makers and audiences are more aware of the often-lost nuances of displaced populations and focus not on providing more aid but more effective aid.

With approximately 4.7 million registered Syrian refugees in the world and millions more displaced, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has developed a unique and efficient way of registering the Syrians. Registering people is a necessary means to understanding who’s entering the country and who’s leaving, especially in the current climate with Syria when so many are choosing to leave neighboring host states and leave for Syria or other parts of the world. Until registered, the asylum seekers are not refugees and thus not entitled to any protection or services and assistance, like shelter, food, healthcare and education.  Instead of using photos and pieces of paper that are often lost or damaged, UNHCR has started to employ iris scans, similar to those seen at airports. More than one million Syrians have already been registered using this technology. Only taking 2-3 minutes compared to half an hour for more conventional methods, electronic registering uses a database can help NGOs and other international bodies involved in the response to monitor aid and personnel more efficiently. Using this technology is certainly an improvement from certain past practices, like that of Czech Republic, when officials wrote numbers on the refugees’ arms in order to register them. This was internationally slammed, as it drew comparisons to Nazis registering Jews in concentration camps during World War II.

Zach Ingrasci, Co-Founder of the company Living on One, explained in a phone interview that using biometric registration methods stems from realization by the United Nations that after registering displaced populations in Pakistan, “[the agency] was missing a large part of the population.” However, problems still persist, as diasporas can be not only afraid of the technology but also uncomfortable of the people doing the registration. Therefore, Ingrasci clarified, it is vital that the process has to be culturally sensitive.

“[Virtual Reality] is not a video game peripheral,” declared Chris Milk, the founder of VRSE, a production company that specializes in Virtual Reality spherical filmmaking, during his TED Talk entitled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine” in 2015. “It connects humans to other humans in a profound way [that has never been seen before] in any other form of media.” In his talk, Milk also describes his work with the United Nations on developing a movie called “Clouds Over Sidra,” about a 12 year-old girl from Southern Syria named Sidra who now lives in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan. The movie documents her life from studying in her caravan, eating with her family and her journey through the camp to school. Milk emphasizes that by viewing this movie through Virtual Reality, it does not just allow you to watch Sidra’s daily life and her struggle, it transports you to her world; you are sitting there with her in her school, in her room and with her family. It is, as Ingrasci explained, “the most immersive experience we see out there.”

Ingrasci and his co-director on “Salam Neighbor” (available on iTunes now), Chris Temple, have also recognized the importance of new technology in refugee situations. Together with the HuffPost RYOT, they created the documentary “For My Son” and a six part series called “Jordan’s Refugee Crisis,” both of which are shot and can be viewed in 360 degrees. They realized that it is important not only to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in camps but also to humanize the extreme journeys people make from their home towns to urban host communities, where approximately 80 percent of the Syrian refugee population live.

By bringing an Oculus Virtual Reality headset on their nationwide tour of the acclaimed “Salam Neighbor,” Temple and Ingrasci have allowed thousands of people to not just learn about the Syrian refugee crisis from watching the news and reading about it but also to experience it. “For My Son” tells the story of Firas, a Syrian from Dara’a, and his escape from the country, his reunification with his family in Za’atari and the birth of his now two-year-old son, Mohamed. Audiences that have watched the movie using the Oculus Virtual Reality are able to feel what it’s like to be in Aleppo that is now a desolate city, filled with concrete buildings destroyed beyond recognition with sniper shots audible in the background (using footage shot by HuffPost RYOT), as well as walking through the bustling main street of “Champs Elysées” in Za’atari Camp.

It can often be easy to forget the normalcy that the refugees faced before the conflict, especially for policy makers and given recent rhetoric. But instead of just producing these films for the wider public, Milk, who has started projects using VR in Liberia and elsewhere around the world, brought “Clouds Over Sidra” to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. By letting those who can really change someone’s life (for example the United Nations) see how people are impacted, the hope is that policy makers are not as disconnected and can gain a more nuanced understanding of the plight of refugees, especially if they are not accustomed to being on the ground helping with the implementation of policies and aid.

So, if people are aware of the positive impact that Virtual Reality and biometric registration can have on humanitarian situations, what is stopping their wider implementation? First, cost. The three pillars of humanitarian assistance are food, shelter and healthcare. Getting people basic necessities to as many people as possible to ensure daily livelihood in an effective way should be at the forefront of every actor in the international refugee regime. While drones can be used to deliver aid into besieged areas of Syria without having to force a ceasefire or bribing officials, the cost of developing sufficient drones should not be the priority. Furthermore, this technology is still new; it is still developing. Ingrasci explicates that, especially when shooting in 360, there can be problems carrying around six Go-Pros and stitching the different videos together. However, the novelty of the technology also makes it exciting; it means that there is so much more experimenting to be done and that the boundaries of storytelling can be pushed even further.

But as much as we should work to use technology to humanize issues, we also have to temper our moral duty to help with mutual respect. As with registration, it is important to be sensitive. Without cultural understanding or approval by the communities we hope to understand, filmmakers could give the impression of being invasive, selfish and merely going into camps for the sake of “refugee tourism.” Ingrasci and Temple have recognized this importance and brought the final version of “Salam Neighbor,” along with VR technology, to the refugees in Za’atari to ensure that everyone involved approves and is comfortable with the product. Rauf – a Syrian boy featured in “Salam Neighbor” – as Ingrasci explains, loved being transported to and exploring areas beyond the confines of Za’atari Camp.

The aim of using new technology in humanitarian situations is to remind everyone that refugees are neither mere statistics, animals in a zoo nor chess pieces whom higher powers determine the future for. Refugees are human beings just like you and me whose lives have been turned upside down because of, most often, political conflict. Rhetoric can sometimes contradict and blur these notions and I believe it is the job and obligation of humanity to remind people that we are all the same. It is our duty to break down the boundaries and obstacles preventing delivery and implementation of effective aid, to tear past the fake preconceptions that refugees are poor and terrorists, to show compassion, to act, to serve and to ensure that nobody has to endure unnecessary hardship and discrimination and using new technology can only help in the process.

