I have been watching on the television screens the death and destruction of the Syrian people for nearly two years. I have been reading about the massacres committed by the Asad regime on the Syrian men, women and children all this time. I have been feeling the pain at the core of my being and have been trying my level best to help these people. Eventually I decided to go into Syria to witness with my own eyes the misery of the people, to stand next to them in solidarity and most importantly to tell them that there are people out there who care. I have just returned from Syrian and this is my eyewitness account.
The international community has been dithering over what to do, in the meantime over a hundred thousand people have been killed, nearly five million have become refugees, and towns and villages have been razed to the ground. Only because Bashar Al-Asad would like to remain in power!
I traveled with a reputable charity that is working on the ground deep in the heart of Syria providing support and assistance to people. They do not promote making the refugees dependent on aid and handouts; rather they strongly encourage the return of the refugees to their homes as soon as possible to live a normal life.
I visited a few refugee camps in on the Turkish and Syrian borders. The conditions in those camps were beyond description. There was no privacy for families, as everyone lives in small tents, very close to each other. Those tents are like saunas during the summer and freezers during the winter. There were piles of rubbish everywhere. Human excrement and contaminated water was running through the camps, with children playing and families eating nearby - an open sewer infested with disease that could spread very rapidly in such conditions.
There were many children with high temperatures, stomach upsets and rashes. One of the doctors in our group told us that these were signs of the spread of contagious diseases. One mother, who had three sick children, begged us to help her find a cure for her children. She even said, "We do not need food any more, my children need medicine!" I later visited this lady's village where her home had been destroyed by a brutal government bombing of a civilian area. The locals told me that five families perished in that attack.
I traveled through villages deep inside Syria and have seen rows upon rows of houses bombed and totally destroyed, its inhabitants buried underneath the rubble. I was taken to a mosque, which was flattened with the congregation inside, along with the surrounding 50 houses. I was shown the freshly-dug rows of graves. One single such row caught my attention: I counted more than 30 graves with the same family name. United in their graves, what binds them together is that the bombs of Asad killed them all at the same time.
Syria is a very beautiful country with rolling hills full of green vegetation, crops, flowers, fruits and plants. Its mountains are breathtaking, some completely covered with olive, fig, apricot, and pomegranate trees. It is a county full of the history, art and architecture of the ancient world. Every square inch of the country reverberates to the stories of the Prophets from Old and New Testaments and the Quran. It is historically one of the richest countries in the Middle East. Yet all that is being systematically destroyed and lost forever. This pained me greatly, for every bomb wipes away the something of the history of human civilisation.
No place in Syria is safe. While I was there, we had to speed away in our vehicle when we saw a low-flying fighter plane dropping bombs on a nearby village. We heard over the radio that a refugee camp had been bombed and many people have been killed and injured. We rushed over there to find twenty injured and eleven dead - all of them women and children. Why would anyone bomb a refugee camp? Why would anyone target women and children?
I came to a hospital that was treating some of the injured. I saw a four-year-old boy - the same age as my son - resting on a stretcher, blood all over his body, head bandaged, looking scared and dazed. The doctor told me to not tell the boy that his older sister had been killed in the bombing. I stood there crying my eyes out. I imagined my own son and daughter. This boy had a small pellet from a cluster-bomb that had pierced his skin and now lodged deep inside his liver. If the doctors operate on him, he may not survive, and if they do not operate on him he may die. One of the doctors looked at us helpless and speechless! You have to be a real monster to perpetrate such heinous crimes against your own people!
I visited a school that was bombed the day before. The caretaker of the school had died and his body torn to pieces. I saw several of his body parts scattered all around, including broken pieces of his skull. It was a gruesome sight that I will never forget! His blood was still on the ground, red and evidence of life so recently extinguished. I wanted to cry again, but my eyes felt dry and my heart was pounding. I wondered what could I do to help these people?
Our inaction and delayed response has had serious consequences. A large number of freelance fighters from various parts of the world are gathering in Syria - DIY Jihadis. Currently they are doing their own thing and not causing too much trouble, but soon, with their numbers rising, they could cause instability and extremism among the Syrian youth. This would have a knock-on effect not just on the region, but way beyond - a nightmare for everyone. The Free Syrian Army is still a good ally for us and for the Syrian people. We should support them and I believe the international community should arm and train them. Asad would not survive even a month if the opposition had adequate resources.
I travelled to various villages and towns. I saw people even residing in mountain caves - safer for them than their own houses. I felt angry that Russia and China could bully the world to inaction. I felt aggrieved that the Syrian problem could have been so easily be resolved it there was the political will do so! What the Syrians need is a political solution. They do not need our handouts. They need the bombings and killings to end. They need a long-term rehabilitation programme so that they can get back to their towns and villages to start a normal life again. They need help and support to restart their lives, rebuild their homes, schools and businesses.
I believe Syria will be free soon, but the price they will have paid will be huge. And we will pay a massive price too if we stay silent about it. You can donate generously for the rehabilitation of the Syrian people, but more importantly you can lobby your MP and put pressure on the government to help resource the opposition.