PHocusing on Migration and Health: the SyrianWar


There are many types of migration- North-south, south-south, intentional and otherwise. My own grandparents migrated to Canada from Germany and Poland after the war. Now, June 20 is world refugee day and with that in mind, I’d like to take the time to PHocus on the war in Syria.

The Syrian civil war began during the Arab Spring uprising in April of 2011- when Syrians began protesting against Bashar Al-Assad and the 40 years of military rule. Recently, the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis associated with this terrible war has escalated and refugees are pouring into the neighboring nations of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. According to UNHCR data, there are some 1.67 million refugees and some 500’000 can be found each in Lebanon and Jordan. To put this in perspective, Lebanon is a country of 4 million people and with some 500’000 refugees it means that nearly 1 in every 7 people currently occupying the country is a refugee.

It’s not just these numbers that are shocking but the rate at which they’re increasing. From January to April of 2013 the number of refugees doubled from about 500’000 to 1M. Likewise, between April 2013 and the today, June 18th, these numbers have again increased by 150%, with the number of official refugees hovering just below 1.5 million. That’s 1.5 million men, women and children, of all ages and from all walks of life, that have been forced to migrate because of this conflict.  It is important here, to note that these are just the official, registered refugees and that these numbers don’t include everyone. The other thing these numbers don’t touch on is the scale of the crisis within Syria, about the millions of internally displaced persons and the troubles these people face. Indeed, experts estimate that there are over “million internally displaced Syrians.

As in any humanitarian crisis situation, conditions for refugees living in overcrowded and filling-still camps are deplorable. In fact, one of the tent cities (Zaartari) has become Jordan’s 5th largest ‘city’. At camp Zataari, riots are relatively common and the overwhelming lack of support, from healthcare to education is starting to take its toll. The signs of extreme poverty are clear, with increased prostitution and child brides being reported.

However, only a fraction of refugees are in fact, living in camps. Many have settled into the cities and towns where they are competing for meager wages and piecemeal work. Determined to avoid abject poverty, and the accompanying hunger and homelessness, Syrian refugees are undercutting Lebanese workers, by offering to take jobs at a fraction of the normal salary. Alternatively, shopkeepers have offered to sell goods at a fraction of their normal price, thusly cutting out local businesses. This rising joblessness among host nation citizens has become a contentious issue and is just one of the many that threatens to destabilize the region’s ‘stable’ countries, even further.  Indeed, the situation has become dire and it is set to remain that way, at least for some time. Even when the war does finish, the widespread destruction of infrastructure and community, will pose a serious challenges in rebuilding this nation.

All this of course comes on the heels of news reports that government troops are probably using the chemical agent, sarin gas, to attack rebel combatants- but that’s another story for another day. So on June 20 I ask you to take a moment, to think about the 70 000 people that have died in this conflict and the many more that are suffering as a result, and remember just how lucky you are.

To donate to the British Red Cross’s effort in Syria, go here:


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