Featured Article: “800,000 Syrians Have Fled in Three Months. This Is What It Looks Like.”
The Syrian government, backed by Russian forces, has accelerated its monthslong offensive to seize control of Idlib, the last province held by the opposition. Facing heavy bombardment of towns and villages, more than 800,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled their homes since December, joining the largest exodus of Syria’s civil war since it began nine years ago.
The exodus is the largest of a war that has displaced 13 million people and taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and ranks among the largest in recent history, second only to the flight of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar in 2017.
Turkey, already host to more than three million Syrian refugees, has closed its border with Syria since 2015 to prevent a further influx. That has left the displaced people of Idlib trapped between advancing Syrian and Russian troops and the Turkish border.
In this lesson, you will use a Times interactive to learn more about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Then you will consider how best to inform the public.
What do you know about refugees?
Today, 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home; 41.3 million are displaced within their own country and nearly 25.9 million are refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
A total of 5.6 million Syrians are refugees and 6.6 million more are displaced inside the country. Syria accounts for the world’s largest number of forcibly displaced people.
Before reading, consider the following question: What might force you and your family to abandon your home?
What challenges would you face in finding safety?
What would you take with you?
How would it affect you physically and emotionally?
If you are in a classroom setting, share and discuss your writing with a partner.
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the featured article, then answer the following questions:
1. How long has Syria been at civil war? Why is Idlib at the center of current fighting?
2. What has caused the latest exodus of people? How has the Turkish government’s decision to close its border with Syria affected Syrians trying to escape the fighting?
3. Why have many Syrians taken refuge in Idlib? How many times have Abu Muhammad and his family fled their home during the civil war?
4. What challenges have Syrians faced in escaping the attacks on Idlib? Describe some of the physical and emotional journeys they have taken.
5. Describe the conditions in the camps and temporary housing many displaced Syrians live in.
6. The article ends:
Europe, Turkey, Lebanon — everyone wants the refugee crisis to go away, and for Syrians to return to Syria.
But that country is so destroyed, its economy so ruined, that people may be living as refugees for years.
Can Syrians ever go home?
What is your reaction to the statement? Do you think Syrians will ever be able to return home — physically, emotionally?
7. Compare your answers from the warm-up activity with what you have learned in the article. How did the article change your understanding of displaced people and refugees? Which statement or image stands out for you as particularly affecting or meaningful? Explain why.
8. If you were to explain what is happening in Syria to someone who knows nothing about the crisis, what would be the three most important things for them to understand?
Choose one or both of the following questions to respond to in writing.
1) Analyze and respond to a photo or video.
Look at the photos and videos featured in the article: What do you notice about them? What questions do they raise? What story do they tell about the crisis in Syria and its displaced people and refugees? Which photo or video do you find most interesting, surprising or memorable?
Choose one image and write about how it illustrates the challenges, courage and resilience of the Syrian refugees.
2) Help inform others about the displacement and refugee crisis.
In the Opinion essay “We Are Left to Face Death Alone,” Waad al Kateab, a filmmaker, writes:
In the past week I have met officials from the House of Representatives and the Senate. In each meeting, I have just minutes to explain what is happening in Idlib. I tell them everything, and it feels like nothing. I don’t believe it will change anything. The Syrian people have been abandoned. Some politicians and U.N. officials tell me they hope for an end to the violence. Others tell me they can do nothing.
We are left to face death alone.
Over the past nine years, we Syrians have been killed in every way possible: by barrel bombs, shelling, guns, chemical weapons, torture, starvation.
But I believe the hardest way to be killed is in silence, so I keep telling our stories. It is my duty, my responsibility as a woman who survived. This is the fate of those who have escaped: to endlessly retell our own stories and tell the stories of others still in Syria.
How can we break the silence and apathy about the humanitarian crisis in Syria? How can we bring greater awareness about what is happening in Syria to the world?
Here are two creative ways you can do this from your classroom:
You might use the statistics from this article or your own research to create a “by the numbers” infographic to show the scale and impact of the refugee crisis in Syria — or throughout the world. For example, you might include the number of displaced people or refugees in the past three months, or from the entire Syrian civil war. You don’t need to include every statistic, just those you think are most important.
Or you can create a public service announcement using still photographs from this article, or your own research, along with text, statistics and music. You might consider storyboarding your public service announcement, and if you have time, record, edit and share it with your class and your school. Scholastic provides some useful tips and a sample P.S.A. storyboard.