The war in Syria started in 2011. Today, after five years of ongoing conflict, the world still fails to respond adequately to the humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis.
According to the most recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees figures, there are at least 4 million Syrians seeking refuge outside of their country, and 7.5 million others internally displaced within Syria. Currently, the international community has only fulfilled 45 percent of funding commitments required to respond to the Syrian crisis. Neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan have absorbed the majority of the 4 million displaced outside of Syria, while the United States, a country with the necessary infrastructure to support these individuals, has recently agreed to resettle a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees in its borders by 2016.
In light of the humanitarian crisis, professors and faculty at Columbia have shifted their focus to address different aspects of the Syrian refugee situation. The Global Policy Initiative, launched by University President Lee Bollinger in 2013, has developed an interdisciplinary effort to come up with solutions for the refugee crisis. University political science professor Michael Doyle, who heads the initiative, is teaching a course this fall in which students will develop proposals for the United Nations. At the Journalism School, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism fellows Lara Setrakian and Kristin Nolan are working on Syria Deeply, a single-subject news outlet that has covered everything related to Syria. Meanwhile, the Columbia Global Centers in Amman, Jordan, and Istanbul, Turkey, have acted as academic outposts for research on refugees in the region.
Despite extensive academic coverage of the events in Syria, Columbia University has lacked an institutional voice to echo the concerns and fears of those on campus who identify with the Syrian cause. On the most basic level, there has been no attempt to reach out and offer support to the Arab community that experiences collective grief over the situation in Syria and bordering countries. As Yasemin Akcaguner recently argued in an op-ed, being a global institution starts with administrative efforts to support international students in wake of disasters and atrocities in their home countries.
In addition to supporting current students in their grievances, Columbia, a globally acclaimed academic institution, has the potential to offer support for Syria by bridging the educational gap of university-age Syrian refugees. However, Columbia has failed to leverage this potential in the same way that other universities have, particularly in Canada. For example, McGill University has mobilized to triple their support for Syrian students admitted in the next academic year.
It is for this reason that a chapter of Students Organize for Syria was formed at Columbia. SOS is a national, student-led organization that is committed to raising awareness about the situation in Syria and raising funds to help support those affected by the refugee crisis. So far, we have organized various panels and movie screenings, in addition to a benefit concert with Syrian musician Kinan Azmeh where we raised $2,000 for a refugee education program run by Jusoor, a nongovernmental organization formed by Syrian expatriates. In addition to awareness and fundraising, members of SOS have been working on introducing a refugee scholarship fund and a program to offer mentoring to Syrian students hoping to study at Columbia or elsewhere in the U.S.
On Thursday, Nov. 5, we will hold a benefit concert featuring renowned Syrian musician and composer Malek Jandali. The concert will be taking place on campus at the Roone Arledge Auditorium, and the doors will be open by 6:30 p.m. All net proceeds from the event will go toward Save the Children's Syria fund. We would like to invite the Columbia community to share their support for our cause at this event. Tickets are available for purchase here.
This concert will be our organization's biggest event to date. We hope that it will be the starting point for vocalizing the Syrian cause on campus, with further movement to not only fundraise but also to raise awareness and advocate for the rights of those suffering within Syria and between borders. But supporting SOS doesn't end at attending this concert: We encourage you to participate in our general body meetings and open forums, and help form a united front that can take active steps to alleviate the humanitarian suffering.
Yazan Nagi is a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian studies. Yazan is originally from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and is a member of Students Organize for Syria. Nadine Fattaleh is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics and Middle Eastern studies. Nadine is originally from Amman, Jordan, and is a member of Students Organize for Syria.
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