Mass destruction. Widespread hysteria. Courageous bloodshed. The unfortunate loss of civilians.
The civil war in Syria has gone on for over five years now. It all began after 15 school children were arrested and reportedly tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. Locals began protesting peacefully for the release of the children, democracy and greater freedom in Syria.
On March 18, 2011, however, the Syrian government responded forcefully to protestors, and the army opened fire on a crowd, killing four people. The following day, they shot at mourners attending the victims’ funerals, killing another person. Many were astounded by the violence from the Syrian government, and turmoil spread across the country.
Syria split when President Bashar al-Assad refused to resign. The government’s army is combatting as many as 1,000 different groups, made up of rebel fighters, political parties that disagree with Assad and those in exile. To add to the conflict, both Assad’s forces and the rebels are fighting an entirely different battle against the terrorist group ISIS at the same time.
According to the United Nations (UN), more than 250,000 people have been killed, and 13.5 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance in Syria. Amnesty International reports that more than 50 percent of the Syrian population is currently displaced, and over 4.5 million of those refugees are in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. BBC calls this crisis one of the largest refugee movements in recent history. Those that still remain in Syria have flocked from cities to the countryside for safety. Due to their school buildings being destroyed or the absence of teachers, many children can no longer go to school.
On Sept. 19, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a picture with the caption “This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first. #trump2016,” in response to the massive relocation of Syrian refugees. The image itself read “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you that just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem. Make America Great Again!” The tweet quickly drew attention from more than just his own Twitter followers.
The tweet is incredibly insensitive and inaccurate. According to U.S. News, the U.S. accepts 70,000 refugees annually from all over the world, and the State Department reports that since the 2001 terrorist attacks, fewer than 20 have been arrested or removed over terrorism-related concerns out of approximately 785,000 refugees that have arrived in the U.S.
Wrigley, the owner of Skittles, issued a statement shortly after the controversial tweet saying that “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”
Though the world tends to focus on the divisive characteristics of its various countries, religions and people, we all share one incredible similarity: we’re all human beings. In times of terrible crisis and desolation, what unites us is our ability to feel compassion and empathy for one another.
There is much to be gained from the acceptance of refugees. According to economist Jeffery Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and senior UN advisor, when refugees come, add to the labor market and bring with them their unique skills, they contribute to society as a whole.
The Syrian refugees are just normal people undergoing horrible circumstances. They had jobs, children to provide for and houses to come home to after a long day at work. They had aspirations and hope for a positive future that were taken away from them in a time of war. It’s time for America, a country founded by immigrants, to stand up for the Syrians fleeing extreme, dehumanizing and dangerous conditions in search of a better life.