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Everything You Need To Know About Syria And The Recent Refugee Crisis

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By Priyanjana R Das:

The refugee crisis ballooning in Europe right now is now considered by the United Nations to be its greatest since World War II.

Syrians, displaced internally and externally by the brutal fighting that has wrecked their country since the Arab Spring, are the largest group among those attempting to reach Europe. Including internal displacement, more than half of Syria’s population has been uprooted since the war began, and Syrians are almost single-handedly driving the recent uptick in displaced people around the world. Earlier, there was a large population of Syrians concentrated in Damascus whose population doubled in a year or two, because it was considered safer compared to other parts of Syria. But, there has been an ever-increasing external displacement now, leading to one of the biggest exoduses in Syria.

refugee children
Image source: DFID- UK Department For International Development/Flickr

Lack of political consensus among members of the EU on handling the crisis has led to a rise in populist resistance to migration, and growth of anti-migration parties. The EU, which is hit by the euro crisis already, has not been able to take a firm stand on the migrant issue. As the President of the EU stated recently, there is not much union left in the European Union.

Supporters of mass migration say that migrants are a welcome boost for Europe’s flagging labour force. In Germany, there is a high demand for workers trained in mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology. Germany and Sweden have been the two most preferable countries for migrants, who mainly want to escape death and destruction in their war-torn countries and find a suitable place to reconstruct their lives.

They (the migrants) are not going to the Balkan states from Greece because the policy of Bulgaria and Macedonia is not very accommodative or welcoming to migrants. Even Turkish officials are now encouraging refugees to migrate to Europe from the borders of Turkey and Syria where they were parked for about two years or so. Turkey now wants to fight the ISIS and therefore, they want the Syrians to leave for Europe. Turkey also wants to control the Kurdish border in Syria. Turkey does not want the Syrians in the border to cooperate and unite with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has a conflict with Turkey because they want to secede and create an independent Kurdistan.

It is important here to bring NATO into the picture. There has been a decisive shift in policies of Western powers in attacking the ISIS. Earlier, they attacked ISIS positions in Iraq, but now they want to directly attack ISIS positions in Syria. Britain under David Cameron has started launching drones in Syria. There are a lot of wheels within the bigger wheel regarding this issue but at this hour of humanitarian crisis, it is important to shed all vested interests and insecurities and prioritize humanitarian values above all.

Bringing our attention to the Gulf countries, we can see that there has been an interesting case of sponsored smuggling of migrants from Syria and Iraq to Europe. Given an ideal situation, the gulf countries could have been a perfect host for the migrants, given that they are rich, stable, peaceful, have an ever developing workforce and all the resources to accommodate the refugees. But they refuse to take them in owing to religious differences which easily overpower the humanitarian crisis.

Migrants on boat
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Syria holds 2/3 of the gas reserves on the Mediterranean Sea side, and the gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea, in totality, hold the potential to become the number one producer of gas by 2020. Syria has the potential of producing 5 million barrels of oil in a day. Turkey is also said to have a vested interest in Aleppo which is a rising commercial center of Syria.

All the powers that have their interests and influence in this region must focus on the people instead of the value of potential energy the region holds. This attitude alone will solve a lot of the problems and will direct us towards finding the right solutions. The hypocrisy of the West in tackling issues in the Middle East has been well known by all and it is time to stop acting human and start being one.

Migration is seen to be a one-sided affair these days, given the migrants cannot return to their homes. UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF and UNIFEM have been crucial in addressing human security issues such as refugees and rights of children. Full funding from the emergency budget of the UNHCR will help in dealing with this issue and measures must be taken in making the Mediterranean safe. This year, 2600 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea and last year too around 3500 people died in the sea. Immediate humanitarian aid to all receiving and received refugees must be a policy developed by all countries.

Human security policy of a (any) country should not just look into the direct and indirect consequences of a conflict, but also at the range of socio-economic, political and ecological factors that contribute to the conflict. Such an understanding of human security will open the way for reconciling the two conceptions of human security as ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’. Overseas asylum process centers must be made available to all and there must be provision for granting refugee status to all Syrian refugee applicants which must also take care of where they want to get located further in the process of relocation from a transitional country. Addressing the refugee crisis is a contested concept, but it must be tackled from a humanitarian point of view.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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