Syria, Still in Chaos, Still Forgotten

The Middle East has been broadly characterized as a region rife with conflict. With recent headlines like “War within a war” from BBC or “Militants Kill Egyptian Security Forces in Deadly Attack” from the New York Times, that may be no surprise. These simple headlines often belie the complexity and severity of humanitarian crises in the area, ranging from the conflict in Syria to the forgotten war in Yemen. Throughout the year as a Kenan Human Rights writer, I plan to focus on individual crises and shed light on the historical and political context through a human rights lens. 

One of the most debated and relevant issues for the United States currently is that of Syria. Syria’s civil war and ensuing chaos has killed over 400,000 people. Moreover, the catastrophe caused five million Syrians to leave the country and six million internal refugees within the nation. The United States has failed to take an active role in responding to the conflict, especially in comparison to other Middle Eastern nations.

UNRWA, via AP (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)
The civil war originated in 2011, as the nation was swept up in the Arab Spring, with protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Assad’s brutal suppression of the protests led civilians to take up arms and form resistance groups, spiraling into the conflict that we know today. However, this civil war is not only between those who support and oppose Assad. Rather, terrorist groups such as ISIS and remnants of al-Qaeda remain as well as the Kurds, who seek independence. This dynamics of the war are even more complicated by the presence of foreign entities, such as the United States and Russia, that have competing goals in Syria. Moreover, from a broader view, many Middle Eastern nations, such as Iran, Turkey, and Jordan, hold crucial stakes in Syria and have dealt with the ensuing refugee population that has emerged from the violence of this crisis. 

The United States, along with other international actors, has a clear goal of eliminating ISIS from the region. After over two years of airstrikes and support for groups on the ground like the Syrian Kurds, the United States has effectively weakened ISIS’ grip in Syria and retaken key cities such as Raqqa, Mosul, and Fallujah. This is crucial, as ISIS has wreaked havoc in the region, murdering and torturing civilians, particularly targeting religious minorities such as the Yazidis. ISIS is a group that has relentlessly used chemical weapons, as a form of warfare. Yet, ISIS is not the only actor in Syria that has committed international war crimes. The Syrian government, led by Bashar al Assad has viciously and knowingly dropped sarin on rebel held areas, targeting his own citizens, leading to over 24 attacks over the course of the war. In fact, earlier this year in April, in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, President Trump ordered the deployment of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. This has become a key problem in U.S. foreign policy in Syria, as debates have launched over what the United States’ end game is in Syria and how feasible any goals are as long as Assad remains in power. Questions linger over what Syria looks like after ISIS is defeated, such as who rules and governs in cities that have now been liberated.

Another issue is that Assad finds support from Iran and Russia. Since 2015, Russia has given military support to Assad and Iran has supplied advisors and fighters to bolster Syria’s ranks. This military support has enabled outcomes like the month-long bombing of Aleppo last September and October, killing over 440 civilians. Yet, the United States is not guilt free. Some allege the United States of committing war crimes. International coalition airstrikes, led by the U.S., were misdirected and killed 150 civilians in Mosul earlier in March this year. These follow instances of attacks on mosques and civilian schools in Raqqa. All actors are guilty of injuring innocent civilians and failing to sustain a durable ceasefire that provides temporary peace to civilians. This is why it may be no surprise that over 5 million Syrians have left home, seeking shelter in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon or even daring to cross the ocean to seek refuge in European nations.

