What happens when a crisis so prolongs that the world tires of it?
You get 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
You get stories like the one told by this woman living in a refugee camps. She has been in a Lebanese camp for three years with her two sons, one of whom is autistic. She has necessities, but little else; what she dreams of is that her children get an education.
“We don’t go to anyone, we don’t visit anyone because dealing with him is so difficult,” the woman told Amnesty International researchers. “People stay away because they are afraid he will hurt their children. This little room is our bedroom, it is our living room, it is our everything. Our financial situation doesn’t allow us to register him in such [specialist] schools… That is why we need to resettle in another country, to get help for our child. This will make it better for him and for us.”
Amnesty International wants to give this woman and her family a future. Our #OpenToSyria campaign is urging the world’s richest countries to open up to Syria’s most vulnerable refugees.
To date, the burden of caring for overwhelming majority of refugees is falling on five countries: Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. Long-term settlement of the refugees in these poor countries is not feasible and is already leading to political instability.
The UN has set a target of resettling more than 300,000 Syrian refugees – under 10 percent of the total Syrian refugee population, and called upon the world to step up and help. The response to date has been pitiful.
The #OpenToSyria campaign aims to change that, but there are many challenges. Traditionally, when the UN sets a target of resettling refugees in a humanitarian crisis, the US takes on around half. When it comes to Syria, however, the US has not stepped up.
State Department officials have been vague about setting a target for US resettlement, saying they are now looking at around 9,000 applications, but much more is needed to achieve the UN goal. Meanwhile, key congressmen are already pushing back on any Syrian resettlement, playing the terrorist card without any supporting evidence.
The #OpenToSyria campaign will change the debate to a focus on the humanitarian crisis in the refugee camps, the threat to regional stability if the status quo remains and the international obligation not to care for the refugees.
The curse of the war will follow these refugees. One Syrian man, a longtime activist who resettled in the Netherlands, told Amnesty International that he still has “the same ugly nightmares with the faces of those members of the security forces who raped me.”
“This is our biggest problem here in the Netherlands: feeling the effects of the shock and the painful horrible memories that still torture us. What also pains me sometimes is feeling guilty because I am still alive while so many of my friends and relatives have lost their lives in Syria.”
In a crisis where the war seems intractable, and space for human rights activism appears to shrink with each day of war, here is one place where Amnesty International members and our many allies can add their voice and bring about real change that can improve the lives of thousands of Syrians.
Here’s what you can do.
- Print/write an #OpenToSyria message board and take a photo of yourself welcoming Syrians to your favorite place, or a place iconic to your community.
- Post the photo with a message to a social media site using the #OpenToSyria hashtag so it can be picked up by Amnesty International campaigners.
- Invite other partner groups to participate as well. The success of this campaign will depend on reaching out to influential allies who are vocal on Syria resettlement.
We have established two platforms for the campaign where we will collect various photos, videos and messages posted on social media: One on Storify and a second on Tumblr. This will serve as our petition to US and world leaders.
Someday the refugees may be able to go home. Right now, home for them is a killing field. They’re stuck in desperate conditions, and they rightly believe the world has abandoned them. It’s time to show the Syrian people that they’re not forgotten, that we are opening our minds, arms, hearts and communities to them.
They deserve this message of hope.