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War is still raging in Syria – please do not forget us

People shop at bazaar erected between buildings destroyed by Assad regime attacks (Image: Muhammed Said / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Eleven years ago, I was on my way from Damascus to travel to the United Kingdom to study for a master’s degree in economics when there was a skirmish at a checkpoint.

At this point in the war, the front lines were very fluid between the warring parties and to go to Lebanon I had to move between different areas of control. The checkpoint where it happened was on the front lines, and was the scene of a firefight.

Because I was close, the soldiers manning the checkpoint began to interrogate me.

They found me suspicious when I was a young man from another area. I was scared.

It’s normal for such controls to pull you to the side, but it was really scary because everyone was in a panic.

Once they let me go reluctantly, they told me I was not allowed back. When I tried it, they assured me that I would be shot.

I could not come to the UK, I could not complete my studies or move abroad.

At that time, I had just graduated in economics from Aleppo University in Syria and I was looking forward to doing an MA in the UK.

Now I was stuck in the eastern Ghouta area of ​​Damascus, which was completely besieged by the army.

I was there for about a year. It was very difficult – everything was so expensive, food was bad and regular bombings and shootings took place. It was horrible.

As the situation escalated in 2013 and the entire district came under siege for 18 months. We lived in the shadow of death – surviving on the leftover food we could find on the streets or the leaves on the trees.

I lived in the empty house of a friend in the east of Ghouta, in the countryside of Damascus.

For many, this reality has not changed.

Most people live on less than £ 2 a day. Prices are very high and job opportunities are hard to come by. People often skip food to get through. Medicine is also poor – many rely on natural remedies for treatment.

Finally, in 2015, I managed to escape the enclave by passing the army controls. I contacted smugglers to get me out; we had to endure long walks at night, sometimes around whole towns in fields.

People in Syria are living with this uncertainty or need to be relocated to escalating violence (Image: Muhammed Said / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The journey lasted about a month. The hardest part of the road was when we had to cross the Qalamoun mountain range. The trek was very difficult.

But I stayed through the rugged mountain range to reach Lebanon, then I moved to Turkey, and back to Aleppo.

In 2015, I started volunteering for Islamic Relief, mostly helping with the distribution of food packages. I had to travel and know a lot of people from different areas. It was very nice to see people receiving their packages with a smile.

But it was not easy. I have had to leave my home many times to escape violence. The last time was because the military frontline between the opposition and the army was less than 2 km from my house.

I was forced to flee to a small village near the Turkish border.

The last time this happened was in February 2020. I, my family and everyone else in my village and the surrounding villages had to leave after the area was targeted by airstrikes and artillery.

People in Syria live with this uncertainty or have to be relocated to escalations of violence over and over again, and not knowing when this can happen is a constant fear that only contributes to the level of misery and trauma.

Today I am a Program Officer for Islamic Relief in Idlib. I oversee programs for food safety, livelihood and education, as well as helping displaced people living in tents to get a good shelter by providing permanent housing, 50 of which we helped build last year.

I see orphans, hungry children, the sick and the unemployed; 11 years later, the situation only gets worse (Image: Ismail Kaplan / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Every day I visit the camps in Syria. Thousands of families from all over the country are displaced and so many live in tents. Not a day goes by that people do not ask me for help, such as medicine, food and shelter.

I see orphans, hungry children, the sick and the unemployed; 11 years later, the situation only gets worse with trauma affecting everyone, including the very young.

Children under the age of 11 have known nothing but this crisis and their childhoods have been left forever. I once saw young children in a camp crying when a motorcycle started nearby because they thought the sound was like a warplane.

As we enter the tents of families to bring help, children quickly turn around – they are scared, alert and scared. There is not much mental health support for people who have experienced horrific events. Right now, staying alive is the only thing people focus on.

Recently I met a mother in a camp in Idlib, who had been expelled from her village with her five young children five years ago. Her husband died and now, without income, she has to rely on aid agencies for food. She told me that she suffers from inflammatory blood disease and needs medication every 10 days.

In the cold weather they have nothing. She said her children need food, warmth, clothing, education and health care and her own illness makes her so weak that she has trouble caring for her children. She said one of the hardest times during the day for her is when her children hear other children in the camp calling their fathers ‘dads’.

The impact is seen every day on the streets, where hundreds of children search through trash cans such as cardboard and plastic to sell and feed their families. This has become an increasingly familiar face.

Thousands of families from all over the country are displaced and so many live in tents (Photo: OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP via Getty Images)

In addition to the devastating humanitarian crisis, one of my biggest fears is that funding and aid cuts will push Syrians fighting for food, medicine and shelter deeper into a catastrophe, on a scale never seen before.

Many aid projects and funds have been stopped. In northwestern Syria, more than a dozen charities have closed or closed hospitals due to funding cuts, according to local groups.

Health centers open here in the area can only care for one million people, but according to UNOCHA, the population in northwestern Syria is 4.4 million.

Health is one of the biggest concerns – lack of food causes malnutrition and there is not much clean water, causing children to suffer from diarrhea with a constant fear of a cholera outbreak.

With the world closely focused on the crisis in Ukraineall we ask is that our humanitarian need be remembered as well and that financial support for programs and health care continue to help reduce the enormous level of suffering.

The conflict has taken its toll on me. I can concentrate much less now than I did before. I tend to forget things more easily. I’m always on the back foot with my personal relationships because I’m a bit suspicious right now. My sleep is easier to interrupt – a small sound tends to wake me up in the middle of the night for no reason.

I do not worry as much about my personal future as I do about those of my children. The education they will have and their ability to travel. Their job opportunities here will also be limited, especially with the lack of official ID documents in this area.

Many people ask me what keeps me going in the middle of this difficult situation and for me the answer is simple.

This is my community and my family and when you see people suffering, you want to be with them and make them feel that they are not alone.

If I’m not with her to help, who wants to?

Find out more about the profession of Islamic Relief in Syria over here

Do you have a story you want to share? Contact us by email jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

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War is still raging in Syria - please do not forget us

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