What’s happening in Syria?
5.6 million: the number of registered Syrian refugees. 6.2 million: the number of those internally displaced in Syria.
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that each number represents an individual human being, each with their own stories to tell, their own aspirations and dreams for the future. When we see stories of the Syrian war in the news, it is easy to switch off our televisions and carry on with our everyday lives unaffected, as the lives of those millions that have been affected by the war fade into oblivion for us.
Each of these individual’s lives have been completely turned upside down, by a war that has now gripped the country for nine years.
But how did Syria become a place so unsafe for its civilians?
The conflict began in March 2011, when President of Syria, Bashar al- Assad, opened fire on peaceful Arab Spring demonstrators in the southern city of Deraa, who were fighting against his repressive regime. A group of fifteen teenagers who painted the words ‘The people want the fall of the regime’, on a school wall were violently attacked, as were others that protested and demanded Assad’s resignation.
A Civil War ensued, as rebel forces, along with Syrian troops that defected from the Syrian army, fought Assad’s forces for control of territory.
By 2012, fighting had reached Aleppo and the capital Damascus. Other groups equally sought to counter Assad’s regime, including Syrian Kurds who claimed territory in the North. What differentiates this Civil War from others is its international scale. Global involvement has been varied and numerous.
By mid- 2012, Iran had intervened, sending daily cargo flights and officers to assist Assad. Russian involvement similarly bolstered Assad. In response, oil rich Arab states in the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, sent money to counter Iran’s influence.
In June 2013, UN reports revealed that 90,000 had been killed in the conflict. This was two months before Assad used chemical weapons on civilians, firing rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin and engaged in other war crimes such as torture, and civilian suffering, including the blocking of access to food, water and vital health services.
February 2014 saw the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which began to fight against both the rebels and the Kurds using methods of terror. This gave a reason for direct US involvement and in September 2014, US bombing on ISIS began. At this point, Turkish influence in the region also increased, but instead targeted the Kurds.
By August 2015, UN activists put the figure of those dead at 250,000. The war continued.
In September 2015, Russia increased involvement, targeting the rebels with air strikes and knocking them out of their stronghold in Aleppo. Following more chemical weapons attacks in 2017, the Trump administration shifted its focus from ISIS to the Assad regime, striking an airbase in Syria. Other airstrikes carried out by US, British and French forces targeted chemical weapons facilities near Damascus and Homs.
Despite the emergence of a global pandemic that we have seen ravage the world, the conflict has escalated. In February, Turkish forces were killed in an airstrike, resulting in direct retaliation towards the Syrian army which is heavily backed by Russia. Following this, a ceasefire was called between Turkey and Russia, but on the 26th October, Russian airstrikes in northern Syria killed Turkish-backed militia fighters on the mainly-rebel held province of Idlib. A further 78 were killed.
Responding to the crisis, the UK government has committed £2.81 billion of humanitarian aid to Syria since 2012. This support has included food, medical care and refugee relief. As part of the Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme, established in 2014, 5,453 Syrians have been resettled into the UK. Regretfully, this represents a small drop in the ocean in trying to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people though.
So many Syrian lives have been and continue to be affected by the war, and there is no apparent end in sight. The Syrian people continue to suffer, continue to see their hopes and dreams completely torn apart right before their eyes.