Syrian Crisis: UN Launches Immersive Website

Syrian Crisis: UN Launches Immersive Website
May 22, 2017

When it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, the world is looking for answers — literally.


Google users around the globe are using the search engine to ask their more urgent questions about the conflict and refugees, and many people are searching for the same information. So Google and the United Nations decided to do something about it, creating a new platform to address frequently asked questions and offer some clarity.


The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Google on Monday launched Searching for Syria, an immersive website that gives audiences a visual and informative look into the Syrian refugee crisis. The website combines UNHCR data and stories with Google Search trends and Google Maps visuals, exploring the five most common questions people have about the crisis.


"Searching for Syria aims to dispel myths and misconceptions about Syria and refugees, and provide an entirely fresh look at the biggest humanitarian tragedy of today," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in an in a statement


Questions like "What is going on in Syria?" and "What was Syria like before the war?" are addressed through vivid photos, striking videos, and 360-degree images. "People are certainly trying to understand the scale of the crisis."


The website is available in English, French, German, and Spanish to help reach millions of curious and concerned people around the world. An Arabic version of Searching for Syria will be released soon.


"We see through Google Search trends that people are certainly trying to understand the scale of the crisis," William Usdin, project lead for Search for Syria, wrote in a blog post announcing the site. "Among the top trending searches in Germany, France, and the UK last year was, 'What is happening in Syria?' and simply, 'What is a refugee?'"



As Searching for Syria explains, the conflict in Syria began after a series of peaceful protests in 2011. Before the war, more than 22 million people lived in Syria; now, more than half of those people have been forced from their homes. About 5 million have fled the country and live around the world as refugees. The remaining 6.3 million are internally displaced within Syria.


More than 2 million Syrians have been killed or injured. Approximately 24,000 children have died.


Life for survivors is anything but comfortable, with many coping with immeasurable trauma and life-altering displacement. In the past six years, Syria's children have collectively lost the equivalent of 24.5 million years of schooling. Millions of acres of farmland have been destroyed or abandoned, causing food prices to soar up to 900 percent.


On Searching for Syria, an eerie clock counts how long the war has lasted, down to the second.



The website also illuminates surprising facts about life in Syria before the war. In 2010, for example, Syria welcomed more tourists than Australia. In that same year, the top Google searches for the region were Arab Idol(the Arabic version of American Idol) , bodybuilding, summer fashion, and Miley Cyrus.


One of the site's greatest contributions, however, is debunking myths and tackling stigma surrounding Syrian refugees. There's common rhetoric in the U.S., for example, that claims Syrian refugees have little to contribute to America and will be a burden on the country. But, as Searching for Syria points out, 18 in every 100 Syrian refugees living in the U.S. have an advanced degree. For U.S. citizens, that number is only 11 in every 100.

When learning about the harrowing reality of Syrian refugees through Searching for Syria, many users will inevitably come to the same final question: "What can I do?"


The website offers suggestions on how people can meaningfully help Syrian refugees, such as spreading awareness of the facts behind the crisis and donating to the work of UNHCR. 


While these are just small steps in helping to address a huge problem, any action is vital — and that includes learning the facts behind the crisis.

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