By Jesse Marks

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett


Swelling conflict in Syria has created one of the most complex multilateral and transnational threats facing the Middle East. With over four million Syrian refugees in the Levant and Turkey and nearly eight million internally displaced persons (IDP), the traditional framework of the Levant is quickly transforming the very fabric of modern-day Syria and Jordan, where new challenges arise in maintaining regional stability. Jordan, a nation whose ethnic Jordanian population has become the minority within a matter of decades, faces various threats to its own economic and social stability with the addition of nearly one million Syrian refugees (630,000 registered with UNHCR and an unknown number of unregistered persons as of December 23, 2015). First, the creation of a no-fly, safe zone, enforced by the US-led coalition for Syrians and refugees in southern Syria, is a necessary strategy to provide protection for vulnerable populations in Syria. Second, the provision of work permits to a sizable percentage of legally registered Syrian refugees in Jordan is necessary in insuring a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship between refugees and Jordan. These migrations in Syria and Jordan, if not addressed by the United States and international community, will have negative long-term impacts on regional and international security, human rights, and the resettlement of refugees.

Following the sharp rise of non-state actors (ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra) in Syria since 2014, large swaths of territory and millions of Syrians have fallen under extremist occupation. Many of those facing oppression within their own borders have fled to the Jordanian border or have been scattered throughout more rural regions of Syria. The involvement of international actors via financial, material, and military support, especially lending from Russian airstrikes, further complicates the IDP situation, as attacks often target areas where civilians congregate: markets, schools, hospitals, and residential areas, among other public hot spots. Since July 2015, territorial shifts between combatant groups have inched toward closer to a stalemate in major battleground cities, spanning Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, rural Damascus, and Dar’a according various humanitarian and research organizations (UNHCR, ACAPS, and IOM). Despite the military stalemate, violence continues to escalate, further exposing Syrians in these sensitive areas of conflict, leading to increased displacement of thousands. Among those also affected are Palestinian and Iraqi refugees living in Syria.

Although the situation has steadily worsened since the start of the uprising in 2012, the world only became aware in 2015, when the increasing Syrian IDP exodus, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled the Middle East for Europe in search of safety and livelihoods. Increasingly, the option of fleeing to neighboring countries or even risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean became an attractive option for many. There is little doubt that refugees forced to flee to informal camps on the Jordanian and Turkish borders find themselves exposed with minimal access to basic survival needs. Among those are 14,000 refugees currently are awaiting entrance to Jordan’s eastern border just few kilometers from ISIS forces. This highlights the difficulty of accessing refugees and IDP’s who are stranded in informal camps. Because of international borders, negotiations must take place between lead agencies (UNHCR) and governments. These challenges allude to the need of a new strategy to ensure long-term solutions for IDP’s and refugees in Syria.

Safe Zones

The creation of a no-fly, safe zone, enforced by the US-led coalition in southern Syria would provide a long-term solution to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable Syrian populations. Many key factors in southern Syria play a vital role in the conception of such a zone including existing relations between southern tribes and Jordan, the presence of the Free Syrian Army, and a large refugee population in Jordan that originated from southern Syria. These factors make southern Syria the ideal location to secure and enforce a safe-zone. This safe-zone will provide alternative settlement for IDPs, as well as ease of access for humanitarian groups to build a community infrastructure, provide human services (healthcare and education), and revitalize economic trade with Jordan- a pillar of Jordan’s economy is agricultural trade with southern Syria. Additionally, the safe zone alleviates the financial and economic burden on Jordan to provide long-term settlement options for refugees by allowing Syrians in Jordan the option to return to southern Syria (where nearly 60% originated according to UNHCR). Likewise, it would slow IDP migrations to the Jordan’s eastern border where border policies have led to the establishment of two informal camps.

The largest obstacle to the establishment of a no-fly, safe zone is the question of enforcement and security. Securing the zone would require two forms of defense, areal and ground. A no-fly zone would be implemented similarly to the no-fly zone established in northern Iraq from 1992 to 2003 enforced by the US-led coalition. The no-fly zone alleviates the greatest threat in the south, aerial barrel bombs. Large areas of southern Syria are protected by the coalition-backed forces in Dar’a, the Free Syrian Army (who have been supporting refugees in the south since 2012). The FSA is comprised of numerous factions of religious, national, and tribal fighting groups. The connection between the FSA and southern Syrian tribes is a major reason for continued Jordanian support for the FSA because of the tribal ties between northern Jordan and southern Syria. Overseeing the defense and the enforcement of the zone as well as municipalities and daily operations would be a government elected in free, open elections overseen by the Syrian National Council.

Legal Employment for Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Due to relative stability, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains to be a cornerstone of US strategic interests in the Levant. Yet, in last few years, Jordan’s economy has been significantly strained by the addition of nearly one million Syrian refugees. In September, the Kingdom requested $4.5 billion from donor countries to continue providing for refugees. However, the amount of financial support Jordan receives is expected to decrease in 2016 as the EU tries to stabilize member states receiving large numbers of refugees. With limited space outside of refugee camps, urban refugees (refugees who live outside of camps and are 80% of the total) have limited options for shelter, legal employment, and funding for food. Therefore, many are driven to lower income areas of the country to re-establish themselves (Mafraq, East Amman, Irbid, etc). Housing and food prices have risen significantly while water scarcity continues to worsen. Key players like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program are providing refugees with limited financial assistance, but there is still a distinct lack of support.

