Eight years of multiple conflicts in Syria. Such has been the drop off in news coverage, many have reached the erroneous conclusion that these wars are over. They are not. In fact, it would not be a shock to be marking nine or even ten years of conflict in the coming years.
Watch out for what happens in Idlib, the Kurdish areas and in places where Isis once controlled. But also we must be alert to the disenchantment amongst regime loyalists even in Damascus, frustrated at the declining economic situation even though the Syrian regime now controls two-thirds of the country. UNICEF has reported that in 2018, 1,106 children were killed, more than in any other year of the conflict. Of these, 434 were killed by unexploded ordinance.
Whichever way you see things in Syria, nobody has won. Sit back and inhale these stats - deeply. Really think about not just the terrifying numbers, but the people, men women and children, the destroyed lives and ruined cities. Imagine this was your country and your people. Half a million Syrians killed. Around 12 million have either become refugees or internally displaced. Nearly 12 million people require humanitarian assistance inside Syria. 83% of Syrians live in poverty and a third are food insecure. More than a third of schools have been damaged or destroyed.
This is a conflict that has seen 37 chemical weapons attacks, 32 of which the OPCW blames the Syrian regime for. Who knows how many more there will be?
Certain areas are suffering more than others, though all suffer. The 2.5 million people in Idlib still await the dreaded Syrian regime onslaught which will happen at some point. In the meantime, the population of Idlib and the 600,000 displaced people living there face some of the toughest humanitarian challenges. Imagine what might happen in the event of a full-scale onslaught in an area that has only 1092 hospital beds. Around 40% of children in Idlib are out of school.
At Al Hol camp in north-east Syria which has provided refuge for those fleeing the last remaining Daesh areas, 66,000 people try to survive. The camp was not designed for such numbers. Just back in December last year, the camp population was just 10,000. Half of these are children.
All this seems a world away from 2011. Syrians can debate when the uprising started. The early protests in Syria in 2011 were small but significant. Few recall the Syrian Kurd from Al Hasakeh who burned himself to death in protest at the government in January 2011. On 17 February a spontaneous protest in the Souk Al Hamidiya in Damascus was followed by one on 23 February when Syrians protested in front of the Libyan embassy. All such protests were forbidden. Yet the traditional moment pinpointed for the start of the Syrians protests was the 15 March ‘Day of Rage’, with the protests in the southern town of Dara’a (although there were protests elsewhere that day included Damascus) .
After so many protests, one can easily forget just what a huge deal this all was. In Assad land, demonstrating was unthinkable. Politics was a no-go zone. It required immense courage.
It is revealing that the denizens of Dara’a eight years after the uprising started there still mustered the courage to demonstrate against the unveiling of a new statue of Hafez Al Assad last week. Protesters carried placards: “It will fall. Your statue is from the past, it’s not welcome here.” The message is clear. The people are not ready to roll over quite yet in Assad land. If the regime does not alter its mode of brutal governance and delivering improved living conditions, Syrians may well be out on the streets again, if not now, in years to come.
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