More than Numbers: A Snapshot of Life as a Syrian Refugee

Middle East & North Africa

I have the privilege of volunteering for the Rise Foundation’s Castle Art Project at the Akre Syrian Refugee Camp every Friday in Iraq. Originally one of Saddam Hussein’s prison camps, the project aims to empower the children to change their desolate environment by painting murals.

For most, the Syrian refugee crisis is a long number and a tragedy. At least, that’s the general response I get from people back home. But that long number ( estimated at 9.5 million) is made up of faces, hands, and hearts that feel just like ours. That tragedy is someone’s life story, for better or worse.

Rather than rant about how we should look at and treat the refugee crisis, I’d like to show you some of the profound people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Be sure to check out the Castle Art Project as well.




















Current Syrian Conflict

Middle East & North Africa

One of today’s most complicated international conflicts, the Syrian Uprising has put a serious strain on international relations. Over 130,000 Syrians have died and 2.3 million others have fled the country as refugees. In response, the United Nations and other world

2012 Conflict Map via Freedom House- Creative Commons

2012 Conflict Map via Freedom House- Creative Commons

powers have sponsored peace talks between rebel forces and the regime.

Quick history on conflict

Rebels vs. Assad

The rebel forces want a transitional regime change. At the peace talks in Geneva, the opposition is being led by the Syrian National Coalition.

The Syrian regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad, is fighting to remain in power. At the peace talks, the Assad administration’s focus is counterterrorism.

The X Factor

One group’s influence on the Syrian Conflict concerns America more than the civil war itself. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, fights against the rebels to prop up the Assad regime. The U.S. concern? ISIS claims a connection to Al-Qaeda.

Advocates of strict Islam, the group has used the civil instability to grow their terrorist organization. Today, ISIS maintains 9 checkpoints on a main road from Syria’s Atnah to the Turkish border, compared to the 2 checkpoints they established last November.

However, as of February 4th Al Qaeda disassociated ISIS.

“ISIS is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group . . . does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” Al-Qaeda’s General Command

The statement is the first time Al Qaeda has officially denied an affiliation. Speculation says the split is due to tensions between group leaders and disapproval of ISIS’s willingness to harm civilians.

What this means for the terrorist group’s future role in Syria remains to be seen.

Western Support

As one of the forefront investors in the peace talks in Geneva, the United States has tried influence both sides to reach an agreement without choosing sides. In reality, the U.S. stands to gain nothing by choosing to exclusively back Assad or the rebels. Neither profit U.S. national interests, and neither present a functioning democratic transitional government.

The first round of talks yielded little progress for either party. They failed to reach any sort of agreement, even the easing of the Syrian government blockade on the delivery of food and medicine to besieged communities was unachievable.

But involved parties remain hopeful for success in Geneva, as the second round of peace talks resume next week.

Further reading on Syria

Syria Live Blog