Nearly 440,000 vulnerable refugees either lost all financial assistance or faced large cuts in September 2015. The best strategy to ensure Jordan’s stability amidst a refugee crisis is providing legal work permits for Syrian refugees. Providing financial stability for refugee communities in Jordan is intrinsic to Jordan’s long-term stability and security. The United States, who has invested over $4.5 billion into Syrian humanitarian response since 2012, has a strategic interest in the stability of Jordan (as stated in U.S.-Jordan Third Loan Guarantee Agreement signed in May 2015) whose further intake of refugees threatens its own security. The threat of instability among refugee populations is linked to various factors including access to legal employment opportunities, lack of financial assistance (from international organizations), and negative host community perceptions. Indeed, in the face of difficulty, there is opportunity. Syrians provide a work force to Jordanian employers, both dedicated and highly skilled. Syrians are willing and skilled to work a greater variety of jobs that many Jordanians refuse. According to the WANA Institute (research institute founded by Prince Hassan of Jordan), most Jordanians are largely employed in public administration and defense and represent only 7% of those working in construction and only 2% of those working in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Because Syrian participation will largely be focused in these sectors, there will not be increased competition for Jordanian jobs. Instead, it provides competition to the large illegal migrant population currently seeking these types of jobs in Jordan. Systematically, illegal migrant workers in Jordan will be replaced with a skilled, legal labor force.

Providing employment for Syrian refugees heavily reduces reliance on the humanitarian sector and international community. It increases financial stability for Syrian refugees thus decreasing the number of refugees requiring resettlement. Employed refugees do not rely as heavily on financial assistance relaxing the burden on international organizations, international donors, and the Jordanian Government. This will have a broader impact and will shift host community perceptions of Syrians as burdens on the economy to active members improving the economy. With increased economy and stability, social development (education, culture, art, and more) can flourish.

In conclusion, certain steps must be taken to ensure the safety of Syrians in Jordan and Syria amidst uncertainty facing the region despite hopes for a peaceful solution in the coming year. Providing safe settlement option is the best strategy that both decreases the number of IDP’s and allows the international community to continue fighting non-state actors. With no solution to the Syrian conflict in sight, intervention must be aimed at lessening the impact of population and refugee migrations in the Middle East and at the international level. Addressing the threat of population movements is necessary for maintaining Jordan’s stability, protecting Syrian IDPs, and slowing the flow of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.

By Patrick Lim

Following the unanimous adoption of UN Resolution 2254, world powers will convene in Geneva in January for the latest round of Syria peace talks. Source: US Department of State

On January 25, representatives of the United States, Russia and other world powers will convene in Geneva for the latest peace talks regarding Syria. This will be the first meeting since UN Resolution 2254 that focused on creating a roadmap for a peace process in Syria, which was unanimously adopted in December. The resolution states that all parties involved will seek to support a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and to establish a “credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance [structure]” within six months and for free and fair elections, pursuant to a new constitution, to occur within 18 months. Though this resolution may appears to be the first major step towards an end to a violent civil war, the international community should be pessimistic not only about the timelines it sets forth but also about the UN’s and other world powers’ will to see it through and affect real change.

The UN has earned a bad reputation in recent years regarding inaction in Syria. The report “Failing Syria,” which was signed by numerous aid agencies, criticized the actions of states and the failure of the UN to implement previous resolutions pertaining to Syria, namely numbers 2118, 2139, 2165, 2191 and 2204. All of these resolutions except 2204 were agreed upon unanimously. Furthermore, the UN’s reputation has recently come into question because of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Madaya. The town in southwest Syria, close to the border with Lebanon, was the subject of a flash update in early January, which discussed “desperate conditions” in which people were dying of starvation. Food costs rose astronomically, with rice costing as much as $256 per kilogram. There are reports that the United Nations knew about the dire situation for months but were only prompted to act when images of starving children started appearing in news outlets.

Brookings Fellow Michael O’Hanlon expressed his doubts over Kerry’s peace talks. He believes that forcing outside powers to halt arming combatants will cause Assad’s and the Islamic State’s power to solidify, simultaneously harming groups like the Kurds. Therefore, any ceasefire and formation of a new government will “not be built on the foundation of military balance. It would be built on a foundation of sand.” There would be no enforcement mechanism and no body to ensure legitimacy. Furthermore, the new “Syria” would demand high numbers of American soldiers and UN peacekeepers. O’Hanlon argues that the most realistic approach would be to establish a country with autonomous regions, with one or two for the “intermixed cities from Aleppo to Damascus.” He ends by assering that the international community should focus more on the three necessary parts he lists to ending war and finding a feasible political model, given that everyone is still under the illusion that the peace talks will achieve something.

The countries represented in the talks also casts doubts over the sincerity of these talks. In what has been described as a “rare display of unity among global powers,” a close advisor of Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said that Damascus was ready to join UN-sponsored peace talks. Moreover, there are reports that the talks could break down over a dispute regarding the Kurds. The Russians demand that PYD, the political arm of the Kurds, be invited as part of the rebel delegation, which has been opposed by Turks and other powers, as they believe the PYD is not “the real opposition.” Yet, the party that will have the most influence over the talks is another point of contention. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, was recently quoted as saying that Turkey has the right to a decisive influence over the talks because it hosts 2.5 million Syrian refugees, making it “the second largest Syrian country in the world.” He believes that the conflict is a serious domestic issue that could affect his country in the long term if the right solution is not found. The Prime Minister stated that with Assad in Damascus, no Syrian refugee will repatriate.

Therein lies another problem with Resolution 2254 and the upcoming talks; nowhere in the resolution does it mention the future of Assad. While the deposition of Assad may be a longer-term goal of the United Nations, the body has to ensure that his advisors are not able to assume positions of power too. If so, we may see a situation similar to Egypt post-Mubarak, in which the people had to choose to vote between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and former associates of Mubarak, thus forcing them to elect the former.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Prime Minister, who believes his country should have “decisive influence” over the peace talks because of the 2.5 million Syria refugees it hosts. Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK

If the UN resolves the issues pertaining to representation at the talks and appeases Turkey, the pathway to peace is still not simple. It will take decades before the Syrian Civil War comes to an end: the war is not only between rebel groups and forces loyal to the governments but also terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. Resolution 2254 also affirms that all “Member States [must] prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Nusra Front, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL… and [must commit] to eradicating the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria.” Again, we must be pessimist: the UN Security Council cannot expect to have a new constitution with free elections and a new government within 18 months if the terrorist groups still have a strong presence in the country. Furthermore, even if the international efforts are able to push all terrorist activity out of Syria, the Council will then have to deal with terrorism in Iraq and fear that groups could focus attacks on reclaiming Mosul. Caution must be exercised in the event that any strategies undertaken to achieve Resolution 2254 and peace in Syria may be perceived by many as further involvement of the West, inciting attacks that could take place on Western soil. Questions also have to be raised on how to tackle the groups’ ideology, which will no doubt persist in the country even if the main actors have been dismissed.

