Syrian Refugee Crisis
Syria’s civil war has been raging since 2011, but 2015 saw a historically high number of Syrians leaving not only their home country, but also neighboring countries, for safer lands in Europe and beyond. Over the past four years an estimated four million or more Syrians have sought refuge from the violence in their country. As it stands, the situation in Syria is dire: 13.5 million people inside the country require humanitarian aid, 4.3 million are official refugees, 6.6 million are displaced within the country, and half of that number are children.
In November, more than 24 Republican governors voiced their opposition to welcoming refugees to the U.S., citing security concerns. The 2016 Presidential campaign has led to heightened rhetoric, including leading candidate Donald Trump: “I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back.”
As of November, polls show that 53% of U.S. citizens are against welcoming Syrian refugees into the country. With no other options, the U.S. (and, specifically, the State Department) have, to date, responded with aid and support to those in the country:
“The United States remains committed to helping the innocent children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Total U.S. humanitarian assistance since the start of the conflict in March 2011 is now more than $4.5 billion. The United States remains the single-largest donor of humanitarian aid for those affected by Syria crisis, which has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”
Russia Flexes Its Military Might
While Russian forces first invaded Crimea in 2014, after which its citizens officially voted to become Russians, stories surrounding the annexation remained in the news well through 2015. In March of this year, NATO reacted to a “wide-ranging” build-up of military in the region. In November, much of the Crimean peninsula lost power due to protests that destroyed its main power lines.
Russia has also inserted itself rather precariously into the Syrian crisis. On November 24th, Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian military jet on the Syrian/Turkish border. Russia alleged that Turkey had colluded with the United States in shooting down this plane, and that it had never made it into Turkey’s airspace. Meanwhile, Turkey asserted that it had sent numerous warnings to the plane and had acted within its rights. With tensions high, Vladimir Putin announced a package of economic sanctions on Turkey. While Turkey has stated that they are willing to come to the table to discuss the situation with Russia, Putin demurred. As of this month, the sanctions imposed by Russia are set to expand in an effort to further cripple Turkey.
Russia also found itself in the middle of the war on terror when ISIS claimed to have downed a Russian passenger airline. Russian support for embattled Syrian President Assad grew more complicated as it faced not only an insurgency but terrorist expansion by ISIS. Western observers worry that an increased Russian presence in the Middle East could lead to escalating tensions and a new Cold War, or even open hostilities between Russia and the U.S.
Meanwhile, Russia continues dropping bombs on cities in Syria in a purported campaign against “terrorists.” Syrians conversely report that Russian warplanes are bombing marketplaces and streets populated by innocent civilians. Just this week, Russia released video of the bombing of what it claimed to be an oil-smuggling campaign across the Turkish border. U.S. intelligence officials state that this ongoing three-month intervention has resulted in minimal losses on the Russian side, and has supported and potentially even stabilized the existing Assad government.
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