John Stanmeyer (National Geographic)
The current approach to the refugee crisis is not sustainable. Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, bordering Syria, host the majority of refugees, a staggering 5 million. This number is even more shocking when considering the only 18,000 Syrians who have received entry into the United States and 1 million who have found asylum in Europe. In fact, in Lebanon, 25% of the nation’s population is composed of Syrian refugees, leading the president, Michel Aoun to announce to the international community that “My country cannot handle it anymore.” The generally opening arms of countries neighboring Syria comes into direct contrast with the closed doors of Europe and the United States. In our nation, President Trump has relied on a campaign of discriminatory rhetoric and even signed an executive order in January, banning Syrian refugees from entering the country, equating those who seek to escape terrorism with the terrorists themselves. In Europe, nations have strengthened their borders, establishing barbed wire fences and walls. Some countries, such as Italy, Poland, and Hungary, have even supported deportation and detention of refugees, laws that conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. While the Syrian crisis is certainly complicated, it is shameful for developed nations that consistently herald their moral values and human rights to turn the other way as the refugee crisis unfolds. In the upcoming year, I intend to explore in depth the situation on the ground in Syria and resulting refugee crisis, uncovering the best ways to achieve a humanitarian solution. 

Trump Shatters Obama’s Syrian Legacy

History will not remember Barack Obama kindly for Syria. At least, that’s what the critics of President Obama claim. For Obama, the usage of chemical weapons was a red line that would warrant military intervention from the United States. In turn, Bashar al-Assad, the ruthless dictator of Syria, killed nearly 1,500 of his own civilians with chemical weapons. However, in a decision that would later become one of the most controversial in his tenure, President Obama decided to stand back and not enforce the red line. President Trump has decried this decision in a statement released earlier this year, “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.” In fact, this may have influenced Trump’s decision in April of 2017 to send 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria after learning that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own civilians yet again. Despite key differences between President Trump and Obama’s approach towards drones and Syrian refugees, both leaders are limited by outside actors in the Syrian conflict. 

Both leaders have been limited in Syria by two actors: Turkey and Russia. In regards to the former, both recognize the importance of on the ground actors in fighting ISIS. Although President Obama strongly considered arming the Syrian Kurds directly, he never followed through due to fears of Turkey’s reprisal. Erdogan, the president of Turkey, views the Syrian Kurds as an extension of the Turkish Kurdish terrorist group, the PKK, which is in an ongoing battle with the Turkish government. Likewise, while President Trump initially supplied weapons to the Syrian Kurds, also known as the YPG, he has walked back on this pledge as of November 24th to temper Erdogan. With these careful actions, both leaders demonstrated the importance of Turkey in Syria and Turkey’s role in broader foreign policy for the United States. Turkey remains a crucial NATO ally and helps the United States maintain national security both in Europe and the Middle East. 

Comparably, Russia has also forced the United States to modify its Syrian strategy. In Syria, Russia backs Bashar al-Assad and has provided military force to support the regime and its crackdown on rebel groups in the area. Therefore, Russia holds immense power in determining the future of a post-ISIS Syria. The chief Russian military staff has announced that Russia will withdraw and diminish the number of troops in Syria by the end of the year, remarking that “[militarily] there is very little left to do…” In fact, Putin is hosting Rouhani, the president of Iran, and Erdogan, the president of Turkey, soon to discuss the postwar outlook for Syria. The meeting most notably excludes the United States, which has lost its role as a power broker in Syria. This comes despite U.S. efforts to coerce Assad to make concessions at United Nations led peace talks. Secretary of State Tillerson has echoed former Secretary of State Kerry in putting pressure on Russia to maintain the peace process in Syria. Foolishly, both leaders attempted to coerce Putin to change his strategy in Syria without realizing that Putin views Syria as a zero-sum game, allowing Russia to dictate the outcome of Syria.