In order to achieve peace in Syria, the UN Security Council must stick to the language of the resolution: there must be a “Syrian-led political process.” While the UN may moderate, it must ensure that it does not overstep. However, it must also take steps to rebuild its reputation and ensure that the future of Syria is moving in the right direction – that is, without Assad and his regime. Without taking the proper steps, the peace talks scheduled this year are doomed, much like all previous efforts to end this bloodiest of civil wars.

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By Patrick Lim

We’ve all seen the pictures of the mass exodus of Syrian refugees fleeing across the Middle East and washing up on the shores in Europe; we’ve all read about their stories, their losses and their struggle to hold onto a modicum of hope; and we’ve watched and listened to videos of refugees stuck in camps, who wonder day after day what tomorrow will bring and if they will ever return to their home country. Yet, these are not the only media through which the world can only begin to try and to understand the plight of Syrian refugees, or even refugees for that matter. Art and culture can be a way of understanding the different nuances to the conflict and to the sentiments of the people. In particular, it may be a way for them not only to survive the situation but also to voice their true opinions that have been stifled by authoritarian regimes for decades and to challenge the current conflict situation.

"Down with Bashar"
“Down with Bashar”

Specifically in the context of Syrian art, the audience is able to gather an insight into what the population thinks of the regime. According to the book Syria Speaks, at the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria, the people thought that their revolution would be different to other countries’ and embarked on portraying their feelings in songs, posters, performances and videos, which shied away from using words such as “conflict” and “civil war.” The artists believed that art is a tool of resistance, which is vital for social justice, something that they had lived without since before Bashar’s reign. Some recent graffiti depicts Assad’s face with the captions “Step here” or “Down with the dictator.” Syrians have also resorted to expressing their opinions of Assad, his regime and the revolution in the form of tiny puppets in the video series Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator, produced by an anonymous group of Syrian artists known as Masasit Mati. Available on YouTube, the episodes show Assad or “Beesu” to be at the mercy of his shabih or military commander, as he blubbers like a child with multiple swipes being taken at his lisp and the incompetency of his cabinet. Although the series employs dark humor to voice the anger of the people at Assad’s nonchalance about killing people in the episode Who Wants to Kill a Million?, Masasit Mati is able to portray the importance of women and how this revolution is not just about Muslims against Assad but for all sects, religions and genders.

Syria Speaks also talks about the role of children or young people as recurring motifs in revolutionary art, such as those that we see now. Their prominence may demonstrate the extent to which they have been affected by the conflict. However, it may also be a way that this art form remembers and relates to the past. Youth played a role in other uprisings, notably in the first Intifada. A recent Syrian poster shows a double image of a young man throwing a stone with the caption reading: “The Palestinian spirit is in every revolutionary;” thus, linking the displacements of the Syrians and Palestinians. The former group has even been known to have publicly stated that they are now experiencing what their relatives went through several decades ago and, in an act of solidarity, understanding their relatives’ plight. But not all the art relates to past similar experiences. Syrian art also depicts the people’s perpetual frustration under both Assad regimes, going as far back the 1982 Hama uprising with several other pieces showing how the people have grown up in a militarized society. Furthermore, whenever they believe that they have escaped, they find that they are actually still stuck living under a dictator.

Yet, revolutionary art is not only a way for us to understand current attitudes and as a means for the people to remember the past but also to express their future. Groups such as Lens Young Homsi, Lens Young Dimashqi and Lens Young Idlib, are a group of young men and teenagers who have captured life in Syria through photographs taken on mobile phones or cameras. Their pictures show the destruction of cemeteries, homes, and lives and graffiti in Homs that says: “We were forced to leave, but we leave our hearts here…We will return.”

"Homs, we'll be back." Source: Freedom House
“Homs, we’ll be back.” Source: Freedom House is a unique database that has collected hundreds of videos, paintings, comics and graffiti created by Syrians during the revolution, and which aims to “preserve the Syrian memory, a duty because of its total consideration of historical accounts of all Syrian people.” In addition, last week, the 2nd Annual Art in Exile Festival at the Goethe-Instiut in Washington DC featured artists, photographers and filmmakers from the Middle East who will narrate the story of generations of refugees in the region. Called “Art in Exile: Voices from the Middle East,” this three-day long event included movies such as We Cannot Go There Now, which focuses on Palestinians who have fled Syria to seek refuge in Lebanon and Our Terrible Country, which tells the story of an academic’s journey through Syria, even into Raqqa, the center of the Islamic State’s operations.

While we read and watch stories of the Syrian refugees in the media, we must remember that these only present a limited picture. We have to look at various forms of art and their rhetoric – from photographs, graffiti, songs and videos – to truly understand how these frustrations are not only because of the revolution but have been building up over decades due to the authoritarian Assad regimes. We are able to further gain an insight into what these refugees are thinking by seeing how they relate the past of their relatives from Palestine to their current experience and how they express their hopes for the future.

By Kate Moran

Members of the Free Syrian Army preparing to fight, February 2012. Source: Freedom House.

As of writing, the Syrian civil war has been raging for more than four and a half years—or, to be precise, 1,697 days. Since that time, the influence of various players—Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State in its many forms and reinventions, and any number of rebel and opposition groups—has ebbed and flowed considerably. Who controlled Aleppo today did not necessarily control it yesterday, and will probably not control it tomorrow.

As the conflict wears on and the Middle East becomes even more entrenched in a seemingly endless cycle of political dysfunction and humanitarian crises, power brokers from outside the region have also sought to get involved in what is to date the worst refugee crisis since World War II and one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in recent memory. Foremost among these powers is the United States, which has yet to form a cohesive strategy vis-à-vis Syria and the seemingly unshakable Assad regime. Simply put, U.S. foreign policy in this regard has been a no-strategy strategy. Although the Obama Administration has dabbled in airstrikes and halfhearted threats, it has yet to undertake a clear and comprehensive stance on the civil war, choosing instead to direct its attentions to the symptoms of the conflict, rather than its cause.

