By: Laila Goharioon
The panel consisted of:
- Chris McNaboe, Manager of the Syria Mapping Project at the Carter Center
- Dabney Evans, Professor of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health
- Nirmala Erevelles, Professor of Education, Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at the University of Alabama.
- Sam Cheribbi (moderator), Senior Lecturer of Middle Eastern Studies
Despite the media’s focus on Europe and the influx of 150,000 Syrian refugees seeking asylum there, this is actually quite a small number compared to the overall population of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP). Over 9 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Europe, and other parts of Syria due to internal political issues.
McNaboe presented first and explained the progression of the conflict and the critical role of social media in forming organizations and armed groups within the conflict and in tracking the movement of people. McNaboe and his team at the Carter Center began to look at social media posts of these organizations and individuals to analyze the conflict. By geo-tagging conflict events to participating actors and where people are moving to and from, McNaboe can see the conflict’s frontlines, where it is progressing, and where it is active. The Syria Mapping Project is currently tracking movements of hundreds and thousands people in the country as a result of the conflict. He states: “The primary reason for internal movement is aerial bombardment and changes in the frontline. The secondary reason is more related to living conditions and, to a large extent, public health.”
Evans presented next and called for looking at lessons learned in the case study of the Jaffna District in Sri Lanka, which faced an extended civil conflict, and how they can be applied to current conflicts in Syria. The Sri Lanka case study took place between July and September of 2009 and collected data on several factors, including disability amongst the population. The most vulnerable populations were the young and elderly, many facing mobility issues. These lessons could estimate the causes and types of disabilities common in the Syrian conflict and ways in which these disabilities affect where people end up; thus, determining what these people might need.
Evans argued that when we think of where to target public health interventions in conflicts, it is important to know who is disabled, what is the type of disability, and what are the causes of disability. With 15 percent of the global population living with some form of disability, and little being known about health risk factors for those with disabilities in conflicted areas, there is a need to know these answers in order to understand where and how to help.
Finally, according to Erevelles, the questions and discussions surrounding the issue of health and disability in refugee situations are common because these types of crises have been going on for a very long time. She inquiries if the current refugee crisis can be considered as an epidemic and the crises as endemic. However, she emphasizes there are dangers with pathologizing bodies as focus turns away from care to a more cure based approach. More so, these bodies become seen as objects of destruction rather than as objects of care; there is collateral damage as opposed to human life.
All three panelists agree that the answers to these questions about what can be done and what needs to be done are not simple. There are medical strains being felt by numerous countries, a rising rate of xenophobia, daily attacks in Syria causing frontline changes and internally displacing more people, and health outcomes as a result of the conflict that need to be taken into account. Let’s hope this discussion continues.