Stories of Syrian Refugees: A Reading List

I am not a political scientist, an aid worker, nor a refugee. I don’t pretend to understand the intricacies of Syria’s politics or the motivations of ISIS completely. I read, share, and little by little, I learn.

Broadsided Press has collected statistics, resources and articles about the conflict in Syria, and Sarah Grey’s essay for The Establishment (included below) had this synopsis:

…More than 240,000 people have been killed since the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad turned into a nightmarish civil war. Four million have fled the devastated country and 7.6 million more are internally displaced, according to a UN inquiry. An estimated 2,000 people have died at sea while attempting to enter Europe. Syria is now 83% darker at night. The outlook is bleak for a country that was once known for taking in refugees.

Broad strokes, to be sure, but important context for the following six stories. You’ll meet a teenager preparing for her wedding, queer lovers separated by bureaucracy, war and thousands of miles, and four women who defended their Kurdish city to the death. There are artists and activists and archeologists, all working together to preserve Syrian culture and the lives of its citizens.

1. “What’s the Difference Between Migrants and Refugees?” (Sarah Grey, The Establishment, October 2015)

Sarah Grey, self-described language nerd, explains the assumptions and connotations underlying the words we use to describe the displaced victims of Syria’s civil war. (The Establishment is a new website founded and funded by women, featuring great writing and reporting—I encourage you to explore it further.)

2. “This is What It’s Like to Be an LGBT Syrian Fleeing For Your Life.” (J. Lester Feder, BuzzFeed News, October 2015)

Before the conflict began, the Assad regime was brutal with political opponents, but it was secular and didn’t seek out LGBT people for harassment…What primarily makes Syria dangerous for the LGBT people now arriving in Turkey is Assad’s loss of control in much of the country to the Islamist rebels trying to overthrow him.

For LGBT refugees from the Middle East, it takes two years, minimum, for resettlement under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Even after they leave Syria, legal, safe employment is not readily available; some return home, sick of waiting. Still others are assaulted, even killed, while waiting for relocation—victims of hate crimes.

3. “A Wedding Dress in Za’atari.” (Rania Abouzeid, The New Yorker, October 2013)

A snapshot of dreams deferred in the fourth largest city in Jordan—Za’atari, a refugee camp home to over 100,000 people fleeing Syria, Iran and other parts of the Middle East.

4. “A Jailed Activist’s 3-D Models Could Save Syria’s History From ISIS.” (Andy Greenberg, Wired, October 2015)

As ISIS destroys precious monuments and artifacts, digital activists are establishing the New Palmyra Project to preserve Syria’s history, and maybe—just maybe—free its founder, Bassel Khartabil, from prison.

5. “Caught Between ISIS and Assad.” (Molly Crabapple, VICE, June 2014)

On the hills of Syria, we could see the Atmeh IDP camp. It was a white smudge containing 25,000 people, run by a tangle of NGOs. Those who live there cannot cross into Turkey.

The antiaircraft guns on the Turkish side of the border reveal why these people came to Atmeh. They hope that if they huddle close enough to a regional power, Assad will not bomb them, for fear of a stray explosion starting a war. He bombs them anyway.

Borders are gouged by war, contorted by diplomacy. But humans live in the borderlands. In those tents so close to Turkey, families suffer the consequences of geopolitics.

6. “‘We Are So Proud’: the Women Who Died Defending Kobani Against ISIS.” (Mona Mahmood, The Guardian, January 2015)

Rather than live to see their families enslaved or killed, the four women eulogized in this moving collection—mothers, students and activists—took up arms to defend their hometown against the ravages of ISIS.