This has resulted in increased numbers of Syrians being admitted to the United States under a national refugee resettlement program, and in more money being allocated to humanitarian organizations in Europe working on the ground to provide for those individuals and their families who make the awful calculus to risk drowning at sea in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean and find new life. What the United States hasn’t done, however, is implement a strategy in Syria that both addresses the rising threat of the Islamic State and provides for a viable alternative to the so-called caliphate’s rule.

Last year, the United States launched its first airstrikes in Syria, targeted at Islamic State facilities in its stronghold in Raqqa province. The U.S. military coordinated with five different Arab countries in implementing the airstrikes, a rare display of unity in a region known in recent months more for infighting than collaboration. And by and large, these strikes were successful—taking out strategic facilities and destroying oil reserves key to the Islamic State’s economy. But in destroying these facilities, the surrounding areas have also been affected; civilians have become collateral damage of a conflict they never wanted to take part in, and other infrastructure in Syria has been inadvertently damaged. With the addition of Russian airstrikes in October of this year, targeting not Islamic State but the facilities of rebel groups hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an even greater number of civilian have been affected. Critical resources—like water and electricity, have similarly been affected as a result of the strikes, leaving an already-starved country worse off than before. Ultimately, these airstrikes will only serve to strengthen the Islamic State’s influence in embattled Syria; with no plans to rebuild infrastructure, the United States and its allies are creating a power vacuum that will serve to benefit Islamist extremists and provide opportunities for groups worse than even the Islamic State to establish footholds inside the country. Syria’s masses will be left to languish, and groups like the Islamic State will be the better for it.

Long before “ISIL” rose to prominence in the international media, it was waging its own, local propaganda campaign. Before the brutal beheadings on Youtube, Islamic State representatives were hard at work in Raqqa and in other areas of Syria and Iraq setting up social service organizations, supplying electricity to thousands of citizens who had previously lived without it, implementing media campaigns and winning over supporters. This is not to say that most Syrians genuinely harbored support for ISIL ideology, but rather, that the provision of critical services was an offer too good to refuse.

If the United States truly wants to help Syrians take back their country from the Islamic State, then it is crucial that the country seeks more than a brute-force, military resolution to the conflict. It must also supplant Islamic State’s grip on the social, educational, and financial institutions, and provide an appealing alternative to IS’s rule in Syria and Iraq.

While the Islamic State’s public executions are what the group is best known for today, it has not slowed its social propaganda campaign; in the areas that it controls in Iraq and Syria, they are laying power lines, operating bus routes, and beautifying cities. The world must do the same, and better.

In order to end the Syrian civil war and ensure that it doesn’t continue into its fifth, sixth, or seventh year, the United States and all those who care about the Middle East’s stability must abandon their no-strategy strategies. They must provide for refugees, yes, but they must also provide for the Syrians who remain, and who will be the ones that will rebuild the country when the dust settles and the sun sets on the civil war.

A law in Jordan designed to counter the threat of ISIS has led to a crackdown on free speech and civil liberties.
By Alyssa Sims

Amman, Jordan. (Photo: JPRichard/Shutterstock).

The following piece, originally published on July 30, 2015, has been offered up by the author for syndication on our blog. To read the piece as published on New America’s Weekly Wonk, click here.

In 2014, the government of Jordan sued Naseem Tarawnah and his former organization for reporting the news. A controversial law, amended in 2012, required news websites to obtain a license to continue reporting. Tarawnah and his colleagues did not apply for one, and their website was repeatedly blocked by the government.

Today, journalists like Tarawnah are being indicted under another law—Jordan’s anti-terror law, originally passed in 2006 and amended in May of last year. The law is part of a push by the Jordanian government to increase security in response to the rise of ISIS. While the targets of the newly revised law are sympathizers of ISIS living in Jordan, among its side-effects has been the restraint of free speech inside the country. For critics, the reason for the crackdown on free speech is simple: The law is ambiguously written and its vague definition of terrorism leaves journalists—or even everyday citizens using technology—vulnerable to arrest and prosecution before a military, not civilian, court.

“Vague language allows the state (through the courts) to manipulate situations under the guise that everything is open to interpretation,” said Tarawnah, who now operates the website, in an email interview. He cited the example of Hisham Moussa, a 21-year-old Jordanian who was arrested under the law after allegedly forwarding a message on WhatsApp, an instant messaging phone application.

Under the law’s authority, activists and opposition leaders have been indicted on different charges that stem from expressing unpopular or contentious ideas.

Tarawnah and other opponents of the law argue that because it defines what is and isn’t terrorism in vague terms, people can be arrested for emails they send or things they post on social media. Under the law’s authority, activists and opposition leaders have been indicted on different charges that stem from expressing unpopular or contentious ideas. Early this year, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan Zaky Bin Irshaid was sentenced to 18 months in prison for a Facebook post criticizing the United Arab Emirates.

Jordan’s prosecution of Irshaid and others under state security court, a special authority overseeing internal and external threats, is especially unsettling because Western allies and media so often praise Jordan for its comparatively progressive character alongside more repressive regimes in the region. It’s clear that some Jordanian journalists and experts take a different view. They say that the threat of ISIS is being used as an excuse to justify how the anti-terror law has expanded the power of Jordan’s security apparatus.

“Where, say a protest in Saudi Arabia might end very quickly with people being beaten, killed, locked up and tortured immediately (along with Syria or Egypt), Jordan plays it smart. It manages the situation using soft containment, while taking down names,” Tarawnah said in an email. “When the news cycle moves on (and any international spotlight fades), the names are called in. Sometimes they’ll wait months for an activist to slip up and then take them down. Kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.”

Following Tarawnah’s logic, the threat of ISIS is a new means to the security state’s end of policing, and in some cases, curtailing free speech. He also isn’t alone in his critique of the regime’s actions, regardless of its motives. Think tanks and NGOs like Human Rights Watch have acknowledged the military prosecutions of political activists and dissenters under Jordan’s anti-terror law as a threat to freedom of expression. HRW highlighted major problems with amendments to the law, which include its vague wording, in a report released last year.

