Monday morning, members of the United Nations Security Council voted to pass a resolution, or decision, that will allow it to monitor evacuations from the Syrian city of Aleppo. Though a UN resolution isn't officially a law, it is still considered a very important statement. In this case, it will give UN peacekeepers the chance to make evacuations safer during a time of war.
This is a rare moment of positive news in a story that has shocked the world. We wanted to take a moment to look at why this resolution is so important.
A terrible civil war
For about six years, the country of Syria has been in a civil war. (This is a large conflict between different armed forces within the same country.) Most wars involves two sides fighting each other. But this war has been especially complex because it is being fought between at least four major forces. One is the regime—or government—of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. Two forces—the Free Syrian Army and the Federation of North Syria—are made up of alliances, or groupings, of many smaller groups that oppose Assad's rule. The final group is the terrorist group the Islamic State, or ISIL (the Syrian city of Raqqa has been considered their capital since they took it over in 2014).
If all of this is overwhelming, that is completely understandable. Most adults find Syria's civil war difficult to explain. But one truth is pretty much universally accepted. All of this fighting between different groups has left civilians in grave danger. It is what has has sent hundreds of thousands refugees fleeing all parts of Syria to North America and countries all across Europe.
Nowhere in Syria has this danger been more true than in the city of Aleppo.
Once one of the great cities of the Middle East
Most people in Canada and the United States have only really been hearing about Aleppo for the past year or so. But before it became one of the most dangerous places on Earth, it was one of the greatest cities in the Middle East. It is also one of the longest continuously lived-in places on Earth (some estimates say that it has been inhabited since 6000 BCE, over 8,000 years ago).
Aleppo was the centre of trade in Syria and its largest city (it is about the same size as Toronto). Food, culture, sport, fashion, tourism—it was a beautiful city that had all of these things. Today, most of the city is in rubble, especially in the eastern half (this is where rebels against Assad's regime fought from). People living in this region are trapped without running water or electricity. Food is scarce, schools are all closed, and the hospitals have all been bombed. It has been a terrifying place to be.
Why the evacuation matters
For months and even years, humanitarian groups have been trying to get aid to civilians trapped in Aleppo. But when evacuations first started at the end of last week, they stalled after only a day. Why? Fighters had attacked and set fire to several buses sent to transport refugees out. This is why this Monday's UN resolution is so important. With four different groups fighting in this war, attacks can come from anywhere. These convoys of buses badly need protection of a group like the UN.
Looking for hope
The story of Syria is an upsetting one. Assad may have won back Aleppo, but much of the city is in ruins and the rest of the country is still full of many battlefronts. But there are people who have made it out of Syria. Many of them have settled in Canada (since December of 2015, Canada has made a pledge to increase the number of refugees it accepts from Syria). You may know of a refugee family from Syria who recently moved to your town. One of them could even be a new classmate. Getting to know them and helping them feel welcome in a new home is a small thing. But you can bet that it is one that will make a big difference.