Syria, seven years on

March 15, 2018
Written by John Kilkenny
Photo by Marc Corrigan

As the Syria war enters its eighth year, Country Director John Kilkenny reflects on all that the Syrian people have endured.

While anniversaries are often a time of celebration, the same cannot be said as we contemplate the now seven years that have passed since anti-government demonstrations in the city of Deraa marked the beginning of would soon be recognized as the Syrian civil war. Looking back, we see a war that has ebbed and flowed, with more parties and countries gradually becoming involved. And looking forward, we see no apparent end in sight to the suffering faced by the civilian population of Syria who continue to be the greatest victims of this brutal conflict.

Many continue to remain inside Syria itself, some of them trapped in situations that look like medieval sieges.

Despite this, it is an important moment to reflect on the resilience of these same people who continue to eke out their existence against the physical, mental, and emotional challenges they face every day. While the pictures of Syrian refugees arriving on the shores of Europe and in neighboring countries may be the strongest international images we see, it is worth remembering that the largest number of those displaced — more than six million — continue to remain inside Syria itself, some of them trapped in situations that look like medieval sieges, just with the addition of 21st century weapons.

People in countryside at informal shelters, Lebanon

Syrian refugees gathered during the distribution of water tanks at an informal settlement in North Lebanon. Photo: Concern Worldwide

We tend to talk a lot about resilience in the humanitarian aid world these days — the human ability to bounce back from the most tremendous punishment and to strive to keep themselves and their families cared for. Believe it or not, we see that every day in our work in Syria, whether it is the thousands of families who have been recently displaced whose most immediate needs are food and water, or those seeking to maintain their dignity and rebuild lives in camps, or among the hosting communities that have become their refuge. Our job is to be on hand to help in this process, to provide whatever we can to help them maintain that human dignity: whether through the distribution of food baskets, providing water and sanitation services for those newly displaced, distributing agricultural vouchers to buy seeds and tools, or training them with skills so they can earn a living and feed their own family.

A group of people sitting / standing around a makeshift tent at night.

A group of Syrian refugees at nightfall in an informal tented settlement in Northern Lebanon, not far from the border.

As in so many conflicts, it is the women and children that suffer the most.

This is the strange dichotomy we work with in Syria: where people’s needs can vary dramatically according to their particular circumstances, and where, despite the suffering and displacement they have faced, they continue to strive to find a degree of normalcy for themselves and their family. As in so many conflicts, it is the women and children that are often the most vulnerable, and suffer the most. However, working with the women of Syria we have seen the greatest impact for a family at the household level.

There is no doubt that the only solution to the crisis in Syria is a comprehensive, inclusive, political one — but while the search for that continues, we must remember that the Syrian people want the same as most of us: a peaceful, dignified life in which they can achieve their aspirations. The challenges they face in trying to achieve this however, are massively greater than our own. So what can we in the international community do? We can press our own governments to support the search for a political solution to the crisis, and provide the direct assistance to the people of Syria so they can search for their individual futures despite the terrible and immediate challenges they face.

Drawing of interior of refugee tent

An informal shelter for Syrian refugees. Artist: Marc Corrigan (www.marccorrigan.com)

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