Aleppo has fallen into a terrifying, bloody nightmare, and we didn’t do enough
On Tuesday morning, the United Nations called the situation in East Aleppo a “complete meltdown of humanity.” And that’s kind of an understatement. For more than four years, the siege of Aleppo has been a nightmare we’ve allowed to happen, but in the past 48 hours Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might have finally succeeded in taking the city.
The United Nations said 82 children were killed by pro-Assad forces on Monday alone. There are currently an estimated 100,000 civilians in the besieged areas of the city. Abdulla Saleem, a doctor living in a bombed out building, told USA Today via a WhatsApp text, “They are killing everyone…they are butchered. Everyone is dying. I will soon die, too.”
Lieutenant General Zaid al-Saleh, head of the government’s Aleppo security committee, told reporters that the rebels have to “surrender or die.” Early Tuesday afternoon, they did just that, by negotiating a cease-fire that would allow civilians to leave the city. But civilians have been running for their lives for years. Literally, refugees are running to escape being barrel bombed, or shot, or any other of the other horrendous things Assad (backed by Russia and Iran) will do to them.
But we can’t just blame Assad and Putin (although, yes, they are to blame here). We’ve all let this happen, and the fallout from Aleppo — and the war in Syria as whole — is something the U.S. is going to have to deal with very soon. However, we just made it all the harder to help civilians in Syria by electing a xenophobic president with direct ties and conflicts of interest in Russia, which has been assisting Assad in orchestrating this bloodbath.
Hold up — what exactly is going on?
The conflict in Aleppo is actually not that complicated to understand (it’s the long lead up to the civil war and the solution to the problem that’s hard to figure out). In case you were snoozing, Aleppo has been under siege by President Assad for the past four years. You can’t understand the severity of the situation if you don’t understand that “siege” is a very specific military tactic being employed by Assad to take hold of the city from “rebels,” which is a pretty generic term for the 1,000 seperate armed groups fighting against Assad. The Free Syrian Army is the largest one, but there are other radical factions, some in complete opposition with the others. Together, the main coalitions have joined up to fight Assad’s government. Assad currently has power in about 25 percent of the country. But Aleppo was the prize.
To get Aleppo, Assad closed off the eastern part of Syria’s largest city with the help of Russian force. The rebels, along with civilians, are stuck there. People cannot get out. Food, supplies, and humanitarian aid cannot get in. Pro-government forces are bombing the hell out of the besieged area in attempts to break the rebels (civilian deaths are an added bonus for pro-government forces — a way to up the terror level and force the rebels to give up their fight).
What is the United States doing?
It’s complicated for the U.S. We don’t want to engage with military force, since Russia’s on Team Assad and that would mean two countries armed with nukes would be going at it. That’s a risk no one has wanted to take. We also don’t want to help the rebels in their fight since most are radicalized and are fighting for things America doesn’t necessarily want. There is no “good guy” to back in this fight, although we have armed some of the rebel groups in the past in the name of helping out during a humanitarian crisis, which might have ended up making things even worse.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the U.S. backed the rebel negotiations with Russia about a cease-fire aimed at getting the civilians out. But other than that, our government’s just been watching the terror from afar.
But we could do something about the refugees
The rebels negotiating with Russia means that even more of the 100,000 civilians in Aleppo alone (remember, there’s a war throughout Syria; Aleppo is just the biggest battle) will be displaced. The United Nations asked the world for $5.5 billion in humanitarian aid to help Syrian refugees. The U.S. threw in $505 million, the EU gave $1.2 billion, and Kuwait offered $500 million. That’s nowhere near enough.
The refugee crisis that you hear politicians and racists complaining about is a direct result of the U.S. and the world sleeping on the civil war in Syria. We didn’t barrel bomb civilians, but we didn’t do enough to stop it either. And now there are 12,000 Syrian refugees in the United States, many admitted in just the past two fiscal years. There are around 85,000 refugees total on American soil (many from Jordan, Myanmar, and Iraq), so just 2 percent of our refugees are from Syria. We could take more.
That doesn’t look likely to happen, though
After the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris last year, 26 governors in the U.S. pledged to not let anymore refugees in, Syrian or otherwise. Islamophobic rhetoric from politicians like Donald Trump has not helped. He ran on a platform pledging to block any Muslims from entering the country — he was talking, whether he knew it or not, about these Syrian refugees. The same civilians cowering in bombed out buildings telling the reporters able to make contact with them that their people are being “butchered.” What’s happening in Syria has a name: it’s called genocide.
With a Trump administration, any hope of budgeting more money to either admit refugees or send funds to the UN is pretty much gone. Trump’s new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has close, personal ties to Russia and Mr. Putin, and it’s not likely he’ll use that relationship to appeal for peace. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but no one, least of all a refugee, should hold their breath for that. American voters silently endorsed Russia and Assad in this fight. I know, it sucks to face that, but we let this happen.
On Tuesday, while civilians were being shot in East Aleppo, Kanye West’s visit to Trump Tower was trending over Syria.
There are ways to help
A good way to help is by raising awareness. The years-long battle for Aleppo ended Tuesday, and now more than ever is a chance to talk about the horrific things that were done to civilians and the shameful American response to the crisis. You can call your congressmen — just like you did after the election to let your reps know you wanted to back Planned Parenthood and block Steve Bannon — to tell them you want the United States to make room in the budget to help refugees. Call the National Security Council. Call Samantha Power, our ambassador to the United Nations.
You can also donate to the UN Refugee Agency, which runs refugee camps in Syria and all over the world, to help make sure they are funded.
Or, go niche. Donate to the Syrian American Medical Society, which is on the ground in southern Syria providing treatment to millions of people and training medical staff. The last pediatrician in Aleppo was killed this year, so training doctors and dispersing medical care is crucial. Doctors Without Borders is another good place for your money. The Karam Foundation is another non-profit based in Chicago that supports Syrian children refugees and their education. Sunrise USA helps displaced Syrians both here and abroad. There are many other organizations you can donate to, as well.
The Syrian civil war has been going on for far too long, and still so many Americans don’t really know the ins and outs of the situation. Hey, even Gary Johnson didn’t know Aleppo was a place on a map during the election. It’s time to pay attention — this genocide is akin to Rwanda or Bosnia. America’s already sat around for too many years hoping the situation would sort itself out, but the Syrian nightmare is not ending anytime soon.
Call, give money, tweet about it. Get angry about it. And hope that the Trump administration will have room at the table for anyone who wants to help the hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians caught up in a battle they didn’t ask for.