Jordan’s increased security measures are evident not only in its new uses of anti-terror legislation; they are especially visible along the new border infrastructure. In years past, the borders between Jordan and its neighbors, Syria and Iraq, were porous at best. People could walk back and forth across them without carrying their passports or spending hours at a checkpoint.

But early last month, Jordan completed final construction on a new surveillance system to monitor and control its border with Syria. Built by Raytheon and partially funded by the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, this new system—reportedly worth $79 million—boasts cutting-edge radar and surveillance towers in addition to key command, control, and communications capabilities.

Jordan’s border system will also receive additional support from Raytheon in the coming months: software, infrared cameras, power systems, and training for Jordanian operators of the high-tech equipment. Essentially, this system will enable border forces to detect potential infiltrators from miles away. It has been hailed as a big step forward in keeping Syria’s jihadis out of Jordan.

While successful in this respect, however, it has—like the anti-terror law—had unfortunate and unintended consequences. Several major border entry points have been closed and the flow of goods has been disrupted as a result of the new system, which has in turn had damaging economic effects on Jordan’s border communities.

Jordan’s own response to its security challenges also runs the risk of becoming a long-term setback for political freedom and economic stability in the country.

Unfortunately, Jordan’s increased border-security efforts to thwart ISIS have also left many asylum-seekers from Syria stranded in the desert with limited access to food, water, and medical assistance. “Jordan has gone to great lengths to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch in an article posted on their website last month. “But that is no excuse to abandon newer arrivals in remote border areas for weeks without effective protection and regular aid access.”

Many in the international community understand that ensuring the stability of Jordan is paramount in containing ISIS within the terror network’s self-drawn borders. At the same time, Jordan’s own response to its security challenges also runs the risk of becoming a long-term setback for political freedom and economic stability in the country.

Jordan is not likely to change its policies without objection from the international community, but this seems equally unlikely, demonstrated by the U.S.’s large investment in Jordan’s border project. Maintaining the stability and security of Jordan in light of the advances of ISIS just outside the country’s borders is undeniably of paramount importance; however, security and human rights need not be mutually exclusive.

By Kate Moran

Syrian Kurdish refugees entering Turkey. Source: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO).

It has been a little over a month since the fifth anniversary of the start of the Syrian civil war. Since March 2011, it’s estimated that over one million Syrians have sought asylum in Turkey. Most of them were part of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have streamed across Syria’s northern border with the country, inundating once-sleepy Turkish towns like Reyhanli. Refugee camps like Suruç, Turkey’s largest, with 35,000 residents, are bursting at the seams. More than half of Syrian refugees worldwide are under the age of 18, and thus many of Turkey’s Syrian refugee population are of school age. According to NPR, the education crisis is fueling an epidemic of early marriage, child labor and poor prospects.

Syrians are now a majority in some border towns, like Reyhanli. Although the influx of refugees into Turkey has caused a significant degree of nationalist backlash, some locals are working to bring the country’s burgeoning Syrian population into the greater social fold. Marginalization, an issue faced by refugees everywhere, is especially prominent in Turkey, where a history of cultural heterogeneity and targeted nationalism has pervaded the public and political spheres for more than a century. But marginalization can be dangerous, not just for the marginalized, but also for those who perpetuate it. Like Arab countries in the region, such as Egypt, where high youth unemployment and low educational prospects have fueled social unrest, Turkey will soon have to contend with similar issues.

Refugees left to languish without education or mobility are a threat to both Turkey’s and the region’s stability. Youth unemployment is one of the most pressing threats facing the Middle East today. Unchecked, it has the potential to perpetuate regional instability, augment militant groups’ influence, and further entrench the Middle East in its vicious cycle of economic dysfunction. Rising youth populations makes finding a solution for the region’s economic woes even more critical. Without a sustainable educational model, however, economic prospects will only worsen.

To help close the educational gap, a prominent Turkish educator, Enver Yucel, has donated $10 million to establish an accredited university system where Syrians can take coursework in Arabic, English, and Turkish. Yucel believes that breaking the cycle of exploitation, marginalization, and social inequity begins with education. Investing in refugees’ education, Yucel believes, is an investment in Turkey’s future. It will equip them will the tools necessary to be fully integrated into the social and economic fabric of the country.

180,000 child refugees in Turkey receive school supplies through UNICEF’s No Lost Generation (NLG) initiative, which promotes non-discriminatory access to quality and relevant formal and non-formal education for both refugee and vulnerable host community children. However, the Turkish university system remains largely inaccessible to young Syrians, many of whom were college-bound before the outbreak of the war. Though a significant percentage of Syrian youth are educated, language barriers prevent most of them from pursuing higher education in Turkey, which would in turn, increase their job prospects.

Like Palestinians in Jordan, Syrians in Turkey have irrevocably changed the social, linguistic, and political fabric of the country.  Whether or not Turkey wants them there, many are there to stay. Even under the best circumstances, Syria will take years to recover from the conflict, and prospects for the country’s displaced youth will remain low. Because of this, many Syrians will seek to cultivate new lives for themselves in Turkey. Generations will be born and come of age in a new place, facing the challenge of conflicted identities. They will be both Syrian and Turkish, but perhaps neither fully one nor the other.

Educational initiatives like Enver Yucel’s aren’t just humanitarian; they’re nationalist. Although many Turks resent Syrians for putting undue economic pressure on the government to support them, and for taking jobs away from locals (a common complaint in any society with large refugee/immigrant populations), the full social and economic integration of the Syrian refugees is ultimately critical to Turkey’s well-being and stability. Without such integration, the Eurasian country that has long been perceived as an island of calm in a region of chaos may descend into similar patterns of sectarian violence, religious conflict, and political dysfunction experienced by the rest of the Middle East.

By Patrick Lim

Part of the “Welcome to ISIL-Land” video released by the "Think Again Turn Away" campaign. Source: Youtube, Department of State.

