The Syrian Refugee Crisis

History of Syria

The modern state of Syria was created by the British and French from territory taken from the control of the Ottoman Empire.  Originally, the territory was split between France and Great Britain, with France controlling the territory that became Syria and Lebanon while Great Britain controlled the territory that became Iraq.

Split of Territory Between France and Britain

French-controlled Syria, circa 1937

This timeline from BBC explains, event by event, how Syria developed.

Alawite Women, Early 20th Century

Aleppo, the capital city of the State of Aleppo in the map above, has been an important trading center for 6000 years.  But the current civil war has destroyed the city and displaced tens of thousands.

Current Civil War

Much of Syria is desert or dry grasslands, making agriculture difficult.

The Civil War as of 2013

As of November, 2017

Costs of the War

The World Bank estimated in 2016 that the damage to Syria's infrastructure was between $6 and $7.5 billion.  It would be much higher now.

The Family

"Syrian life centers on the extended family.  The individual's loyalty to his family is nearly absolute and usually overrides all other obligations."

"There is widespread conviction that the only reliable people are one's kinsmen.  And officeholder tends to select his kinsmen as fellow workers or subordinates because he feels a sense of responsibility for them and trusts them.  Commercial establishments are largely family operations staffed by the offspring and relatives of the owner." 

"When two young men become very close friends, they often enhance their relationship by accepting one another as 'brothers,' thus placing each in a position of special responsibility toward the other.  There is no real basis for a close relationship except ties of kinship."  

"The traditional code invests men as members of family groups with a highly valuable but easily damaged honor (ird).  The slightest implication of unavenged impropriety on the part of the women in his family or of male infractions of the code of honesty and hospitality could irreparably destroy the honor of a family."

Click on the link for more details from the Federal Research Division of the US Library of Congress.

Ethnic Groups

Since kinship groups are vital, most marriages occur among extended family members.  This also means that marriages are primarily within a single ethnic group.  Given their culture of honor, this has led to deep, long-lasting divisions between the different ethnic groups.
      Federal Research Division of the US Library of Congress

Family Problems Caused by the Civil War

Women are having to sacrifice everything to support their families.  Many women starve themselves to make sure their children and husbands are fed first.  Women are also facing an increase in domestic violence as the 'traditional role of family' is being disrupted therefore men are lashing out and attacking their women.

Daughters are being married off because it is seen as a way to protect them. According to UNICEF, there are reports that in some Syrian refugee camps "32% of registered marriages involved a child under the age of 18."

As jobs are increasingly difficult to find, many women turn to prostitution as a way of providing for their family.  The term is called "survival sex" where women are having to put themselves out there in exchange for shelter, food, and clothing.


4.5 million fled Syria. Women and children fled because of the war crimes being committed by both sides. These include murder, torture, rape, and civilian suffering. 

Countries to Where Refugees Flee

  • Turkey has accepted nearly 3 million refugees, more than any other country by far
  • They share a long border with Syria, making it the easiest route to safety for most Syrians
  • Nearly half of all registered Syrian refugees have been housed in Turkey
  • Almost 14 percent of Turkey’s refugees reside in camps
  • Major camps in Turkey: Altinozu, Yayladagi, Ceylanpinar, Islahiye
  • Iraq shares a border with Syria and has taken in about 250,000 refugees
  • Not only Syrians are coming across the border; many Iraqi refugees who had sought asylum in Syria are now returning home amid violence in Syria
  • Nearly 38% of Syrian refugees in Iraq reside in camps
  • Major camps in Iraq: Domiz, Darashakran, Kawergosk, Fawilan
  • Lebanon has accepted over 1.1 million refugees, despite being one of the smallest countries to host them
  • Lebanon also shares a border with Syria
  • Despite internal struggles, Lebanon has been open to housing more Syrians per capita than any other country
  • Major camps in Lebanon: Beddawi, Burj Barajneh, Dbayeh, Burj Shemali
       ·     Jordan shares a border with Syria and has accepted 630,000 refugees
·     Nearly 20% of Syrian refugees in Jordan reside in camps
·    The large influx of refugees has strained the country’s resources

Major camps in Jordan: Za’atari, Rukban, Mrajeeb Al Fhood, Azraq

Despite sharing a border with Syria, Israel has refused any refugees.

Population Changes Caused by the Civil War

Other Countries Resettling Syrian Refugees

The Gulf States and Syrian Refugees

None of the Gulf States have accepted refugees.  These countries (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman, and Saudi Arabia) have better resources financially and more stability than countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.  While they haven’t accepted any refugees, they have given large amounts of money to the UN to assist in the Syrian crisis. (The US has given the most.) These countries, much like the US, are hesitant to allow refugees into the country out of fear for national security.

Family Life in a Refugee Camp

Women and children refugees face assault, physical and sexual abuse,exploitation, and harassment.  Poor treatment towards women is common among patriarchal societies, particularly those with a Culture of Honor, as is the case with Syria. The concept of patriarchal dominance originated with the emergence of herding societies. Herders began to view women as property, just like they viewed their cattle, crops, and other possessions. Because they view women as property they feel that they can treat them as such.

There are high rates of child labor. Both young boys and girls are at risk of experiencing sexual violence. Some children cannot continue their schooling because their parents can’t afford it.  United Kingdom’s, Home secretary, Amber Rudd announced only 350  children would be allowed to enter the country. This decision leaves many children at risk for being abducted, trafficked, or even killed within the refugee camps.

                                               Syrian Refugees in Europe

Kava's Journey from Syria to Sweden.

Nujeen Mustafa's Story:

Syrian Refugees and United States

Refugee:  A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

The requirement for refugees to enter the U.S. are set by the United Nations and include:

UNHCR mandates refugees need international protection for the availability of resettlement.
Prima Facie (absence of evidence to contrary) ex.: Violence from conflict.
Only to those who have no durable solution and have a need for continued protection.
In 2015, the US accepted 1,682 Syrian refugees.  The governors of 31 states (all but 1 were Republican) stated that they refused to allow the refugees to resettle in their states.  However, where refugees are resettled is a decision for the Federal Government, not the states.

As of 2016

Subcultures in the United States and Attitudes Towards Syrian Refugees


If the United States screens refugees for security risks, 59% of Americans support taking in refugees from the conflicts in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, while 41% oppose.
Support is stronger among Democrats (77%) and Millennials (68%). Opposition is strongest among supporters of Donald Trump (77%) and Republicans (63%).
As for refugees from Syria specifically, 56% of Americans support taking in refugees while 43% oppose.

"Nearly seven in 10 Republicans think that the ban is in keeping with the country's founding principles, while more than eight in 10 Democrats and most Independents disagree."

Of the two major subcultures in the US [Republican and Democrat], Republicans are predominantly white Mormons or Evangelicals, along with elderly white men, white men who are married and/or parents, and white men who live in the South.   On the other hand, those who are most-likely to be Democrats are African-American men and women, Asian-American women, and atheists.  

It appears that micro-cultural differences in religious beliefs (or the lack of religious beliefs) may be at the root of negative reactions to allowing Syrian refugees to live in the United States.  



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