Syria’s nine-year-long civil war has largely disappeared from the world’s headlines, but what of the more than estimated 1,000,000 survivors still seeking to flee from Bashar al-Assad’s ruined land?
Many of them have been pushed into a narrow strip of land bordering Syria’s sealed northern border with Turkey by Assad’s forces and his Russian and Iranian allies since the beginning of 2020. As the Washington Post reports, among the civilian survivors are roughly a half a million children.
According to the Post, Syrian children live and die, in terror. Many of them now are stranded with or without their parents in Idlib province and the surrounding countryside. From nearby Raqqa, VOA correspondent Heather Murdock quoted 60-year-old Ahmed Hashem about the horrors the fleeing civilians faced:
“I saw a woman bleed to death under a tree alongside the road and there wasn’t even anyone to dig her grave.”
Correspondent Murdock continued: “Hashem’s lips quivered and he turned to face a wall. Hashem, his wife and three small children left their home in Idlib after surviving more tragedies in the last three months than they had seen in almost nine years of war. Almost a million people have fled Idlib since November and many say they don’t think they’ll ever go home.”
The Tragedy Abounds
Another VOA reporter on the scene, Nisan Ahmado, interviewed Umm Omar, 50, who, along with her husband, nine children and seven grandchildren, had few options of places to stay, as shelter was extremely scarce in war-ravaged Syria. Ms. Omar, who didn’t want to disclose her real name for security reasons, told VOA: “The roads were clogged with fleets of cars, small trucks, and motorbikes. Entire towns and cities were deserted. “Everyone is headed to any place that’s safe, even those fleeing Idlib. “We tried to start all over again in the town of Atarib,” Ms. Omar added. “First, we lived in a tent for a while, and only last year, were we able to build a small house of two rooms. Now, we have to leave everything again and flee.” The grief-stricken Syrian woman ended up in Afrin in northern Aleppo. Her family of 20 members thinks it will be placed in a nearby refugee camp there.
Even in Afrin, according to correspondent Ahmado, the family is not confident of safety. “The volatile town was under Kurdish control until 2018 when Turkey and allied militants launched what they called Operation Olive Branch. “The operation,” the VOA reporter added, “has displaced thousands of civilians, and human rights organizations are reporting that Turkish-backed militants have been relentlessly looting local homes. The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights in Britain, says that more than 1,000,000 civilians have already been displaced from Idlib, and the numbers are increasing.”
“Many displaced Syrians,” according to correspondent Ahmado, “have traveled to areas under the control of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria, where relative security has been achieved since the Islamic State was defeated about a year ago. In the Islamic State’s former self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, local community members are helping the newly-arrived people by setting up emergency shelters and hosting them in their homes.”
An Unforgettable Cry for Vital Help
VOA correspondent Nisan Ahmado told a moving story at the conclusion of his report:
“Maissa al-Mahmoud, an activist who works with Syrian refugees near the Turkish border, said aid organizations need to pay particular attention to children, who are highly susceptible to disease and malnutrition.” Ms. al-Mahmoud, an activist who was displaced from Aleppo and lost one of her own sons in the war, said people were feeling abandoned, with no hope anytime soon for a better life.
“In one of our missions to distribute aid to refugees,” she concluded, “I was trying to cheer up a child by asking him: ‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ The child answered: ‘I just want to stay alive’.”
A moving appeal to VOA listeners and multimedia audiences wherever they may live, throughout a caring world.
Additional insights are at https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/emergencies/child-refugees-and-migrants/syria-crisis
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More