Although Trump and Obama were constrained by outside actors in Syria, their game plan in Syria differs in distinct ways. President Obama infamously relied on drones with little to no transparency. His administration’s failure to accurately report data on drone strikes caught much blowback. In addition, many scholars debated whether Obama’s heavy usage of drones violated international law. Others believed that, regardless of questions about legality, the high number of civilian casualties from his drone strikes warranted their termination. Despite these critiques, President Obama continued to utilize targeted killing. President Trump has also made drone strikes a key part of his Syrian foreign policy. While critics are right to point out the flaws of Obama’s dependence on drones, they should recognize that under Trump, the problems have only magnified. Under Trump, the executive branch has yielded more power to the CIA, reducing executive oversight and accountability in determining when and where drone strikes will be conducted. Moreover, Trump has eliminated the rule that required approval from a coalition of international actors, such as the UK, France, and Jordan, before any U.S. airstrike was launched. As a result, in the first few months under the Trump presidency, a greater number of Iraqi and Syrian civilians have died from airstrikes. To quantify, an average of 80 civilians died per month due to Obama’s drone strikes, a number that has risen to 360 under Trump’s presidency. 

Obama and Trump diverge significantly when discussing Syrian refugee policy. In January, President Trump signed an executive order banning Syrian refugees from entering the country. Although this plan was later disputed and rolled back, the Trump administration has maintained severe limitations and delays on admitting refugees from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, amongst other nations. In nine of the 11 countries targeted, Islam is the primary religion, demonstrating that Trump’s Muslim ban lives on. On Monday, December 4th, the Supreme Court upheld the enforcement of this edition of Muslim ban, setting an unfortunate precedent. Overall, Trump has lowered the refugee cap to 45,000 for 2018, the lowest since 1980. Trump’s refugee policy clearly differs from the goal Obama set of admitting 110,000 total refugees and 10,000 Syrian refugees. Ironically, while Obama was in office, many criticized him for failing to take in more at a time when over 4 million were displaced from their homes. The Trump and Obama administration demonstrate clear differences in their priorities with refugees and civilians. Obama’s legacy in Syria may not be remembered kindly, but Trump’s approach will be shameful and full of regret.

In Syria, Human Rights are Falling Quickly Out of Reach/China

In Syria, violations of international law and war crimes have become the norm. Yet, unfortunately, the ability of the international community to act has become more and more constrained. The human rights framework is necessary to protect the Syrian people, but its idealism often conflicts with reality. 

Syria is no stranger to war crimes. The UN Reported in March of 2017 that in Aleppo alone, the Syrian government has dropped chlorine bombs on its own citizens, purposefully targeted hospitals, and deliberately attacked humanitarian aid groups. Moreover, the Syrian government has used siege warfare as a tactic to force citizens to surrender. Syrian troops surround cities, preventing the entry and exit of not only civilians but also crucial supplies, including food. In addition, the Syrian government has committed mass executions, up to 13,000 people, since the civil war’s beginning. Many of these acts of violence amount to war crimes under humanitarian law and clear violations of human rights. However, the United Nations (UN) is severely limited in the actions it can take. UN Security Council resolutions require unanimous approval by the 15 Security Council members. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s actions are vetoed time and time again by Russia. Russia is a key ally of Syria and has used its Security Council veto 11 times to prevent the Syrian government from being punished. Russia views the Syrian rebels opposing Assad as the cause of conflict and therefore refuses to support resolutions that solely blame the Syrian government. Similarly, China has also leveraged its veto power to prevent sanctions against the Syrian regime, citing its history of noninterference in other countries’ affairs. Due to vetos, the United Nations ended its investigation of Syrian chemical attacks and the Security Council was unable to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. These actions create a “dangerous stalemate” in Syria. The role and power of outside actors in the Syrian conflict make widespread calls for Syrian human rights difficult to achieve.

Aside from its veto power, Russia has aided the Syrian government in perpetuating war crimes. For instance, Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed dozens of civilians. Additionally, Russian troops have supported their Syrian counterparts on the ground to limit the entry of humanitarian groups to aid civilians in the area. In turn, citizens lack crucial access to medical care and food, lengthening the humanitarian crisis. Lama Fakih, deputy director at the Human Rights Watch, notes that “The world is silently looking on as Russia and Syria tighten the noose around the suffering population of Eastern Ghouta with unlawful strikes, widely-banned weapons, and a devastating siege.” Russia’s entrance into the conflict has only strengthened Syria’s resolved and weakened the international community’s ability to uphold human rights. 

