One third of Syrian population displaced by war

UNHCR photo shows mass exodus of Syria refugees fleeing to Iraq, August, 2013.

For Americans to grasp the magnitude of the crisis in Syria, it’s worth drawing some comparisons and imagining what this would look like here.

Imagine this: Every single person in California, Texas, New York, and Florida has fled their home. Nearly everyone who once lived in California is now a refugee in Mexico and has little more than a sheet of canvas to protect themselves from the sun. The rest of the world sees on their TV screens the misery of America and everyone agrees its awful but then carries on living their life as though nothing was happening.

RTÉ reports: The United Nations has said that nearly seven million Syrians have been displaced by the civil war, which is almost one third of the population.

UNHCR envoy to Syria Tarik Kurdi said five million people had been displaced internally.

Another two million had sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

More refugees are expected to leave the country in advance of an anticipated airstrike by the US military following what it said was a chemical weapons attack the US blames on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Lebanon has around one million people, either refugees who have formally registered, or others who have moved into employment, or who have enough resources of their own not to declare themselves refugees.

The influx is putting a strain on Lebanon’s meagre resources, according to the International Crisis Group.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Facebooktwittermail

Comments

  1. With all due respect, Paul, I disagree with these comparisons. You’re assuming some sort of catastrophe linearity that’s simply not there. The number “7 million” speaks for itself and should be left at that. It’s tragic beyond words.

    PS: Perhaps to explain what I mean, suppose that half the Vatican had to be evacuated, would you say this is like “150 million Americans had to flee their homes”? No, you wouldn’t, because there is no linearity.

    This works the other way too. I couldn’t stand it when I heard Israelis pooh-pooh 9/11 because 3000 is a tinier fraction of the US population than the fraction of Israelis who have died in terrorist attacks.

    So what? 9/11 should be measured within the scope of New York City, and the number of victims was humongus by any measure. Similarly, 7 million refugees from such a small region is, in and of itself, horrific.

  2. I don’t think 7 million speaks for itself because the impact on the whole nation has as much to do with proportions as it has with raw numbers. The dislocation of 7 million in a country of 22 million has a much greater impact than the same number dislocated in a nation of 314 million. The point at which a catastrophe spills outside a nation’s borders has a great deal with the capacity to absorb effects internally.

    Every comparison has its limitations, but given that most Americans have no personal experience of Syria, the most obvious way of bringing this home is to construct some way of translating the Syrian experience into an American experience. If however one says there’s no way of drawing such a comparison, that ends up sounding like saying what’s happening in Syria couldn’t happen here.

    Also, why make a comparison with the Vatican which even if it has sovereignty is in no ones mind a nation. It isn’t populated by Vaticanecians is it?

    To say that the dislocation of a third of Americans cannot be compared with the dislocation of a third of Syrians, begs the question: what would a corresponding catastrophe in the U.S. look like? How many people would it impact?

  3. Linearity should be avoided. That’s what led Steven Pinker to make erroneous claims about violence in his latest book.

    I picked the Vatican, but you can pick any ridiculously small nation, like Liechtenstein, if you want. The point is just to show the wrongness of linear extrapolation.

    Australia is about the size of Syria. So you could use that. Or if you want an American comparison, then say, New York state. Then no extrapolation is needed.

  4. Anyway, I am mostly nitpicking.

  5. Florida works better than NY since the population is not as heavily concentrated in one city, but neither work for all the Americans who live in neither of those states. Moreover, no one becomes a refugee merely on the basis of leaving their state. But as you said your mostly nitpicking – though all criticisms of Pinker are welcome.

  6. It is nice to pick out some detail to disagree with and the rest of the comments is a discussion of some meaningless detail. Here’s my read of the meaningless detail. Be one of the refugees and you’ll quickly lose your BS. As we march, again, into a senseless war, the entire situation will become much, much worse. It’s what we do. We launch our extremely expensive weapons, blather on endlessly, the media mindlessly quotes whatever the Pentagon/Whitehouse tells them and Americans pat themselves on the back about our “greatness”. So it goes.