What Is It Like to Be a Syrian Refugee?

Sophomore Henry Ashley (left) poses with two Syrian refugees at a camp in Sicily.

Sophomore Henry Ashley (left) poses with Syrian refugee (center) and co-delegate (right) at a camp in Sicily.

Branson Sophomore Henry Ashley saw a little of what it’s like to be a refugee. Henry was a part of a program studying immigration policies in Europe, where he witnessed first-hand the living conditions of people, predominantly Syrians, fleeing from conflict. “When first going to the camps, the conditions seem pretty standard for a prison camp,” he said. “The full realizations don’t really hit until after you leave. You are so engaged talking to the migrants about their stories, you don’t completely have time to think about what you are hearing until after.”

As Henry and many others studying the refugee crisis have learned, when people escape Syria, a country in turmoil, their problems do not disappear. Yet despite all that Syrian refugees have been through and continue to go through in and out of these camps, individuals who work with them admire their fortitude. “They live in hope to return, a lingering desperation that one of the greatest modern civilisations will be restored, indifferent to the actualities,” explained Katie, an English teacher at an orphanage in Jordan.

Sheila, a Jordanian student in a Global Online Academy Course, commented on the continued hardships Syrian refugees face once they arrive in neighboring Jordan. She has heard stories of “shelters collapsing…in rain” and “families barely able to obtain necessities like diapers and medicine.

“There are food and clothing drives happening all over Jordan, [but] there just never seems to be enough,” she said. Jordan is a poor country (the 2nd water-poorest in the world according to some global measurements), and many claim the refugees put a strain on the country’s already limited resources. If it is to take care of the refugees, “Jordan must be united,” Sheila says. But, she adds, it is hard when “there is a great disparity between the wealthy and the poor…and [some] feel that they have been cheated out of their food and water.”

Many Jordanians argue that things such as infrastructure, youth unemployment, and quality of life in general must be addressed before letting more refugees in. But she also stressed that she doesn’t know where else the refugees can go. She wants “the burden to be distributed evenly,” particularly in developed countries that have the resources to take care of the refugees.

There is no shortage of people who need help. Approximately one in two Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war began in 2011. The growing number of 10.5 million is divided three ways: 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria; 4.1 million people have left Syria. More than 300,000 people have been killed—nearly 1,000 times the student population of Branson.

The problems of refugees don’t end in Syria. “While in the camps the migrants are fed, but no observance of religious beliefs is taken into account when preparing meals, so many go hungry,” Henry said. “In theory, in Europe, migrants are supposed to stay in these camps for less than nine months, at the end of which they are either sent home or granted some legal status.” But, he adds, because refugees often flee at a moment’s notice, they often have no proof of citizenship and thus may stay in these camps for years.

Although the situation in Syria doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon and camps and foreign countries are often problematic for refugees, the refugees retain their hope. “They laugh, they make fun of me, I make fun of them, they build what they can from what they have, they forgive me for my differences and mistakes, they worry about their children,” Katie said. In the end, she concludes, they are just people—trying to make the most out of difficult times.