Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine: Reflections on the Global Refugee Crisis
By Keely Jahns
Published On March 31, 2022
As of March 30, 2022, 4 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine. Millions are internally displaced amidst gruesome fighting, and millions have fled the country into neighboring nations such as Lithuania, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Poland.
The International Organization of Migration (UK) estimates that more than half of the people who are internally displaced are women, and many are deemed particularly vulnerable because they are pregnant, have a disability or are a victim of violence. As well as the 4 million people who have left their homes, about 12 million are thought to be stranded or unable to leave areas affected by the fighting.
Some living in areas with ongoing fighting have been victims of enforced disappearances, such as what we saw occur in Mariupol at a civilian bomb shelter overtaken on Day 25 of the invasion. The Russian insurgents have consistently targeted civilians, particularly women and children, as they have bombed both a maternity hospital and a children’s hospital. As of March 25th, 136 children had been killed in Ukraine by Russian forces.
War is always a tragedy, but particularly now, as we see a disproportionate amount of civilians being targeted, particularly civilians that belong to the most vulnerable populations. This is a type of aggression that many of the refugees we serve have faced at the hands of dictators and terrorists. It has created a new wave of refugees to add to a global refugee crisis.
In the last decade, the number of people fleeing their homes around the world has doubled. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 84 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes in the last decade. Among them are over 26.6 million refugees, the highest population on record. 68% of the world’s refugees come from just 5 countries.
This does not account for the number of refugees coming out of Ukraine as of March 2022. In just three weeks, the crisis in Ukraine made the country into the second-largest country of origin for the global refugee population. The UNHCR conservatively estimates that 10% of Ukraine’s population will become refugees due to Russian aggression.
This is an ache we feel very strongly at American FRRME. The populations we serve have also escaped the horrors of war, and in most cases, extreme sectarian violence. Like the refugees from Ukraine, these resilient people have had to uproot their lives and flee their homes after losing their loved ones, friends, and livelihoods.
The situation echoes what we saw unfold in Syria in 2011, in which millions were displaced from their homes in the wake of war crimes and unspeakable violence. As of March 15th, 2022, the civil war in Syria has entered its 11th year. Over 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, and remain in a state of limbo in many countries across the Middle East and Europe, unable to return to Syria, and in many cases unable to receive citizenship in their host countries.
The Christians of Iraq and Kurdistan were similarly uprooted from their homes by the ISIS insurgency nearly eight years ago. Most have not returned, as the climates in their regions of origin are still rife with religious bigotry and the threat of extremism. There are children now approaching adulthood whose childhood memories are those of instability and bloodshed.
Refugees who settle in neighboring nations across the Middle East are often not allowed to attain citizenship or visas, or to work. In the case of children born into refugee camps, most are considered stateless, not allowed to receive citizenship in their parents’ host country, and not able to receive citizenship in their family’s country of origin. Healthcare, food security, and education are sorely lacking in many refugee communities across the world, particularly in the Middle East.
Many refugees who have fled conflicts in Iraq and Syria have fled to places like Madaba, Jordan, where we operate the Olive Tree Center. At the OTC, we operate programs aimed at providing hope, help, and healing to those who have been impacted by the tragedies of war and violence. As the global refugee crisis intensifies, more programs are needed like the Olive Tree Center, Nineveh SEED, and the outreach programs through St. George’s School and Clinic and Baghdad.
We have recently announced the creation of the General David E. Greer Scholarship, a legacy scholarship named in honor of our late executive director, honoring his dream of providing education to refugees in need. Although children in the United States are granted a free public education, this does not exist for refugees in Jordan. And since they are not allowed to work in Jordan, a private education is unattainable to most refugee families. The scholarship provides educational opportunities to students in Madaba, whose aspirations would be otherwise out of reach.
According to a 2019 report by the UN Refugee Agency, out of 7.2 million refugee children around the world, only 3.7 million have the opportunity to attend school. Globally, 91% of children attend elementary (primary) school, whereas only 63% of refugee children have this opportunity.
Whether or not a student finishes the 8th grade is a deciding factor in their ability to finish their K-12 education. So, we’ve decided to implement a program that will provide school supplies, uniforms, tuition, transportation and supportive services like tutoring to get kids into and keep them in school.
At the Olive Tree Center, we also provide occupational learning for older youth and adults. We have a cosmetology class, as well as a carpentry studio; both teaching valuable skills that will take our students far in life, wherever they choose to go in the world. We also provide therapeutic programs to aid in trauma-healing.
Our support group, called the Hope Group, serves as a space for refugees to lean on one another, as well as practice their English skills. Our music and art therapy programs are allowing our learners to express themselves creatively, exercise their minds, and learn hand-eye coordination.
In the wake of the refugee crisis around the world, more programs are needed like the ones administered by American FRRME. Unfortunately, refugees are among the world’s most under-served populations.
Life is not easy for refugees in Jordan and other parts of the Middle East. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East.
Our hearts go out to the victims of brutality in Ukraine, who, like our friends at the Olive Tree Center, have lost everything. We hope and pray that the conflict will come to an end, and that the Ukrainian people will have an opportunity to heal from their trauma and return to their homes and communities, as is the wish of refugees around the world.