The pain of a country tearing itself apart

Syria is tearing itself apart. Around 100,000 people have lost their lives, and the death toll is growing by around 5,000 each month. Ten million people have been affected by the crisis in some way,

I visited Syria last week with Islamic Relief’s UK Director, Jehangir Malik. Nothing could have prepared me for what we saw inside Syria, and what we heard about the brutal conflict there. Syria is tearing itself apart. Around 100,000 people have lost their lives, and the death toll is growing by around 5,000 each month. Ten million people have been affected by the crisis in some way, and between two and three million Syrians are refugees. That makes this the largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Under siege Roads into Damascus are closed. Cities are under siege. There are no ‘humanitarian corridors’ to give aid workers a measure of protection. And there is no mandate for the United Nations to operate or even observe in many of the worst affected areas. Field hospitals are operating in all manner of buildings, including donated houses, a police station and a former restaurant. The delivery of aid is as difficult as it has ever been, and the numbers needing that aid are growing steadily. The international community stands watching this unfold in near impotence, barely interfering except to pick up the pieces in neighbouring countries, seemingly allowing the conflict to spread and the crisis to escalate. What is the point of using terms like ‘never again’ if we are going to stand by while a country disintegrates? Constant risk Islamic Relief’s focus is inside Syria, with 32 projects currently running. These include the provision of food, water, medical care, shelter, hygiene and sanitation. Across the country, Islamic Relief is supporting 60 clinics and 30 field hospitals. To deliver all this, our team put themselves at constant risk. As we drove in, we saw hundreds of exhausted refugees crossing the border into Turkey. They were carrying very little, maybe a bag or two, some carrying nothing, just the clothes on their backs. Everything they had known, worked for and built had been left behind. It was at this point that everything became more real – realising the devastating impact on people’s lives as I came face to face with the casualties of war. In six months Bab Al Hawa field hospital – once a restaurant – has treated over 10,000 casualties, carrying out 4,000 operations. Injured men, women and children fill the rooms; covered in bandages, connected to drips, some with bullet wounds, others with shrapnel wounds. Rushed to hospital It was here that I met Mustafa Ahmed, 15, and his 14-year-old brother Imad. They had come from Idlib, over 70km away, and had been in the hospital for five days. When their village was shelled, both were wounded in the legs by shrapnel and were rushed to hospital by a neighbour. When they should be in school, instead they lie on hospital beds in pain. Just as we were leaving, a doctor started to change Mustafa’s dressing. There was no disguising his agony as the bandage was pulled away from his flesh. These are the kind of scenes that the doctors see daily but I was finding it very difficult to hold back the tears. I have a four-year-old son, a seven-year-old daughter. Alhamdulillah this wasn’t one of them in hospital. Alhamdulillah this wasn’t one of yours. It is because of Islamic Relief’s support that the hospital is running. Operations are possible because of the surgical equipment provided by us. We have also provided half of the bandages, dressings and other sterile supplies that have been used in every single treatment or procedure since December Harrowing stories We were able to visit two camps for displaced people supplied by Islamic Relief. The stories we heard were so harrowing – of parents, wives, husbands, sons, daughters and grandchildren all killed. The Shuhada camp was set up just ten days before our visit and was already home to a thousand people, nearly half of them children. It was here that I met Ahmed Abdul Kareem from Hama province, who had walked over 95km to be there. As he pointed at a framed picture, all that he had left of his loved ones, he told us how he had lost his wife, two children and four grandchildren; three generations wiped out in one attack. My heart filled with Ahmed’s pain. But what do you say to someone who has suffered such an ordeal? In the camps Islamic Relief is providing shelter, food, water and hygiene and sanitation kits, staving off death and the spread of disease. For the moment this is all we can do. There is no hope yet of helping people to return home and get back on their feet. Thank you for reading this blog, and thank you for supporting Islamic Relief’s life-saving work. May Allah (swt) bless you for your support and ease the suffering of the vulnerable and the poverty stricken across the world.

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