New Internationalist

Syria’s civilians: when will the horror end?

A Syrian child stands in a makeshift graveyard
A Syrian child stands in a makeshift graveyard. Giorgos Moutafis

What many Syrians already knew has been made official. The country’s conflict has reached ‘unprecedented levels of horror’ according to UN peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, speaking hours after dozens of bodies were found by a river in the northern city of Aleppo. The 71 dead – many with hands bound and with gunshot wounds to the head – can be added to the more than 60,000 others estimated to have already lost their lives.

And for those still living, this horror remains acute. Take Omar who was tortured for several days by Syrian government forces in a cell within Hama airport. Along with his brother, he was subject to an eclectic mix of cruelty, being repeatedly – and in no particular order – stripped, beaten, whipped, electrocuted, drugged and drowned. He was finally released after his family paid a large ransom. But the money came too late for his brother.

‘I had no political affiliation nor did my brother,’ he says. ‘I just want these people to go away and to be able to live in peace in my country. For my brother, it’s too late, may God look after him now.’

Faced with this daily dread, it’s no wonder people are looking to escape. As well as two million people being internally displaced in Syria, around 700,000 more have fled, mainly to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The stories of how and why people leave are as varied as they are disturbing.

Khaled, 20, from Homs was on his way to university – the last thing he heard was a bang before bomb shrapnel flew into his brain. ‘I lost consciousness and I did not know until afterwards that a car had stopped to pick me up,’ he says. He was taken to a local hospital and later evacuated to Turkey. His brain is damaged and he has motor difficulties and trouble walking.

There are charities working in the region helping people like Khaled but the UN and Syrian government have granted authorization to only a select few NGOs to work within Syria. Many others are denied access, and are forced to provide aid from bordering countries. For instance, in Jordan, Doctors of the World, operates from the town of Ramtha, in King Abdullah Park and in the Zaatari camp, which now houses more than 35,000 Syrian refugees.

Although at times it feels like few are listening (UN envoy Mr Brahimi has said Syria is being ‘destroyed bit by bit’), Doctors of the World has condemned any violence against the population and has called on all parties involved in the conflict to respect the rules of international law in times of war, including respecting medical care providers and their ethical obligation to provide care.

But most of all we wish for the people of Syria that this misery will end soon.

Nick Harvey is a press officer at Doctors of The World.

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