The Syrian civil war has raged for three years killing over 100,000 and displacing over 6 million people from their homes. More than 2 million have fled into neighboring countries as refugees since the start of the conflict.. Last week students at DePaul organized a week of event to help bring attention to the growing refugee crisis and raise money for the UNHCR.
On Wednesday students gathered in the quad by the a small UNHCR refugee tent to participate in a conversation with a Syrian refugee that was forced to flee his country after helping organize protests against the Assad regime. The refugee went by the alias Muhammad because he is still wanted by the regime.
Before the civil war Muhammad had lived in Damascus and owned his own company. In addition to working in English to Arabic translations, Muhammed had volunteered with the Red Crescent to help Iraqi refugees that had fled into Syria.
“Iraqi refugees used to come to Syria,” Muhammad said. “Now things have flipped however.”
According to the UNHCR 225,548 Syrians have fled to Iraq since the beginning of the fighting in Syria.
The civil war started after protests erupted originally about the detention of seven 11-year-old students by the Assad regime in 2011. With the Arab Spring fueling uprisings throughout the Middle East, the Assad regime cracked down on the protest, violently killing 11 people. In response, protests demanding the regime’s ouster rose up throughout the country.
Muhammad was from one of the first neighborhoods to join the protest and he took an active part in organizing his friends and neighbors to take part.
“It was really sweet,” Muhammad said about the protests. “We had never been that free before.” The protests were continuously countered by harsh crackdowns by the regime. “Eight of my friends and neighbors are still in detention.”
As the regime’s crackdowns grew increasingly more violent, protesters began to arm themselves. What eventually emerged was the Free Syrian Army. Over the last two years however, fighting between the FSA and the Assad Regime has drawn out Islamic fundamentalist militias, and Kurdish separatists have also risen up to join the fray.
“Just looking at the number of children who are by themselves is shocking,” Jilian Saman, a representative from World Relief who was at the event said. According the UNHCR, about 40 percent of the refugees from Syria are under the age of 11.
DePaul’s Syrian Awareness Week was organized by Shaza Loutfi and Jonathan Slater partnered with several other student groups and USA for UNHCR.
“The UN has declared this the worst humanitarian crisis of our time,” Slater said. “It seemed important to me to do what I can to help out.”
In addition to meeting in the Quad on Wednesday, a bazar in the Student Center Atrium Tuesday and a panel of speakers on Thursday night helped raise funds for the UNHCR. In total the events were able to raise $700 over the course of four days of events.
“The most important takeaway for students attending our events is that while our lives continue as normal, millions of innocent people are having theirs uprooted and destroyed,” Slater said. “Students don’t need to drop everything and move to Syria to help, just to learn about the conflict, donate money to any of the fantastic organizations working there, or write to their policy makers demanding action be taken to stop this needless suffering.”
“You should feel what its like in their shoes,” Hamze Allham, a freshmen at DePaul who lived in a tent similar to the one in the Quad when he was in a Palestinian refugee camp said. “I have been there, you would give a lot more.”
The UNHCR as part of the UN is the only humanitarian organization that is still able to work in Syria. According to the UNHCR the group requires $4,264,717,711 for 2014, currently however they only raised $1,137,461,548.
Saman also encouraged students to volunteer their time to helping refugees from Syria who will be coming to the United States over next few years to help them transition to their new life.
“There is a need for genuine friendships that can be transformative relationships” Sama said. “ Be a good neighbor.”