Yet, it would be remiss to ignore the United States’ failure to achieve human rights in Syria as well. Amnesty International elucidates that the United States has used white phosphorous munitions, an act that may be a war crime, killing at least 14 Syrian citizens. The United Nations reveals that in the first four months of President Trump’s presidency, the US-led coalition fighting ISIS has caused a “staggering loss of civilian life.” Yet, even when the United States urges restraint and limits action, humanitarian crises unfold. For instance, President Obama’s decision to not enforce the red line after Assad used chemical weapons is argued by many as a sign of U.S. weakness on human rights. Moreover, Human Rights Watch notes that U.S. failure to crack down on Assad has led to “brutality unleashed by the Syrian government [which] has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians”. Although the United States has not committed crimes to the severity of Assad or Putin in Syria, the U.S. certainly cannot wash its hands of guilt in worsening the Syrian conflict.

Beyond a focus on international institutions to enforce human rights in Syria, outside groups play a role in bringing attention to the crisis at hand. For instance, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability has over 750,000 Syrian government documents and others have smuggled 50,000 images of detainees within Syrian prisons. Kevin Jon Heller, a professor at the University of London, believes that this evidence capturing Syria’s crimes could be analogous to that used in Nuremberg trials following World War II. Similarly, Alex Whiting, a Harvard law professor believes that as the world is actively working against Assad, he could potentially be removed from power. Yet, the gathering of data on the Syrian government is only truly effective when the government can be tried in international court. However, as the international community is more and more limited by Russia’s actions, it becomes imperative for individual nations to take unilateral action.

The United States is not limited to relying on the UN Security Council to make decisive Syrian policy; rather, the nation can take measures on its own to stand for basic human rights in Syria. For one, the United States should cease its deployment of strikes that carry chemical weapons. Maintaining those only makes the U.S. look hypocritical when critiquing Syria for failing to respect human rights. In addition, the U.S. Congress can take direct action. The Caesar Bill, which passed the House of Representatives, places individual and targeted sanctions on those who have provided support to the Syrian government and thus allowed for the war crimes to continue. As an example, sanctions would not only be applied to individuals who flew the plane that dropped chemical weapons on Syrian civilians but also those who sold the fuel that powered the plane. The bill also proposes that the U.S. establish no-fly and safe zones to protect Syrian civilians. 

The cries of “Never Again” follow Rwanda, Bosnia, and the Holocaust, but the chants ring hollow as the Syrian crisis enters its seventh year. It is time for the United States, Russia, and the rest of the international community to act and ensure that human rights are truly preserved.

The Struggle of Syrian NGOs

When the Syrian refugee crisis hit European shores in 2015 and 2016, the United Nations called on the conflict to cease so that aid and assistance could be delivered to Syria. Nearly three years later, the same calls echo, seemingly, to no avail. On February 6th, senior UN officials expressed concern over military operations that prevented safe evacuations and the distribution of aid to civilian populaces. Advocacy groups, like NGOs attempting to alleviate suffering in Syria, have good intentions but remain limited by the severity of the conflict.

Oxfam staff walk towards an informal refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Photo: Melanie Gallant/Oxfam
NGOs have the capacity and have shown demonstrated success in bettering the conditions of Syrians on the ground. Mercy Corps has provided food, blankets, mattresses, and infant care supplies for families in need. In addition, Mercy Corps actively works to rebuild institutions such as creating playgrounds, sports fields, and other spaces for children to play and reintegrate back into normalcy. Oxfam, another NGO, works actively to support and aid refugees in neighboring countries of Jordan and Lebanon. Not only does Oxfam deliver necessities but also works to provide information and access to legal and medical services. Although NGOs such as Mercy Corps and Oxfam have actively improved the lives of Syrians in the crisis, they still remain severely restricted by factors outside of their control. 

