“The bombs kept following us”

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

A photo of a Syrian three-year-old boy, who drowned trying to flee to Greece, captured global attention last week.

But sadly, he and his family represent just a fraction of the millions of Syrians whose lives have been devastated by the civil war that has now been raging for more than four years.

In June I met some of these refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. The stories they told were heartbreaking.

One family was from Damascus, Syria. When the war forced them to leave their home, they moved first to several other parts of Syria, but “the bombs kept following” them. They eventually ended up in Lebanon, where friends of their family live.

The family of four includes two boys, ages 10 and 6. The youngest was just three years old when they left their home. The boys miss their home in Syria, where they could run and play. Now they live in a crowded neighborhood, with no place to play.

Until recently the family received some assistance from a United Nations agency, but due to funding shortfalls, that assistance has been cut off. In despair the father told us that they had no idea how they would pay the rent now.

One piece of income that the family has been able to count on is food vouchers from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which helps them to buy basic staples such as sugar, rice and oil each month.

Mennonite Central Committee’s response to the Syria crisis has totaled more than $30 million. But as this family’s story illustrates, there is no way that non-governmental organizations alone can meet the staggering needs created by this crisis.

The United Nations has received less than half of the funding requested for the Syria crisis. As a result, vital services such as education, food and rental assistance are being cut back. As was the case for the family in Lebanon, many people who have been displaced from their homes have no other option for meeting basic needs.

The Syria crisis is a tragedy of massive proportions. Even more troubling, it is a tragedy caused entirely by human decisions.

It is imperative that the United States and other countries provide funding to the United Nations and other entities to address the humanitarian crisis. They should also open their doors to more Syrian refugees in need of resettlement.

But it is also imperative that the United States and others in the international community put politics aside, stop sending weapons to the various armed actors in the Syrian war, and put all of their energy into finding a diplomatic, negotiated solution.

We must do this, before it is too late for even more Syrian children.