9 years of war and suffering in Syria and no one cares by Othman Moqbel, Chief Executive Syria Relief
Today, March 15th, marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict. Tomorrow, Syria Relief were due to hold an event in Parliament with government ministers, shadow ministers, MPs, journalists and leaders from the other NGOs working with Syrians, unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the decision has been taken to cancel the event. However, it is critical that the topics Syria Relief wanted to convey to policymakers and the media is still made.
As we commemorate 9 years of conflict, we must not treat this anniversary as a history lesson. The 9 years of suffering are not the past for the people of Syria, it is their present and their future. Yet public awareness of the conditions in Syria is low and apathy for the pain of Syrians is high. In September we commissioned a YouGov poll which found that one in four people in the UK didn’t know that the Syrian conflict was still ongoing and, last month, another poll we commissioned found that nearly three quarters of the UK didn’t know about the humanitarian crisis in Idlib and 7 in 10 people didn’t know even know where Idlib was. All this whilst over a million people were displaced and thousands were being killed.
In Idlib alone Syria Relief have had 6 of our 164 schools bombed and 4 of the healthcare centres where we have worked damaged or destroyed. This is not unique to the past few months, this has happened continuously for the last 9 years and this has been normalised, not just by the military actors’ continued war crimes, but by the outside world’s acceptance that we can tolerate crimes against humanity.
People in Aleppo, Homs, Daraa, Eastern Ghouta and countless other places have experienced what the people of Idlib are facing. Syrians know that this is a conflict where victory by any costs have been prioritised above the sanctity of human life. In fact, the sanctity of human life has been deliberately violated in order to achieve victory by any cost.
The challenges the Syrian people have faced have increased in number and severity throughout the 9 years; the deliberate targeting of civilians, schools and hospitals by military actors and terrorist groups, the spiralling prices during sieges, the fatally cold weather conditions in winter, the lack of access to clean water, the brain drain and disease. COVID-19 poses a completely new risk to the Syrian people. Due to 9 years of conflict, only 64% of Syria’s hospitals are functioning and the public health system is fragile – people in places like Idlib are reliant on NGOs like Syria Relief for medical aid. There is a chronic shortage of trained medical staff due so many being killed, fleeing or fearing to go to work due to systematic and deliberate targeting of medical facilities throughout the past 9 years of conflict.
Those of us who have been to an IDP or refugee camp will know that there are fewer places where a transmittable virus could thrive – there is very little access to clean water, people live in close proximity, often with 8+ please in one tent. Many of the people in these camps have pre-existing health conditions and there is a disproportionate amount of elderly people. Whilst we must not be complacent about our own preparation to tackle COVID-19, we must not ignore the fact that there are few places on earth that will be able to cope with this virus worse than Syrian IDP and refugee camps.
And let us stop ignoring the suffering of Syrian refugees in places like Lebanon, which has been in a state of economic crisis, rising inflation and sinking employment. Or those on the Greek borders, who fear what the future will hold for them if they return to Syria, yet are being told in the harshest terms that Europe that “we do not care about what you have been through and we do not want you.”
Whilst I cannot help but reflect on Syria Relief’s beneficiaries, colleagues and friends who have been murdered and suffered due to this war, we must also remember that they are still suffering and will continue to suffer. Our nonchalance to the open wounds and bleeding scars of Syrian society only exacerbates them. This conflict and the pain it brings is far from over and, for the millions of Syrians, there no end is in sight. Because now, as it has been for the entirety of past 9 years, their fate is in the hands of an political and military actors, only they can decide to finally decide to move the Syrian Civil War and the poverty it has caused from the newspapers and consign it to the history books.
With every year that passes, this date becomes more tragic as I fear the attitude amongst people is that the Syrian people’s desperation is being ignored because “it has been going on for 9 years now.” Please understand me, just because this conflict has been going on for 9 years does not mean it is too late to start caring.
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