While NGOs are able to mitigate the conflict by providing much needed aid, the Syrian crisis has only revealed how constrained they are in their abilities to deliver. For one, host governments have severely limited the ability of international NGOs and the international community to act properly. For instance, when NGOs and the UN attempted to deliver aid within Syria, they have often relied on the Syrian government to direct aid to its particular territories. However, this leaves the hundreds of thousands of Syrians in rebel territory without necessary food, water, and medicine. In protest to the reliance on the Syrian government which has committed its share of horrific human rights attacks against Syrian citizens, NGOs have banded together in protest. 73 NGOs wrote a letter to the UN objecting the deference the UN has displayed to Assad. They advocated for a transparent investigation into UN performance and a critical change to the process of delivering aid. Together, these 73 NGOs have provided “humanitarian assistance to over 7 million Syrians…and others in the 3 neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey in all humanitarian sectors, health, education, food security, shelter, wash, protection, livelihood, and many others.” Yet, these NGOs still recognize that the possibility of changed UN policy is highly unlikely and mostly improbable. Regardless of UN condemnations and the pleas of NGO groups, the Syrian government will not change its stance toward NGOs and will continue wielding its influence to limit the effectiveness of those groups.

MSF worker helps Syrian child facing aftermath of Syrian war that has left civilians without necessary healthcare and social services Photo: Doctors Without Borders
Even in countries that host a large number of Syrian refugees, such as Turkey, NGOs are limited. Following the failed coup attempt in July of 2016, President Erdogan of Turkey has made numerous measures to distance Turkish policy from the West and United States. In regards to the Syrian crisis, Erdogan has cracked down on international non-governmental organizations, detaining workers from foreign relief agencies. US-based groups such as Mercy Corps and International Medical Corps were closed in March and April of last year, respectively. When NGOs are shuttered from operating, those who depend on their help are sidelined and left helpless. 

Aside from government intervention that limits of prevents the operation of NGOs, there are logistical issues that must also be kept in mind. NGOs are also continually limited by the lack of funding they receive from both the international community and the United States. Even with enough funding, NGOs have other additional issues they face. The crisis itself is large, spanning beyond just Syria, making NGOs’ task a lot more difficult when catering services to various populations. Even within Syria, the differing location of communities in need poses a challenge for NGOs. During the winter, cold weather poses an additional problem as winter kits that have mattresses, clothing, and protective shelter must be distributed in a timely manner. Internally, within individual NGOs, there is ongoing debate over the prioritization of needs in Syria. Specifically, the debate lies over whether each NGO project is an “emergency response measure” or a “long-term development project”. In essence, NGOs struggle over fulfilling short term needs that enable Syrians to survive day by day and developing long term infrastructure that allows Syrians to thrive for the weeks, months, and years to come.

How Turkey’s Politics Worsen the Syrian Crisis

The fight against ISIS seems to be dwindling to an end. Yet, the ongoing tensions between the United States, the Kurds, and Turkey has only threatened to strengthen ISIS’s resolve and continue the crisis. Specifically, Turkey’s role in expanding and prolonging conflict, in regards to the Syrian Kurds, adds another dimension to the Syrian dilemma. 

The Kurds are a group of stateless peoples, residing within Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. The group has faced historical persecution. In 1988, for instance, President Saddam Hussein killed around 100,000 Kurds and infamously used mustard gas and deadly sarin on Kurdish civilians. Due to actions like these, for years, the Kurds have championed a form of independence that would allow them to be recognized by international actors and regional allies. Yet, there was intense opposition to the recent September 25th, 2017 Iraqi Kurdish independence vote, by Iraq, the United States, and Turkey, amongst other countries. Despite mounting international pressure, almost 93% of Kurds voted in support of Kurdistan as an independent state. While the Kurds are seen as a key fighting force against ISIS, they have often been neglected when it comes to the group’s calls for independence. In fact, General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, has cited the Syrian Kurds as “the most effective force we have right now.” However, the support from the United States has often been wavering and conditional, bowing to Turkey’s urging to restrain from giving the Kurds additional support.

