Written by Daniel Wraith, Friday 4th December, 2015
The civil war in Syria, which has been devastating the country since 2011, is once again making headlines, with Parliament’s recent vote to authorise air strikes on ISIS targets. All too forgotten, however, amid the political circus being whipped up by large sections of the Western press, are the millions of ordinary people who find themselves wedged between the ruthless Assad regime on one side, and the despicable ISIS on the other. Caught in the crossfire in a war in which they want no part, many have fled, preferring often very dangerous and uncertain journeys to neighbouring countries, over the certainty of death in their own villages, towns and cities. Over 1 million people have sought refuge in Lebanon, 2 million in Turkey, while tens of thousands attempt the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, to Europe, hoping for a fresh start at life, and looking to salvage the dignity of which they have been so horribly robbed.
Life as a Syrian refugee is unfathomably cruel. Successfully getting out of the country is by no means a guarantee of safety. None of the countries to which people flee are particularly hospitable; several, in fact, are quite hostile. Refugee camps (official or otherwise), where most people end up, are riddled with poverty, disease, hunger and destitution; charities attempting to provide humanitarian relief are facing a constant uphill struggle. A particular concern, one preoccupying UNICEF, is the desperate situation of the children in these camps, who are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, to the cold (yes, the mountain ranges of Lebanon and Jordan, where most refugee camps are based, get extremely cold during winter!) and deprived of even the most basic access to education.
UNICEF on Campus, off the back of a very successful FAST24 campaign for the people of Yemen, has turned its attention to raising awareness and funds to go towards winter supplies for the children in these refugee camps. We launched our #ChildrenofSyria week, after much hard preparation, with a Speakers Conference, which proved as emotional as it was informative. Dr Dallal Stephens, a Professor of Law at Warwick and a specialist on the refugee situation, gave an illuminating presentation, in which she exposed many of the myths and lies perpetuated in the media. Reem Doukmak, a PhD student who, until 2013, had been studying and teaching at Al-Baath University in Homs, presented a powerful and moving account of the refugee situation and of her own experiences. She recalled the night of the 19th April 2011, when Assad’s forces opened fire on a peaceful sit-in at Clock Square, a tragedy so awful she struggled to believe it, despite having heard the gunshots from her apartment. She ended with a heartfelt appeal to help the largely forgotten people of Syria, causing a tear or too among the audience, your normally quite stoic author included.
We also had the considerable honour of welcoming Adnan, his wife, and their severely epileptic four year old daughter, who had recently fled Syria and claimed refugee status in the UK, helped by UNICEF. They shared their gut-wrenching story, which saw them walk 12 hours to make the dangerous crossing at the Turkish border. Their struggle continues in Britain, as they desperately seek much needed medical attention for their daughter, and assistance in looking after her. Caring for her is a round-the-clock job, leaving them permanently sleep deprived and unable to integrate into their new local community as they would like to.
As shocking as the statistics may be, nothing quite captures the true horrors of war and the horrendous situation faced by refugees in the way that personal testimony does. This was certainly the case during our Speakers event, but also during our screening of “A Requiem for Syrian Refugees”, a brilliant documentary providing insight into day-to-day life in the camps. Refugees are people just like you or me. They have dreams and aspirations like the rest of us, but these have been put on indefinite hold, replaced by fear and a daily battle just to survive. Nobody deserves to live like that. I would urge anybody reading this blog to lay their political convictions to one side, and to offer whatever help they can towards saving Syria’s refugees.