While the international community continues with Operation Inherent Resolve to destroy ISIS, it is also waging a psychological war against the terrorist group’s ideology. What we must also not forget is the millions of refugees in the region whose lives have been destroyed by the violence that does not seem to have a foreseeable end. Thousands of images have been published and retweeted. However, in recent months, the use of extreme imagery has become more prevalent in anti-ISIS propaganda and NGO campaigns—oftentimes, unfortunately, with the same undesired outcomes.

Anti-ISIS Propaganda:

In mid March, a US F-15 jet dropped 60,000 propaganda leaflets over Raqqa, the center of ISIS’ operations. The leaflets contained a cartoon that depicts the terrorist group’s “employment office,” with recruiters as yellow-eyed “men” and fighters being fed into a meat grinder labeled with the derogatory term used in the Middle East for ISIS: “Dae’sh.” The message is simple: for anybody who is thinking of joining, think twice. This cartoon employs extreme graphics to deliver its message, juxtaposing blood-bespattered walls and dehumanized recruiters against the normalcy of potential fighters. As Nicholas Heras, an expert at the Center for a New American Security, explained to USA Today, the cartoon is “trying to set the stage for an internal uprising against ISIS.”

The use of shocking imagery is not new to the US in its campaign to stop radicalization and potential sympathizers. Recognizing that a lot of recruitment occurs online, the State Department launched the “Think Again Turn Away” campaign in December 2013 to combat domestic radicalization on social media. The Twitter account has nearly 22,000 followers and uses two approaches: tweeting counter messaging material and addressing—often in sarcastic exchanges—prominent jihadist accounts, such as those of al-Qa’ida and ISIS. As a result, images of dead children and adults, as well as executions, are sometimes retweeted, so as to “create a compelling narrative that strikes an emotional chord with potential militants weighing whether to join a violent extremist group.” In an attempt to counter violent extremism and to counter propaganda videos from ISIS, the campaign also released a video last year titled “Welcome to ISIL-Land,” in which it tells recruits that they can learn how to blow up mosques and kill Muslims. Graphic images of the terrorist group murdering people and beheading bodies were featured in the video.

A Call for Help:

What we must not forget is the humanitarian crisis that has arisen as a result of ISIS and the Syrian Civil War. Some human rights and anti-government activists in Syria have started to produce videos to draw international attention to the violence of the Assad regime, the death of 200,000 Syrians and the ongoing plight of over 12 million refugees. These people wonder why incidences such as the burning of a Jordanian pilot and the death of American journalists have been quickly answered with increased airstrikes, whereas their daily struggles have not received similar reactions.

Most recently, the advocates herded children, dressed in orange jump suits, into a cage among damaged buildings, while the recorder waves a burning torch in an attempt to evoke the pictures of Moaz Al-Kasasbeh’s death at the hands of the brutal terrorist group. In the video, Baraa Abdulrahman, the recorder and an antigovernment activist living in a Damascus suburb, asks why the world has not responded to the killing of children that happens everyday.

Humanitarian organizations have also shared powerful images to call for a response from the international community. At the beginning of April, two powerful images have taken the Internet by storm, both of young Syrian refugee girls who mistook cameras for guns and held their hands up as a sign of surrender.

What are the effects?

With regard to the propaganda against ISIS, some have criticized the ineffectiveness of the imagery. According to Evan F. Kohlmann, chief information officer of Flashpoint Global Partners, an enterprise that tracks and analyzes militant groups and individuals online, “most of the Westerners trying to join ISIS are actually enthused by videos of executions and suicide bombings, not deterred by them.” This claim is supported by the fact the number of ISIS foreign fighters has risen to more than 25,000 from over 100 nations, a 71% increase from mid-2014 to March 2015. We must also remember that some of the propaganda is not solely aimed at foreign fighters, but also at potential sympathizers in the region. Nevertheless, ISIS does not seem to be slowing down. It has just claimed territory miles from Damascus and, although it is too early to determine the effects of the latest American anti-ISIS pamphlets, if previous efforts are of any indication, we need to rethink our strategy in the fight to degrade and to destroy the group.

The efforts of humanitarian organizations and human rights advocates seem to be similarly ineffective: at a donors’ conference in Kuwait last month, a total of $3.8 billion was committed—almost $5 billion short of the target. Although this may also be a result of donor fatigue, it also seems as if the campaigns by NGOs and activists are doing little to entice the international community to pledge more and hit back at claims that it is failing generations of Syrians.

We may think that extreme, violent, shocking imagery is the only way to appeal to someone’s emotions and get them to react. However, the results have been clear: they do not work. In order to defeat ISIS, we, the international community, must work closely with local communities and religious leaders in person and online, both in the region and internationally, to delegitimize the ISIS ideology through ensuring a deeper, fuller understanding of the Qu’ran. With regard to the humanitarian crisis, we must not always show the problem but to show the solution: alleviate the crisis by opening our borders and public services to those affected by the ongoing violence in the region, especially in places that raise few concerns for our resources. Finally, we must not only prioritize and respond to violent attacks by ISIS but also seek to alleviate the situation for those affected, for I believe that we have a duty to protect.

By Kate Moran

A woman in Madrid, Spain protests the Syrian Civil War and Western military intervention in the country. Source: Adolfo Lujan/DISO Press.

Any pundit worth their salt is familiar with the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. Signed between the British and French governments in the aftermath of World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, this secret treaty aimed to demarcate their respective spheres of neo-colonial influence in the Middle East. It was this agreement that led to the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine and, in the views of many, was a critical component of Israel’s ultimate declaration of state in 1948.

Historians, politicians, and laypeople alike all invoke the language of Sykes-Picot to either voice their justification for, or opposition to, the legality of Britain’s decision to allow for the existence of a Jewish homeland in historical Palestine. Yet, few consider the implications of this agreement for the rest of the region. Indeed, Sykes-Picot remains relevant today and, in light of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, can provide an historical context for understanding how broader political and economic trends in the post-War period have shaped current social realities.

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Britain and France rejected Arab leaders’ bid for Syrian independence. Not soon after, the Sykes-Picot Agreement officially partitioned the Middle East into roughly what we know it as today. Territories ceded to French control included Syria, which would remain under European mandate until 1944.

