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In Syria's Shadow, Millions Suffer In Forgotten Conflicts

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When the Grade 8 class of North Ward Public School in Paris, Ont. graduated last summer, they made their teacher promise to continue educating students about the terrible plight of people in war-ravaged Yemen.

"Don't give up on them, Ms. Connors," they said to her.

North Ward had a pen pal exchange with aid workers and activists in the Middle East country that caught our attention last year. Katie Connors' Grade 7 and 8 students learned about the conflict erupting in Yemen through emails and Skype and raised awareness by writing letters to Canadian politicians and using social media hashtags like #YemenMatters.

Last month, Connors connected a fresh group of students with Nena Aqlan and Bushra Al-Fusail, two Yemeni activists who recently fled the violence in their homeland. Aqlan and Al-Fusail told the students what shocked them most was how no-one on the street or in the media outside Yemen was talking about what is happening there today.

The conflict in Syria remains the deadliest in the world today, with almost 70,000 killed since the start of 2015. However, it's not the only war costing thousands of lives. Entering its second year, Yemen's civil war has seen more than 8,000 civilian casualties.

Canada has committed almost $1 billion in aid to Syria, compared to less than $3 million spent on projects in Yemen.

Here are some of the other deadliest, but largely forgotten conflicts, deserving of our attention.

Afghanistan

Since the last of our soldiers departed Afghanistan in 2014, Canadian media has spilled little ink about that troubled nation. Blood, however, continues to spill in the ongoing insurgency. More than 36,000 were killed in Afghanistan last year alone; it's still the second worst conflict in the world today after Syria.

Nigeria

Boko Haram, another Islamic militia, has faded from headlines since soldiers abducted 219 school girls in Nigeria two years ago. But its terror campaign of kidnappings and attacks hasn't ended. More than 11,000 people were killed last year. In a horrifying new twist, the insurgent group has started turning the young girls it steals into suicide bombers.

Somalia

Ironically, Yemen was once a safe haven for refugees from Somalia. Now Somalis are fleeing back home again -- accompanied by thousands of Yemenis -- straight into the crossfire of a growing guerrilla war between Somalia's new government and the Islamic militia al-Shabaab. The violence has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past year.

Darfur and South Sudan

Hundreds of thousands have been killed and more than 9,300 women raped since conflict erupted in the Darfur region of west Sudan in 2003. In January, fresh clashes broke out between militias and the Sudanese army, causing as many as 50,000 more civilians to flee.

Meanwhile, a three-year-old civil war rages in South Sudan. "It is easier to find women and girls who have been gang-raped than who are literate," writes New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof.

What's more, the UN has only been able to raise three per cent of the money it needs to help the more than two million people displaced by Sudanese conflicts over the past decade.

Turkey

Last year, Canadian media reported extensively on our soldiers working with Kurdish militias to fight the Islamic State. Far less has been said about the ongoing fight between Kurds and the government of Turkey. Since peace talks broke down early last year, violence has surged, claiming as many as 3,600 lives.

There are so many other people in other countries in desperate need. As a nation that takes in refugees and takes pride in its generosity, and as individual Canadians with donation to give, we must ensure that no one is forgotten.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.

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