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters in the village of Jamanli, northeast of the Syrian city of Afrin, as smoke billows from a Kurdish-held location. CreditNazeer Al-Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A long-standing policy of Turkey is to oppose the PKK and its affiliates. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is a Kurdish militant group that has been fighting with the Turkish government since the 1980s. Turkey views the PKK as sowing havoc and causing terror in Turkey and beyond. Therefore, when arms of the PKK began developing in Syria, as the PYD and YPG, Turkey saw them as a threat. Yet, what complicated Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish groups is the role these Kurds have played in fighting ISIS. Often, Turkey’s goals of eliminating Kurdish groups comes in direct conflict with the nation’s goal to eradicate ISIS. 

Earlier this year, in January, Turkey launched a full scale military invasion against Kurdish forces in Afrin, Syria. The attacks have continued and in March of 2018, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights cited that 17 people had been killed in strikes while 92 were injured. Yet, Turkish government officials have refuted claims that its military actions have targeted civilians and have additionally refused to enforce the UN Security Council’s ceasefire. As a result, a pause in the conflict becomes more unlikely for civilians. In the past few days, Turkey has ramped up its plans for a complete intervention. In the Afrin city, Turkish air raids have been launched, water has been cut off, and basic internet connection destroyed. The Turkish government has backed violent groups that have used napalm on villages and attacked dams, critical sources of water, in an effort to “give Afrin back to its rightful owners”, a warning that Kurds do not belong in Afrin. In response, Kurdish civilians have begun organizing as human shields, in an attempt to prevent Turkish forces from storming the city. Ultimately, Turkey’s siege could potentially threaten the lives of 1 million people living in Afrin. Turkey’s military actions come at a time when 2017 was the deadliest year of Syrian war for children. Military actions like Turkey’s intervention in Afrin demonstrate how children, the most vulnerable, suffer the longest lasting and most egregious offensives of the Syrian conflict.

Demonstration In Support of The Kurds in Afrin–Demonstrators affiliated with Kurdish groups protest against Turkey’s current campaign in northern Syria (Afrin), in Berlin, Germany, 11 March 2018.(Sipa via AP Images)
Moreover, when Turkey begins to put military might behind its threats to curtail Kurdish forces, the United States has often succumbed to Turkey’s pressure. Recently, the Trump administration made efforts to reassure Turkey that the United States would limit support for Kurdish fighters by urging Kurds to withdraw from Manbij, Syria. This move harmed Kurds that rely on US aid for assistance on the ground. However, Turkey has been pleased by this decision. In turn, Turkey has maintained its role as a critical ally for the United States, by being a NATO partner and housing American planes at its Incirlik air base. Consequently, Kurdish troops have seen fractures in their relationship with the United States, and they have begun moving Kurds fighting against ISIS in southern Syria to begin countering Turkey in the north.  Accordingly, for the United States, the balance between strategic and humanitarian objectives continues to be in peril. The US has attempted to choose a stance that prioritizes strategic intersts; however, in doing so, the nation has neglected the Kurdish people and allowed for invasions like Afrin to worsen and threaten the lives of innocent civilians. Sitting on the sidelines and bowing to Turkey only enables the Syrian conflict to become more deadly and drastic. It is time to act, or at the very least- try. 

Syrian: The Necessity of a More Child Centered Approach

The Syrian conflict has grown beyond just its borders, drawing the concern of Middle Eastern, European, and American actors. International leaders have debated intensely and split over various issues- including whether to back Assad or seek his downfall, to support the Kurds or side with Turkey, and to stay militarily involved in Syria or withdraw forces. Implicit in all of these discussions is the suffering and humanitarian crisis that inflicts and harms millions of Syrians. To better understand and mitigate the conflict, prioritizing Syrian children and crafting solutions to support and improve refugee services and aid are much needed. Prioritizing Syrian children, however, cannot only come when NGOs ask for aid but rather in a long, sustained effort by political actors to consider children when making diplomatic and militaristic decisions. 