Though the vestiges of colonialism are by no means the only forces at play in the Syrian Civil War, the legacy of meddlesome European—and later, American—intervention cannot be ignored. Sectarian violence is a feature of the conflict often talked about, but rarely with acknowledgement of the ways in which Syria’s colonial past influences this dynamic.

Part of the reason the Middle East seems so endlessly mired in conflict is because its history is likewise enmeshed in it. The geographical boundaries of the region are almost entirely arbitrary; the interested parties of the Sykes-Picot agreement carved up the Middle East with little to no regard for indigenous social structures like ethnic and tribal affiliations. How can a country and its people—much less an entire region—be expected to identify with, and adhere to, boundaries that they themselves did not determine? Perhaps if the Arab world had been given even minimal say in what their newly-formed, independent republics and states would look like, we would see far less sectarian division today.

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has once again pushed Syria’s colonial past to the fore. Now more than ever, sectarian violence increasingly characterizes a country with one of the region’s richest and most extensive histories of religious and cultural heterogeneity. The Islamic State’s Sunni fighters, in capturing cities, occupying territories, and cleansing these areas of “unorthodox” (read: non-Islamic State sanctioned) elements; seem to be attempting to rewrite the history (and map) of the modern Arab world. Their defiant and brutal acts of violence are undertaken with complete disregard for the arbitrary boundaries first established in the 20th century.

Yet, the Islamic State is equally colonialist in its division of, and dominion over, the Middle East. It too is an imported government structure, and therefore is just as unsustainable as the French and British mandates were in the post-war years of the 20th century. It too displays blatant disregard for historically and culturally significant social constructs. It too is seeking to “whitewash” the Arab world, only under the guise of religion, rather than capitalism or imperial ambition.

Make no mistake: the Islamic State’s legacy is one that will leave its mark, just not the one that it intends. Its brutal campaign to “retake” the Arab world in the name of a perverted interpretation of Islam will fail. In 20, 30, or perhaps 50 years, the Middle East of today will no longer exist. The region’s colonial legacies—those of Europe, the United States, and even the Arab world itself—will eventually run their course. And when all is said and done, the best form of governance for the Arab world—one cultivated in consideration for, not in exception of, social divisions—will emerge. This form will be the most lasting legacy of the Middle East. Although, at first glance, maintaining these divisions may appear counterproductive to achieving regional stability, in fact, they are the only way that such stability can be achieved.

Rather than conceptualizing ethnic and cultural diversity in the Middle East as a prerequisite for government dysfunction, it would behoove the West, and those who care at all about the Middle East beyond its geopolitical strategic value, to understand this diversity as an impetus for inspiring effective governance. Most importantly, these divisions will inspire social unity when extricated from a colonial framework of suppression and homogenization.

The Syrian conflict is a complicated muddle of individual, national, and international interests. The Islamic State will not be defeated overnight, and solely blaming the European occupation and colonization of the Arab world for its current woes is both shortsighted and unproductive. Rather, understanding this history might help those in positions of influence to make better-informed decisions about how and when to intervene in the region, and how the current sociopolitical realities have been shaped. In this way, we might begin to understand how we might best help—even if it means staying out of it.

By James Abate

Alia and Basma, both aged 12, tackle a maths question at a temporary school in northern Lebanon, set up by UNICEF and Lebanese NGO Beyond Association with the help of UK aid. Source: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development.

A formalized educational system within a nation is necessary not only to cultivate productive citizens but also to provide a structured system for children to realize how the world around them functions. The molding of children into educated adults by way of schooling is severely hindered, however, for refugees displaced by war or genocide.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described the Syrian Civil War as “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” Almost half of the causalities of the conflict are children, and millions of refugees continue to flee into neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. UNHCR reports that Lebanon, a country with a population of only around 4 million, houses 1.2 documented refugees within its borders. That number swells to an estimated 2 million when taking unregistered refugees into consideration. Within Jordan, 700,000 refugees have been granted asylum, with that number projected to increase to around 1 million by the end of 2015.

Education in the region provides refugees an indisputable opportunity for advancement far beyond mere survival. However, for the 400,000 Syrian children and young adults who are registered in Lebanon’s education system, proper education is a luxury; many of young refugees believe their dreams of attending school are a lost cause. The UN reports that, as of March, “in Lebanon, there are more school-age refugees than the entire intake of the country’s public schools” and of those refugees only 30% of them are receiving a proper education. While the Lebanese Ministry of Education has traditionally covered all costs for the various stages or cycles of education, the country is facing a massive crisis trying to accommodate this dramatic increase in enrollment.

Apart from the sheer magnitude of students now being placed into the Lebanese educational system, various linguistic, cultural, and curricular barriers continued to prevent Syrian children from receiving this necessary experience. In Syria, the curriculum for students is taught completely in Arabic, while in Lebanon many subjects are taught in French or English. Consequentially, Syrian children placed into this system face a massive language barrier. At the same time, teachers in the Lebanese schools are forced to delay curriculum to work on the basics of English or French with these students. Many Lebanese families have begun to pull their children out of the public school system in favor of private schools, despite the debilitating economic circumstances. Beyond just “soft” barriers, Syrian children have been known facing violence such as bullying and harassment within their schools. According to one Syrian mother, “her child, Mazin, was ‘humiliated and beaten’ at a Lebanese public school.”

Whether or not we blame the failing Lebanese educational system or the various NGOs and non-profits such as UNICEF and UNHCR who provide funding for refugee education, we must recognize the gravity of this lack of education for Syrian children in order to move forward. Not only does the lack of a formalized educational experience eliminates any semblance of normality or structure in a refugee’s life, but the lack of knowledge and liberal learning for Syrian youth also represents something even more detrimental to Syria’s future. In addition to being plunged into one of the worst civil wars of the past 25 years, Syria has now lost a generation. This generation will not be able to continue on to shape the post-war region and will not be able to restructure their homeland. It is indeed quite frightening to wonder about the future of this nation knowing that those who should have been the ones to lead lack the education to do so.


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On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State...