The State of Syria: More Difficult Times to Come
By: Yasmina Hage/Arab America Contributing Writer
Syria is facing a truly major humanitarian crisis. On March 15, 2020, it had been exactly nine years since the war in Syria began. It is a conflict that has left thousands dead and wounded, while at the same time driving millions of people to flee their country in hopes of better opportunities elsewhere. Today, many complications in this war are emerging and affecting Syria and its people.
A Population in Crisis
According to the UN, in Idlib, for example, more than 800,000 people have left Syria because of the fighting since December 1, 2019. Of these 800,000 people, 60% are children. Four out of every five people who have been displaced since December 1, are people whose health, safety, and well-being are at risk. In addition, more than 80,000 people have no place to go or stay overnight. They have to spend the night out in the cold, causing many to fall ill. Today, Syria faces one of the deadliest wars in its history.
“According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are nearly 6.6 million internally displaced persons in Syria since 2011 and almost 5.6 million refugees in neighboring countries. On the territory or abroad, the fate of these populations is the same: deplorable living conditions, lack of hygiene, malnutrition, lack of access to health care and education…” international class.
Moreover, violence and movements in this country have repercussions on young people’s health, as one of many examples. Indeed, nearly three out of ten children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth. “This stunting not only results in poor cognitive and educational outcomes but also increases the risk of morbidity and mortality,” advised the United Nations.
A Worsening Situation in the Face of External Problems
In addition to the war, Syria is facing the collapse of the Lebanese economy and international sanctions in addition to the suffering as a result of COVID-19.
The Impact of the Collapse of the Lebanese Economy
The economic crisis in Lebanon is depressing the Syrian economy. There are increasingly severe restrictions imposed by Lebanese banks on dollar deposits, which have practically has frozen assets of the Syrians that are living in Lebanon.
Moreover, the fall of the Lebanese pound has a strong impact on the Syrian currency, explained Jihad Yazigi. “Since the beginning of March, the dollar’s value has increased in the free foreign exchange market by about 20%.” Currently, the cost of petrol and gas has risen by 160 to 248%, and many food products have increased by 40 to 75%.
United Nations Sanctions
Adding to the struggles, Washington initiated sanctions against Syria with the “Caesar Law,” which came into force on June 17. It aims to put maximum pressure on Damascus, hoping for a political resolution of the conflict. The law would prohibit entry into the United States and bar access to the U.S. financial system to any person, institution, or company that would “obstruct peace in Syria” or logistically facilitate the war effort in Damascus.
“In the debate on Syria, the issue of sanctions is one of the most heated topics. On one hand, the Assad regime and its allies are crying out for ‘state terrorism’ by ensuring that the civilian population is the main victim of these measures. On the other hand, the United States and the European Union boast of a targeted mechanism that is aimed solely at the Syrian government’s capacity for repression. In this standoff, which the urgency of the fight against the coronavirus has revived, both sides are telling the truth and lying at the same time,” according to La Croix.
In fact, the sanctions are likely to worsen Syria’s economic difficulties given they already have a very unstable economy. Sanctions can complicate imports such as fuel imports, for example. “Unfortunately, the Syrians are the ones who will suffer the most,” Mr. Dehnert predicts. In addition, Washington’s pressure on the Syrian banking sector is hampering the import of medical equipment, which is very much needed by the population.
Syria Facing COVID-19
“If the containment lasts, the crisis could have a disastrous impact on the informal sector, which employs nearly 70% of Syrian workers, who will be deprived of income,” Samir Aita, president of the Arab Circle of Economists, told Middle East Eye.
The spread of COVID-19 around the world will reduce financial transfers to Syria. This is problematic because a large proportion of Syrians survive mainly on money sent to them by their families from abroad. In the past, money transfers could also be made “hand to hand” with people living in neighboring countries such as Lebanon. However, this is now in jeopardy due to border closures.
A Difficult Choice
With the war and various problems that Syria is facing, Syrians have a difficult choice to make. Should they leave their country or stay? Knowing that, in either case, there are many risks. Considering that 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, to leave their country, they will have to do so by boat with many risks such as: Not arriving at their destination; possible capsizing; and, the risk of not finding work on the spot. At the same time, if they decide to stay, their lives may be at stake. Indeed, staying means suffering the bombings and the sharp increase in basic food prices among many other difficulties.
These problems have led some families to force their children to work or sell goods to meet their needs. Children have been recruited to fight; girls, sometimes very young, face rape, and more. As a result, many children who remain in Syria, unfortunately, do not have the chance to experience a “normal” childhood. In addition to having to grow up in a war situation and with the constant fear that someone they care about could die at any moment, they are forced to grow up faster, help their parents, and more. This means they do not have the “luxury” of going to school, studying, and graduating to aspire to a better future. They are all stuck in this vicious circle with their only hope that these horrors will stop.
With all these problems, there is still hope. Some people are there to help. There is help for refugees as well as help for those who stay in Syria needing assistance. There are UNICEF and its partners. “Together with our partners, we are providing shelter, clean water, hygiene products, blankets. Last year, we screened 1.8 million children and mothers for malnutrition. We consulted more than two million people and vaccinated 600,000 children under one year of age. As a result of our work on the ground, 7.4 million people benefited from improved hygiene services. About 400,000 women and children received psychosocial support to help them overcome war-related trauma. We helped 1.8 million children to continue attending school. We have helped 1.8 million children stay in school,” said UNICEF.
Now it’s your turn to act. Help Syrians in need by donating. You can save more than one life.
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