The Syrian conflict and its refugees

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A Syrian refugee family gathers in front of their tent in a UNCHR refugee camp. Courtesy of unrefugees.org

The Syrian Civil War caused half of the nation’s population to flee their homes by the end of 2015, according to CNN. Recently, the conflict in Syria has escalated, following several precariously calm weeks beginning in mid-October.
 The Syrian regime and Russian allies resumed airstrikes on the city of Aleppo November 15, according to npr.org. Additionally, Syrian and Russian planes bombed eight hospitals across Syria from November 9 to November 16. The five most recent attacks took place within 48 hours of each other, according to the New York Times. As of November 20, more than 250 thousand civilians in Eastern Aleppo do not have access to hospital care because recent bombings have decimated all hospitals in the besieged area of the city, according to the World Health Organization.
The roots of the Syrian conflict emerged in the spring of 2011 when peaceful protests erupted following the Arab Spring movements in Egypt and Tunisia, according to aljazeera.com. In response, President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government killed and imprisoned demonstrators. In July 2011, the Free Syrian Army rebel group formed with the goal of overthrowing the government. Shortly thereafter, the nation descended into civil war.

Syrian civilians wait to board buses to flee the besieged area of Eastern Aleppo. Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images
Syrian civilians wait to board buses to flee the besieged area of Eastern Aleppo. Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

As the chaos in Syria intensified, the Islamic State (ISIS) exploited the country’s internal conflict and began to seize Syrian territory in 2013, according to bbc.com. In September 2015, Russia initiated an airstrike campaign targeting ISIS and rebel groups with the support of Western nations, according to aljazeera.com.
Presently, the Syrian government has control over some portions of the country, but various rebel groups are infighting and battling the government for power. The Islamic State is also continuing to conquer and claim regions of Syria. Additionally, the Kurdish population is rebelling against the Syrian regime to assert autonomy, while simultaneously fighting to keep ISIS at bay, according to bbc.com.
Amidst these violent conflicts, Syrians are also facing a hunger epidemic. According to wfp.org, a lack of farming equipment, supplies, and access to safe, arable land has caused food production in the country to decline. After five years of conflict, farmers are unable to feed the country, and over 80 percent of Syrian households are short on food.
As of November 2016, more than 4.8 million Syrians have escaped to foreign countries, according to unhcr.org. Since the beginning of the fiscal year of 2012, the United States has taken in a total of 16,260 Syrian refugees, according to the United States Department of State Refugee Processing Center. Canada, which has one-tenth of the population of the United States, has resettled 34,192 Syrian refugees since November 4, 2015, according to cic.gc.ca.  
If a refugee is seeking resettlement, he or she must first have a referral from the United Nations Hight Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to state.govBefore issuing a referral, the United Nations first conducts a background check for each refugee seeking resettlement. These background checks comprise of in-person interviews, reference checks to the applicant’s native country, and iris scanning, according to time.com and whitehouse.gov
According to whitehouse.gov, less than one percent of the global refugee population advances beyond the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) background checks to be considered for resettlement in another country. The individuals who the UNHCR prioritizes for resettlement are the most vulnerable refugee cases, such as victims of sexual violence, political persecution, and torture, or families with many children or a female head, the elderly, and those who have urgent medical needs, according to time.com.
In fact, 24 percent of the UNHCR’s refugee referrals for resettlement were victims of violence and torture, according to unhcr.orgIn the United States, more than a quarter of refugees are adults over 60 years old, and approximately half of all refugees admitted to the United States are children, according to time.com.
After the UNHCR approves requests for resettlement, the United States government reviews refugee applications with its own vetting process. Syrian refugees undergo the most rigorous vetting of any individual traveling to the United States, according to whitehouse.gov.
A Syrian refugee family gathers in front of their tent in a UNCHR refugee camp. Courtesy of unrefugees.org
A Syrian refugee family gathers in front of their tent in a UNCHR refugee camp. Courtesy of unrefugees.org.

According to state.gov, the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) reviews refugee applications. The screening process involves the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) of the Department of State, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the Department of Health and Human Services, five international or nongovernmental organizations operating Resettlement Support Centers under the supervision and funding of the PRM, and nine domestic nongovernmental organizations, according to state.gov
Before approving a refugee applicant for resettlement in the United States, the USCIS of the Department of Homeland Security examines each application and coordinates an in-person interview with each applicant, according to state.gov. On average, the length of the entire process, from an applicant’s referral from the United Nations to his or her official arrival in the United States as a refugee, is 18 to 24 months, according to state.gov.
In the United States, the national dialogue about the Syrian conflict and Middle Eastern refugees intensified during the 2016 presidential election cycle. According to politifact.com, President-elect Mr. Donald Trump asserted in a June 2016 speech that Middle Eastern refugees pose a threat as potential terrorists, and that the United States admits increasing numbers of refugees without a screening plan. 
The Wall Street Journal conducted an interview with Mr. Trump November 11, in which he stated that the United States should focus on battling ISIS by cooperating with Syria and Russia.
Upper School French and Arabic Teacher Mrs. Souad Malih works with Stamford Interfaith Refugee Settlement (SIRS) to help Syrian refugee families adjust to a new life in America. Through her efforts to help Syrian refugees, Mrs. Malih gained insight about the process of refugee resettlement.
“I learned a lot about how long the process takes, and how much refugee families go through emotionally. Their future is a huge question mark,” Mrs. Malih said.
– Emily Coster, Opinions Editor and Co-Podcast Editor