A Syrian refugee activist with a sign carrying the words on the Statue of Liberty. (cool revolution/Flickr)
You may have forgotten all about it, but the refugee crisis, especially the one in Syria, is still going on.
Actually, it's getting worse. The past week has been one of the most gut-wrenching yet. About 880 refugees just died off of the coasts of Libya and Italy while trying to make their way to Europe. And the Obama administration is coming under serious fire for how they're handling their refugee policy. This is seriously important, as millions of lives are at stake, so let's take a look.
Where refugees come from and why they are escaping
Syria has been undergoing a horrible civil war for years, and as if that wasn't bad enough, is now also partially occupied by ISIS, the terrorist group responsible for recent attacks in France and Belgium. Ordinary Syrians are desperate to escape both their government's brutal regime AND ISIS.
That said, refugees actually come from many countries in the Middle East and Africa. They leave their homes in order to escape war (like in Libya, Iraq, and Syria) and poverty and violence (like Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Somalia).
Many refugees end up in Greece, Italy, and Turkey, although they hope to settle even further north and elsewhere, including in the US.
These people are in search of safety and asylum. The 350,000 refugees currently estimated to be moving through Europe risk incredible danger--especially at sea. Way too often, they drown during the high-risk boat ride to Europe.
If these migrants are willing to risk everything in a terrifying, and often deadly, voyage, the situation at home must be filled with unbelievable horrors.
Children are dying
Last year, photographs of a little Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi broke the internet's collective heart. He washed up on a Turkish beach after a shipwreck. His family was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos.
— عمر عثمان™ (@Omar_Othman) September 2, 2015
The pictures of Aylan shook the world. But maybe not enough. Just this past weekend, a new photograph emerged. Like Aylan's photo, it shows the devastating effects of a refugee crisis on a helpless, innocent baby.
This baby was one of 25 drowned refugees that German rescuers found in the seas between Libya and Italy on Friday. The baby's ship was filled with Europe-bound refugees. When it sank, 45 people drowned--including the infant--and 135 were rescued from the sea.
This week has been especially bad for refugees
So far in 2016, the UN estimates that 2,510 refugees have died on the way to Europe. That's 25% more people than during the same time period last year, when 1,855 refugees died. So clearly, things are worse and deadlier for refugees.
This past week has been one of the most devastating. 880 refugees died in the Mediterranean region, in rickety boats. Why do they get into these unsafe boats? That's how desperate they are to get away from their thoroughly miserable, war-wracked, poverty-stricken lives.
UN Refugee Agency spokesman William Spindler said:
"At the moment [smugglers] are packing people on boats that are barely sea-worthy and many cases are not meant to make the crossing. What happens is as soon as they depart from shore they call for rescuers and then rescue services come and rescue them. It's a race against time to get there before the boats sink, in some cases it gets there too late."
The smugglers know that many of their ships will sink. But refugees find themselves without options.
Many of them will never see Greece, like the nameless baby in the viral photo.
Some believe that this spike in deaths is happening now because smugglers are trying to make as much money as possible before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
13 million people have been displaced by war in Syria
How many people need to find a country to live in? Well, in Syria alone, millions. Like, 13 million.
It's estimated that millions of Syrians are homeless because of the war in their country. While an estimated 7 million of the displaced remain in Syria, 6 million refugees have left the country (including approximately 1 million in Europe).
Those are huge numbers for a country with a population just under 23 million. America's proposal to take in 10,000 Syrians is a tiny drop in the bucket.
What the US is doing
Last fall, President Obama promised that the US would admit 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Obama has spoken soaringly about "vulnerable" Syrian refugees.
But only 2,500 have been granted asylum since then.
Oh, and in the meantime, Obama's administration has also deported many Central Americans who escaped their countries' own horrors to seek refuge in the US.
Many worry that the Obama administration seems (or is?) hypocritical on this issue and risks losing its moral leadership in the world.
Refugees are a big topic in the presidential election
While Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has hinted that she would be more lenient about immigration than our current POTUS, Republican nominee Donald Trump became popular in large part because of his anti-immigrant rhetoric. He has vowed to not only to be strict about refugees, but to go as far as keeping every single Muslim out of the US.
With all this attention, the White House's failure to keeps their promise is glaring.
The process to admit more refugees is speeding up
Given the pace so far, admitting 7,500 new Syrian refugees by this fall seems like a tall order.
But things are picking up speed. Last Monday and Tuesday alone, the State Department admitted 305 refugees. More people were admitted in two days than during all of January and February!
Some believe that this is because the screening process is becoming more efficient. Others, however, have voiced safety concerns, worrying that security measures are being cut so that the US can meet its quota.
And some say Christian refugees are being ignored.
The backlash against refugees continues to grow
Many Europeans are taking a stand against allowing more refugees in to their countries.
And in the US, in addition to Trump's strong anti-immigrant platform, there are disturbing developments in the backlash against refugees. An anti-refugee hate group called the Soldiers of Odin recently popped up the US. The group started in Finland in 2015 after they saw a huge surge in refugees. Currently, around 4,000 people are linked to the group in America. While the Soldiers of Odin group has a largely online presence, they have also recently conducted live patrols in Colorado and Montana.
Anti-immigrant group members believe they are staying ahead of what they call "the immigration problem." They hope that refugees from other countries, like Syria, won't become as widespread in the US as they are in European nations.
Some say #RefugeesWelcome
There's a lively #RefugeesWelcome movement in the US, Canada, and across Europe. (cool revolution/Flickr)
In spite of the refugee backlash, many people still want to help any human being trying to escape war, poverty, and hunger.
This article was written by Clementine Amidon and originally appeared on Kicker. Kicker explains the most important, compelling things going on in the world and empowers you to get in the know, make up your own mind, and take action. For more, check out the Kicker site, like their Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter.