This project began in Los Angeles. I decided to report on the local Syrian community’s response to the refugee crisis. I interviewed activists, organizers and Syrian refugees who made it through the United States’ rigorous screening process and resettled in Southern California.
Everyone I interviewed told me the same thing: “You have no idea what it is like until you see for yourself.” I recognized that in order to accurately report on the impact of the crisis, I would have to travel to the region and bear witness myself. One of my sources connected me with a Boston-based nonprofit organization, Atlantic Humanitarian Relief. I accompanied this team of doctors and humanitarians from the U.S. to Amman, Jordan, visiting both the state-sponsored refugee camps, as well as unsponsored “makeshift camps” along the border.
While in Jordan I interviewed economists, government officials and the refugees themselves. I visited the families of the refugees I had gotten to know in Southern California. My hope is that you can hear from them the appalling magnitude of what has taken place in Syria and its impact. How could this have happened to some of the best-educated and most progressive people in the Middle East?
The war in Syria began in the city of Daraa in March 2011. Emboldened by the momentum of the Arab Spring sweeping the Middle East, Syrians started peacefully protesting in the streets, seeking basic freedoms and liberties. President Bashar Al-Assad’s government responded to the protesters’ demands with hostility and violence, and civil war broke out across the country.
More than five years later, an estimated 470,000 Syrians have died and another 1.9 million have been wounded as a result of the fighting. In all, 11.5 percent of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, according to a report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research. Life expectancy has dropped from 70 years in 2010 to 55.4 years in 2015. Total economic losses are estimated at $255 billion.
The intense, unrelenting fighting has forced millions of Syrians to abandon their homes. The United Nations estimates that 6.6 million people are internally displaced within Syria, and over 4.8 million are refugees outside of Syria. Some have made it to Europe and North America. But most have fled to the countries directly bordering Syria – Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
The refugee crisis has had the greatest impact on these neighboring countries. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with a population just under 10 million, reported a count of 1.2 million Syrian refugees in its most recent census. Syrians now constitute 46 percent of non-Jordanians living in the Kingdom and 13.2 percent of the overall population. As the conflict continues and international aid dwindles, Jordan has been forced to shoulder the economic, political and social responsibilities of caring for these refugees. The government has established several large refugee camps close to the Syrian border, but approximately 80 percent of refugees live outside these camps in cities and villages across the country.
I flew back to the United States with a sense that I had just skimmed the surface. I was more determined than ever to return to the region to deepen my reporting about the crisis. This project is the result of my trip.
(Sources: UNHCR, Country Census Data)