By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)  – The images from the Syrian refugee crisis are haunting. We’ve seen desperate families trying to get to Europe. Images of a little boy who drowned were broadcast all over the world.

Since 2011, four million people have left Syria. So, why are so many trying to get away? Good Question.

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The conflict in Syria started in 2011 just after the first “Arab spring” uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Syrian rebels rose up against the Syrian government and its president, Bashar Al-Assad.

“The Assad regime responded very violently,” said Binnur Taner, a professor of political science at Hamline University. “It’s been one of the bloodiest wars in the Middle East.”

Last year, ISIS grew in Syria, further dividing the country.

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“They are basically running away from the country for survival,” Taner said. “They want to survive, they want their kids to survive.”

More than 200,000 Syrians have died in the past four years. According to the United Nations, another four million have left the country, mostly to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Eight million Syrians have been displaced within their own country, others live in refugee camps just outside and many have escaped to foreign countries without any refugee protection, including jobs and education.

“They don’t really have any other hope,” Taner said. “That’s the worst thing about this refugee problem.”

Taner said Syrians have been leaving for years, but the crisis started to get worldwide attention when refugees began entering Europe in large numbers. Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said people who reached Germany could have their asylum claims assessed there.

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“These people are not going to Europe for economic gains — they just want to live,” Taner said. “I think that’s something that we have to remember and have to understand when we’re looking at the Syrian refugee problems.”

Heather Brown