Has Western interest in Syria decreased?


The Syrian conflict and refugee crisis has been an ongoing, massive, humanitarian problem for quite some time now. As rebels and Syrian President Assad’s forces continue to clash, countless lives have been lost and even more have been displaced. From November 4th, 2015 to January 2nd, 2017, 39,671 refugees have arrived in Canada. These refugees settled in 350 welcoming communities (excluding Quebec). And as of January 2nd, 2017, some 17,912 applications are in progress.

Cleary Canada has had a high interest in the Syrian crisis. The government and private sponsors have been instrumental in settling refuges. But will this trend continue? Antigonish Nova Scotia has received the international spotlight, due to the fact that a Syrian refugee family, the Hadhads, have been extremely successful with their chocolate business located in town. Prime Minister Trudeau even highlighted them in a speech.

A contributing factor to refugees being placed in Antigonish comes from the work of SAFE (Syria Antigonish Families Embrace) as well as StFX for SAFE which is the student society branch of the organization. In order to help understand if westerners and specifically Canadians still hold a high interest in the Syrian crisis, The Xaverian Weekly sat down with Kristian Rasenberg, a B.Ed. student and the president of the StFX for SAFE society.

In Rasenberg’s opinion, western interest in Syria has declined recently because we see the tragedies of the Syrian people over and over again. He feels westerners get, “tired of hearing the same thing over and over.”

He adds that, “we’re a share and swipe generation” that sees the heartbreak on social media, then moves on to the next thing in our newsfeed. Rasenberg was clear that others may have vastly different opinions than he because participation in SAFE initiatives such as the “Peace Walk” earlier this year had approximately 600 participants.

Rasenberg also stated that concern itself is dwindling, yet he is hopeful some new initiatives will regain interest. He states that these initiatives will, “answer the feeling of helplessness,” and, “give people an avenue to help.”

One of these new initiatives is the Pause for the Cause campaign. This campaign will be akin to the ALS ice-bucket challenge but instead of pouring ice water on oneself, the participant will take a video of themselves ‘pausing’ and making a sacrifice.

An example of this would be Rasenberg’s own Pause for the Cause, in which he would abstaining from purchasing his daily coffee, donating the money saved to SAFE. The organizations next goal will be to sponsor another refugee family. Rasenberg states that student awareness is important and that he hopes it grows. SAFE was successful at Society Night last semester, and he thinks the organization is becoming more visible.

Some on campus may feel that Syrian interest has declined, because the thermometer outside of the Library that visualizes donations to SAFE has plateaued. StFX for SAFE attributes this to the fact that the large, $1,000-plus donates the organization were initially receiving have been exhausted. The donations that are primarily being received now are smaller, and because the thermometer goes up in $10,000 increments, it looks stagnant.

James Denselow, a writer on Middle East affairs wrote an article published by Al Jazeera news where he states the, “enormity of the crisis in Syria is almost indigestible to those who do not see it directly.” He further argues, “Syria, in the eyes of many, is ‘not our problem.’ Instead it is the fault of others where the blame can lie and justify inaction.”

Although interest may ebb and flow at times, we will always have constant reminders that this is in fact happening, and we may need to be motivated to help.