Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Syria’s civil war is said to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. The brutal war has raged for four years, and any resolution of the conflict still seems as remote as when the fighting first erupted. The war has resulted in the deaths of 220,000 people, half of whom are believed to be civilians. Bombings have destroyed crowded cities and horrific human rights violations are widespread. Basic necessities like food and medical care are sparse. According to reports from Syrian refugees, children are becoming increasingly hungry due to cuts in the amount of food being provided to them.
More than 11 million people have been displaced thus far. The UN estimates that 7.6 million people are displaced internally. The others, approximatey 4 million, have fled across the borders. The majority of Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and Lebanon. These are countries with weak infrastructure whose limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain. In August 2013, more Syrians escaped into northern Iraq at a newly opened border crossing. Now they are trapped by that country’s own insurgent conflict, and Iraq is struggling to meet the needs of Syrian refugees on top of more than one million internally displaced Iraqis.
While the conflict within the country is complex, with a multitude of groups fighting the Syrian government and each other, one fact is simple: millions of Syrians are suffering and in urgent need of help.*
In recognition of the urgency of the situation, BGR recently donated $12,000 to provide emergency relief to Syrian refugees, both those displaced within the country and those living in neighboring countries. This contribution has been divided evenly between six relief organizations working with Syrian refugees, as follows:
(1) Global Giving
This fund will support life-saving assistance and relief efforts for Syrians displaced by the conflict, both within Syria and in neighboring countries. The fund will help survivors and victims get necessary immediate relief supplies like food and hygiene kits, as well as provide long-term support through activities such as building water systems and providing educational supplies and job training.
(2) International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee is providing relief to millions of uprooted people inside Syria; in neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan; in Afghanistan; on the shores of Greece; and in 25 resettlement offices in the United States.
(3) Medical Teams International
Medical Teams International’s primary goal in Lebanon [where Syrian refugees are settled] is health outreach. Basic health and dental care prevents and reduces the impact of disease on children, women, and men in the settlement. Additionally, they train community volunteers to provide household outreach and education complements ongoing health services at mobile medical units.
(4) Mercy Corps
They are delivering food and clean water, improving shelters and providing families with clothes, mattresses, and other household essentials. They are helping children cope with trauma and leading constructive activities to nurture their healthy development. And they are helping host communities and refugees work together to mitigate tensions and find solutions to limited resources.
(5) Oxfam America
In partnership with the Syrian Ministry of Water Resources, UNICEF, and other aid providers, Oxfam is now providing clean water to Syrians inside their country. They have been helping to repair water systems, including wells, and truck in water. So far, 45 projects have been completed and 14 others are being implemented.
(6) United States Fund for UNICEF
UNICEF has been on the ground since the conflict began, helping to mobilize the largest humanitarian operation in history and working closely with partners to provide education, physical protection, psychological support and clothing to Syrian refugee children in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and other countries; immunize children against disease; and provide millions of people with access to safe drinking water.
* The above information has been gathered from the websites of Mercy Corps and Oxfam America.
The conflict in Syria (as well as in Libya) was created by the West that has now gone terribly wrong and chaotic. Yes, Gaddafi and Assad may be dictators (but so are Saudi royal family and leaders of Qatar, Emirates, etc which the West supports). Both Libya and Syria were peaceful, stable countries before the West created the conflict under the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings. Syria in particular was a multi-religious community that was living in harmony. This conflict shows clearly what the Buddha said 2500 years ago that “Hatred is never appeased by Hatred” and it needs to be solved by compassion, understanding and love. We the Buddhist community – rather than throwing money at helping refugees (who are anyway getting a lot of money thrown at them) – should be vocal in calling for a dialogue towards conflict avoidance, refrain from acting on the principle of “eye for an eye” and rather adopt the principle that hatred that is contributing to conflict cannot be solved by hatred, more arms and drone attacks on your enemy. Where is the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders who are quick to condemn fellow Buddhists in Myanmar or Sri Lanka, but are silent on the atrocities committed by the West in the Middle East that has created this terrible refugee crisis and mystery? As a global Buddhist community time has come for us to raise our voices together against this foreign policy madness that is called “regime change” (modern name for colonialism). This is an economic war to control peoples’ resources based on greed and craving – eradicating which is also at the root of Buddhist teachings. Lets put our financial resources to opening up a global dialogue on the issue like the nuclear disarmament movement of the 1980s.
While I agree that the chaos in Syria and Libya is the fault of the West, I disagree with your statement we, as Buddhists, should not be “throwing money at helping refugees.” It is far from true that the refugees are “getting a lot of money thrown at them.” To the contrary, most of the aid agencies working with the refugees are seriously short of funding. A UN report as of July 2015 states:
A severe lack of funding is forcing the United Nations to implement deeper cuts in food assistance to vulnerable Syrian refugees across Lebanon and Jordan, the Organization has confirmed. According to a press release issued earlier today, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) regional refugee operation remains 81 per cent underfunded and requires an immediate injection of $139 million in order to continue helping “desperate” refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq until the end of the summer.
Surely, efforts to resolve the conflict and to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to those who are its present victims, largely women and children, are not incompatible. It seems that an appropriate Buddhist response would be to seek to fulfill both requirements without using one to reject the other.
Dear Bhikkhu Bodhi
Yes I agree Buddhists need to show compassion and I’m not advocating that we should ignore the terrible humanitarian suffering created by these conflicts. But, the point I’m making is that we should not remain silent to the actions of global powers, particularly of the West, to creating such conflicts for selfish economic reasons and craving for power. If we remain silent these conflicts will escalate and the whole world will get immersed in the type of suffering we saw during the 2nd World War. I fear very much that this type of conflict could spread to Asia soon if we remain silent. Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia would be the ones that could suffer the most.
I hope we could collectively think of how we can raise our voices against the violence that is perpetuated by the very people who always talk about democracy and freedom.
Perhaps we need to advocate for a World Conference on Truth and Reconciliation and Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts.
If Global Buddhist Relief is willing to initiate such a movement I would be willing to help out from Asia by mobilising support.
World Fellowship of Buddhists would be the ideal forum to initiate this, but, unfortunately it is not doing it.
With Metta Kalinga
It would require a major mediating body to resolve the conflict in Syria. Such a task is far beyond the capacity of a small Buddhist organization like BGR, which has a different mission than conflict resolution. Even a large Buddhist organization is unlikely to be able to bring Assad, the US, Russia, Iran, China, and ISIS to the negotiating table, let alone to hammer out an accord. The UN itself has failed to resolve the crisis. The UN Secretary General blames certain powers on the Security Council (the Guardian article says he was referring indirectly to Russia and China), but another article on Huffington Post says the obstacle has been the US insistence that Assad must step down. That seems to me to be a major stumbling block. See:
I am inclined to agree with the article by Professor Etzioni. I am no expert on international relations, and the complexity of the problem has challenged the best minds in this field, but insisting that the leader of the side one is opposing must resign for military force to end seems a sure way to block a solution.
From what I’ve seen and read, the whole escalation was begun when the Syrian government rejected a proposed Qatar natural gas pipeline project to Europe but accepted a pipeline deal for Iran natural gas to Europe (multi-billion dollar pipeline) back in 2011. Maybe a naive solution for ending the crisis, but forge an agreement for two pipelines: one for Qatar gas and one for Iranian gas, seeing those nations draw from the same massive gas field. There are people responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths who must be held accountable for war crimes and punished accordingly, and not 20 years from now. Making member states’ mandatory joining the International Criminal Court at the United Nations or face expulsion from the UN would go a long way toward deterring high level officials’ carrying out war crimes with impunity.