In February 2018, a headline of Daily Mail Online, UK, reads – “Heartbroken man carries a child’s body as death toll passes 400 including nearly 100 children in latest bombing raid by Assad’s forces in Syrian region declared ‘Hell on earth’.”
This massacre happened in Eastern Ghouta - the last major rebel-held area near Damascus, Syria and 400,000 people have been under siege there since 2013. The image of the news showed a distressed man from a rebel-held area, cradling the body of a dead child. This headline reminded me of another one of 2013 from the same publication – “Syria’s darkest hour: Hundreds of children’s bodies piled high after nerve gas attack near Damascus leaves up to 1,300 dead.”
The civil war in Syria is continuing for nearly seven years since its start in March, 2011. The first strike of shock took place after 15 school children were reportedly arrested and tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. The children of Syria have been the worst affected of the ensuing civil war. Their tender minds are ill-equipped to grasp or combat the violence and atrocities associated with the war.
Mohamed, a 13-year-old boy of Deraa, Syria, told the BBC, “Before the war we used to play and enjoy ourselves, but after the war we became frightened by the sound of mortar shells and explosions. We no longer dared to go out to play.”
The deprived innocent minds
More than four million people in Syria, half of them children, had to leave their homes and country. Many families are escaping to neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and are taking refuge in special camps. Children in Syria are not getting proper education as many schools have been closed because of the war. The children who have immigrated to other countries do not have access to adequate educational facilities. In Lebanon, according to the BBC, 1,38,000 immigrated children of Syria, out of the total 3,38,000, do not go to school. In Jordan, this number is 77,000.
The initiatives towards peace
The efforts to find a way to restore peace in Syria initiated in 2011 itself. The peace process has been carried out by the Arab League, UN Special Envoy in Syria, Russia and by the western powers. Initially, the west backed Kurdish forces, Radical Salafist forces, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had stayed out of the negotiations. Only the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition participated in the peace process. To bring stability in the Middle East, the Arab League held two initiatives in 2011 but there was no noteworthy success. In January 2012 and in November 2013, Russia suggested talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and opposition. In March–May 2012, there were peace initiatives initiated by United Nations and the Arab League and was coordinated by the then United Nation’s General Secretary Kofi Annan.
In January and February 2014, the Geneva II conference on Syria took place and was organised by Lakhdar Brahimi, the then UN envoy to Syria. On October 30, 2015 a meeting was held in Vienna, involving officials from the US, the EU, Russia, China and various regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and for the first time, it involved Iran. Peace talks with the rebel leadership continued in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2017. On January 2018, Russia convened the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, Russia in which 1,500 delegates participated.
The Syrian refugee crisis
According to the UNHCR, the total number of worldwide registered Syrian refugees is 5,607,845 as on March 15, 2018. This figure includes 2 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 3.5 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 33,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. The number of in-camp registered Syrian refugees is 4,60,873 as on March 13, 2018. Total number of urban, peri-urban and rural population of registered Syrian refugees is 5,146,972 as on March 15, 2018.
The statistics only account for legal Syrian refugees, illegal refugees are unaccounted for. The refugee camps lack food and medicine supply as well as educational resources. Moreover, it’s really hard for any country to cope with such an increase in population/refugees within a short period. Some of the refugee camps have reportedly turned to hell to the refugees. The security quotients of Syrian women refugees are reportedly violently threatened.
Internally displaced Syrians
In 2016, from an estimated pre-war population of 22 million, the UN identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than six million are internally displaced within Syria, including 2.8 million children. According to UNHCR, since 2011, 50 Syrian families have been displaced every hour of every day. The biggest internally displaced population in the world.
This March, Syria entered the eighth year of Syrian civil war, resulted in the largest refugee and displacement crisis of recent world History.
Again a shock
Activists in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus, released videos on March 7, 2018 showing what appeared to be phosphorus bombs being dropped and claimed that the attack took place in the residential town of Hamouriyah in Eastern Ghouta area. Eastern Ghouta remains one of Syria’s last opposition armed strongholds. Despite government claims that it no longer possesses chemical weapons, the area has witnessed several other smaller-scale chemical attacks in recent weeks.
“Yesterday night was the darkest and most horrific night ever. They used phosphorus, napalm, cluster bombs and chlorine gas,” Ammar al-Selmo, a volunteer aid worker for the Syrian Civil Defence, told Al Jazeera by phone from the opposition-held enclave. France has said it will introduce “intervention measures” if claims of a fresh Syrian government chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta proves to be true.
But surely before such introduction by France or by any other countries, there is no guarantee that such attacks will not be repeated again. The whole world is witnessing this violence for last seven years.
One hopes this inhuman atrocity in Syria will come to an end very soon. May the children of Syria breathe fresh air, play fearlessly under a peaceful clear blue sky! May no one be homeless in this world!