On this World Refugee Day almost four million Syrian refugees, equivalent to the populations of Toronto and Montreal combined, are far from home and wondering if they will ever return to the life they knew. The Syrian crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, and its impact is being felt disproportionately by the millions of affected children.
An eight-year-old girl, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, is someone I know only from a photograph. I was captivated by the girl whose schooling was so critical to her, that she grabbed her report card while fleeing the rocket attacks on her home town. That was two years ago. I've been unable to find any recent updates on Jouri.
The Syrian conflict has passed two sobering milestones. The civil war -- now entering its fourth year -- has now claimed more than 200,000 lives and forced more than three million people to flee the country. The Canadian government can and should be playing a more direct role in addressing the refugee crisis in Lebanon by immediately increasing our humanitarian assistance.
Despite government statements that Canada has done "more than any of our allies," our allies have introduced smart humanitarian policies that have moved far more Syrians abroad than anything Ottawa has yet introduced. Canada can look to them - Germany, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and more - for inspiration.
Outside the neighbourhood, there is one country leading the response. It is not Canada, despite statements from our ministers that the Canadian refugee response constitutes "more than any of our allies have done." This is deliberately misleading and a slight to what our allies are actually doing. Greater leadership can be found in a country with a quarter of Canada's population.
The enormous influx of Syrian refugees has been difficult for the Lebanese people. Some estimates put the Syrian refugee presence in Lebanon at 50 per cent of the small country's total population. Hala Naufal, an Expert Demographer and professor of Population Studies at the Lebanese University, estimates the Syrian refugee count in Lebanon to now be around two million.
Azraq Refugee Camp is seen as a model for all future refugee camps. It has schools, a hospital, playgrounds, soccer fields, community centres and even a supermarket. But for the few hundred families already settling in, and for the 100,000 Syrian refugees who will live here when the camp is completed, it's not, and will never be, home.
As long-awaited Syria peace talks begin this week, World Vision's Tanya Penny will be watching closely. She has been living alongside Syrian refugees in Jordan for the past two months, telling their stories with words and photographs. Here, Tanya describes the heartbreak that even the camera can't capture.
It's likely one-year-old Rana was malnourished the entire year she'd been alive, since aid hadn't reached the village in her lifetime. Doctors could do nothing by the time she was admitted to the field hospital just north of the Syrian capital of Damascus. She died within 24 hours of admittance. Rana was born, and died, during the civil war that is slowly attacking Syria's children. The people left in her ghost town of Moadamia are bargaining chips for the rebel Free Syrian Army, which refuses to relinquish control of the area long enough for humanitarian groups to distribute aid. For these children of war every aspect of their life has been diminished, or stolen.
Only 1,300 is an extremely low number during a crisis that has generated over 2 million registered refugees. Remember when Canadians rallied to resettle over 60,000 Southeast Asians after the Vietnam War? Canadians were once able to sponsor refugees almost without limit under the Private Sponsorship program if they could commit to certain responsibilities.
People worldwide can be forgiven for their sense of bewilderment at the constant back and forth between military and diplomatic solutions to the crisis in Syria. We've now been at this long enough for commentators to reverse their positions depending on the most recent developments. But there is one group -- a huge one -- for whom none of this really matters: refugees.
As the debate rages over the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and the possibility of US military intervention in Syria to punish the Assad regime and his Iranian supported Hezbollah fighters for the use of chemical weapons, against ethnic minorities, there exists one thing we can do today to really help.
Earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden decried the use of chemical weapons on "defenceless men, women and children" in Syria. As someone who works for an international aid and development agency looking out for children, something is deadly certain to me: Those children have been defenceless ever since the war in Syria began.
The number of Syrian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries is expected to reach two million in the coming weeks. Approximately half of these human beings are children. In some ways, helping the Syrian refugee children is remarkably simple. But what do you offer a child who wakes screaming in the middle of the night, reliving a rocket attack on his house?
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country as a direct result of the violence that has engulfed the country since the outbreak of the civil war. Meanwhile, many of those that have so far escaped the violence are suffering the economic consequences of the crisis and are thus trying desperately to find a way to escape the country.