The Syrian Crisis

The Syrian Refugee Crisis has been a hot topic lately. Countries surrounding Syria such as Jordan and Lebanon are flooded with refugees. Refugees are desperately fleeing into European countries. It’s obvious that there must be some course of action taken to alleviate the refugee crisis. What is the United States (U.S.) doing to help?

On October 5th, 2015 the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) held a conference call regarding the involvement of both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the U.S. government in the Syrian crisis. Michelle Harpenau, Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council (GCWAC) & member of USGLC, knows that this important information needs to be shared. The two main speakers were Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children and Co-Chair of USGLC, and Simon Henshaw, who is serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration with the U.S. State Department.

Miles opened the call with an overview of the crisis and describing Save the Children’s involvement in Syria and the countries surrounding it. She has been involved with trying to save Syrian children since the Syrian Civil war broke out about 4½ years and traveled to the Syrian area several times since her involvement began. Her first-hand experience as well as her NGO perspective makes her knowledgeable on the topic. Miles described the Syrians flooding out of their home country as the “most people on the move since World War II. Since January of this year alone, over 520,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Miles, the two main reasons for this exodus are the threat of danger and the ever decreasing safe locations for educating Syrian youth. Before the war began, Syrians had a high literacy rate (read more about this here). However, with schools and hospitals being destroyed, the lack of educational opportunities, the overall safety concern, Syrians are being forced to brave flimsy boats. In some cases, according to Miles, these boats have a 50% chance of sinking, but in order to protect their children and provide better opportunities, the parents take this risk. Miles advocates for the U.S. government to maintain the financial support theyhave provided during this crisis, help ensure safe passage for the refugees, and help push for a reasonable amount of refugees allowed in European countries. She also wants the U.S. to set an example by accepting as many Syrian refugees as reasonably possible.

Henshaw proceeded to describe the crisis from the government’s perspective. Henshaw began by saying that while he didn’t want to diminish the crisis in Europe, one of the biggest issues lies with Syria’s surrounding neighbors. Countries that are taking in Syrian refugees such as Lebanon and Jorda
n are less well off than most European countries; Lebanon and Jordan are classified as “Global South” countries (developing nations), while most of the affected European countries have EU support and are considered “Global North” countries (developed nations). The U.S., through organizations such as The United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has helped hundreds of thousands of Syrian children in Lebanon and Turkey through the establishment of schools. In fact, Henshaw mentioned that the U.S. and UNICEF have just helped establish their 13th school in Turkey, which will house 2,000 Syrian children. Schooling is such a huge focus of U.S. aid because most Syrian refugees in the countries mentioned above live in urban areas, and parents depend on their children to help earn money for the household.

Furthermore, the U.S. government is focused on helping and saving lives. According to Henshaw, the U.S. has donated more money for humanitarian aid than any other single donor since the war in Syria began, which has been over $4 billion. Another focus of the U.S. government mentioned by Henshaw is advocating for European governments to increase the amount of people they are willing to take in as well as make asylum practices in Europe more self-sufficient.

Miles mentioned several other things during the Q&A session at the end of the call, including:

  • The need for nonprofits and NGOs to assist with safe shelters, to help provide medical and basic supplies, to assist Syrian organizations, to help with temporary schools, etc.
  • The infamous picture of Aylan Kurdi

    The need for private funding; although, there has been an increase of corporate funding since the picture of Aylan, the little boy found dead on a beach in Bodrum, went viral. The now infamous picture helped to make the Syrian crisis more about people and less about politics.

  • Schools in Lebanon creating “2nd shift schools” for Syrian children, or afternoon schools
  • An emphasis on vocational training for Syrian youth as well as psycho-social programs for children to deal with the traumatic stress they have endured.
  • The importance of supporting the host countries surrounding Syria and ensuring that the children of the host countries are getting the same opportunities as the Syrian refugees and are not getting left out
  • A desire to see an increase in public interest in this issue
  • A focus on encouraging businesses to invest in NGOs, as well as in creating business opportunities in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, etc.
  • A refugee profile: Most of the Syrian refugees are Muslim, which is a stark contrast to Iraqi refugees, who are predominately Christian.

This conference call provided a sufficient glance at what the U.S. is doing in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis, both through the eyes of NGOs and the U.S. government. One of the main focuses of the USGLC is that the U.S. government continues its support of international aid, and that both the U.S. government and NGOs continue to help those affected by the crisis. As Miles and Henshaw said in various ways during the call, public awareness of this issue is greatly needed in the U.S.


To learn more about the USGLC, click here.

Carolyn Miles’ bio.

Simon Henshaw’s bio.

Written by: Danielle Ott, GCWAC Data and Web Management Intern Fall 2015 & Undergraduate Student at Northern Kentucky University studying Criminal Justice and International Studies

Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council does not own or claim to own these photos.

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