To begin, actors should focus on the children suffering in Syria, often the most vulnerable and harmed by the conflict. In 2016, in Syria, one in four conflict related deaths was that of a child. UNICEF corroborates that 2017 was the deadliest year for young Syrians, with a war that failed to distinguish between child and combatant. Geert Cappaleare, the UNICEF director for the Middle East and North Africa furthers that “the protection of children in all circumstances that was once universally embraced – at no moment have any of the parties accepted.”  The World Health Organization notes that the use of explosive hazards, such as mines, has harmed over 3 million children in Syria. While Syrian children have been unfortunate victims of the conflict, even the Syrians that live face numerous obstacles.

Syria in winter is no place to be a child at Christmas (https://www.unicef.ie/stories/winter-in-syria/)
For those that have survived, their futures are still in limbo. Many simply want to live peacefully, without fearing for bombs and being subject to constant militant attacks. As a result, younger refugees interviewed least desired returning to, with many young men fearing forced conscription upon return. The constant carnage and violence has psychological effects on children as well, potentially scarring children’s mental health and well-being. The same symptoms seen in children afflicted by World War I– depression, anxiety, psychosis, and an increase in self harm as well as suicide attempts in refugee camps all demonstrate the severe impact the war has had on the younger generation. 

In the Syrian war, there have been numerous war crimes committed. Namely, hospitals and schools are under consistent attack, causing children to lose vital access to health services and education. Even for Syrian children that escape their home country to other nations, many also lack access to education in their destination countries Accordingly, experts have termed young Syrians as a lost generation. 43% of Syrian children in neighboring countries still cannot access education, due to a shortage of international funds as well as restrictions placed by host countries on Syrian refugees. Many Syrian children are working to support their families, for salaries that are much less than the minimum wage. In some families, Syrian children may be the only breadwinner because children are more vulnerable and easily exploitable by employees, particularly for lower wages and subpar working conditions. Working Syrian children often report physical abuse and sexual harassment. Those who don’t seek jobs in the formal sector may even be incentivized to enjoy the war. Parties in the conflict may offer salaries of $400 a month in order to encourage recruitment. Yet, since 2014, all parties involved in the conflict have illegally recruited children as young as 7 years old, making them pawns in a larger, violent game.

On 25 December 2015 in Aleppo in the Syrian Arab Republic, Esraa, 4, and her brother Waleed, 3, sit on the ground near a shelter for internally displaced persons. (https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media_25312.html#.WsfQYLaZNmA)
For the Syrians that do access education, they may even face difficulties when attending school. Unfortunately, even the 57% of Syrians that are able to attend school may eventually drop out, as they face issues with bullying and harassment. Marc Dullaert, the founder of KidsRights, points out that “the successful reconstruction of post-conflict Syria by a young generation of Syrians will stand or fall by the level of educational access we can offer them.” Therefore, if international actors, including the United States, truly want to craft a political solution to post-war Syria, they should empower young Syrians with education that will allow for long standing peace and resolve in the nation. By prioritizing the needs of children, the group that is the most vulnerable, those involved in the conflict may begin to realize how atrocious and ruthless their attacks are and begin to seek strategies that put children and their immediate well-being first. 

Taking a child centered framework means ceasefires must be enforced by all sides and safe refuge for children should be emphasized. Political actors should not make schools and hospitals, where children often reside, targets of their militaristic attacks. With this child centered lens, host governments of refugees should recognize that their restrictions on refugees drive young children into exploitative working conditions; therefore, focusing on children means developing adequate laws and protections for them and their parents. For aid agencies, a child centered framework means giving children immediate attention because by neglecting Syrian children, there is no future for Syria. This war may be without an end, but the senseless tragedies and suffering of children must be prioritized.